Probation jurors go with their heads

Jurors went with their heads rather than their hearts in finding former Probation commissioner John O’Brien and two of his top aides guilty of mail fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy.

Their heads told them that a crime had been committed. O’Brien ran a rigged hiring system that was designed to steer politically connected job applicants through a seemingly rigorous interview process into positions at the Probation Department. The process looked good on paper, but it was controlled behind the scenes by O’Brien and clearly not designed to find the best candidate possible.

 

But their hearts told them that O’Brien and his colleagues weren’t criminal masterminds. They didn’t put any money in their pockets. They may have orchestrated the hiring process at the Probation Department, but that process was part of a much larger game on Beacon Hill. It was former House speaker Thomas Finneran who set in motion the entire scheme in 2001 by pushing through legislation that took hiring authority at Probation away from judges and gave it to O’Brien.  

Could the jury send O’Brien and his Probation Department colleagues away for something that was much bigger than them? It turns out they could.

The debate over what it all means now begins in earnest. Attorney Harvey Silverglate and freelance journalist Daniel Schneider, writing in Lawyers Weekly, take the view that run-amok federal prosecutors once again stretched laws beyond the breaking point.

“Has this case been an intrusion of federal power into state political culture, and an assault on individuals who could not have been on fair notice that they were committing federal felonies by engaging in political favor exchanges older than the Republic itself?” they asked. “It’s an admitted difficult argument to get anyone to listen to in light of the ‘ick’ factor involved here, a reminder of the old aphorism that one should not observe how either sausages or laws are made. But to ignore it entirely is to turn a blind eye to the inability of the Department of Justice to distinguish true bribery and racketeering from regular political horse-trading.”

The Boston Globe, in an editorial, takes the opposite view. The paper said the convictions appear just. “The O’Brien verdict clarifies at least this much,” the editorial said. “Accepting a wad of cash while under video surveillance isn’t the only form of public corruption. And even in a system where high officials will cop to pushing friends and relatives into government jobs, there are limits to what’s legal.”

BRUCE MOHL

 

BEACON HILL

Three top Probation Department officials were convicted on multiple corruptions charges in a case that has riveted the state’s political class, and put another stain on Beacon Hill’s golden dome. The Probation verdict casts a dark cloud over Beacon Hill, CommonWealth reports. House Speaker Robert DeLeo says the trial helped clear his name. US Attorney Carmen Ortiz claims victory in the case, but still doesn’t explain why no legislators were charged. The Herald reports that Laurie O’Brien reacted to the verdicts by shouting, “The government is corrupt!,” and then collapsing in the courtroom — a scene Peter Gelzinis calls “surreal.” Most lawmakers at the State House dodge inquiries about the verdict.  

The state prison commissioner, Luis Spencer, was forced out by the Patrick administration after delaying a probe of an incident at Bridgewater State Hospital, a facility already in the spotlight for improper handling of inmates there.

Michael Levenson says unions have been on a roll on Beacon Hill.

At a State House meeting on how to cope with the influx of immigrant children, a shouting match breaks out between protesters and Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, the State House News reports.

A Globe poll finds voters evenly split on new taxes for state road and bridge repair, but solidly in favor of new levies if the money went to fix infrastructure in their community.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A Boxford police officer is trying to boost his pension by arguing that work as a summer lifeguard for the state should count toward his time in service. Republican Sen. Bruce Tarr is backing the officer, the Salem News reports.

A Lynn woman shouted at her neighbor, then shot at him with a BB gun, and finally flashed her breast at him when he started videotaping her, the Item reports.

You can still smoke ’em if you got ’em; just don’t do it in a Pittsfield playground or park.

CASINOS

State gaming commissioner James McHugh accuses Boston of “abandoning” Charlestown, after the city broke off negotiations with would-be Everett casino developer Steve Wynn.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

US Rep. Jim McGovern causes a stir on Capitol Hill when he refers to some of his Republican colleagues as “cuckoo clocks,” the National Journal reports.

The US considers granting refugee status to Honduran minors, a move that would allow them to sidestep a dangerous trip through Mexico.

How are states are handling gay divorce?

ELECTIONS

Envelopes add up: Steve Grossman let the Globe review three years of tax returns, which show that the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who retains a 50 percent share in his family’s marketing and printing business, earned an average of more than $800,000 a year.

You might not have known it, but the Republicans have a candidate for attorney general — John Miller — and Scot Lehigh says he’s an exceedingly accomplished, bright, and measured thinker.

Social conservatives want to make abortion a centerpiece of the 2014 midterm elections — a prospect that has Republicans sweating.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Some of the pols supporting ousted supermarket CEO Arthur T. Demoulas are people he supported financially in the past, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Tourists like MetroWest.

Starbucks store makeovers are boosting the company’s bottom line.

Some of the nation’s grittier cities, including Pittsburgh and Oakland, are using their “hard-knock” past to draw visitors and businesses, USA Today reports.

EDUCATION

The Peabody Essex Museum severs ties with Gordon College over the school’s stance on gays and lesbians, the Salem News reports.

HEALTH CARE

WBUR details the comments pro and con coming in on Attorney General Martha Coakley’s consent decree with Partners HealthCare.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Bears are popping up more frequently in populated areas of western Massachusetts.