Ethics OK’d hiring of O’Brien’s daughter

Records indicate O’Brien did not sidestep Mulligan

The state Ethics Commission issued an advisory opinion in 2006 that said a subordinate of Probation Commissioner Jack O’Brien could hire O’Brien’s daughter as long as he fully disclosed the hiring and supervised the daughter “in an objective and impartial manner.”

The advisory opinion and a series of other documents reviewed by CommonWealth show what little was needed for O’Brien’s subordinate to legally hire the boss’s daughter as an administrative assistant. Those same records also undercut claims that O’Brien ignored warnings from the court system’s top administrator that the hiring was illegal and sidestepped efforts by the administrator to block it. Indeed, the records indicate O’Brien and his subordinate complied with all of the requests of the court’s top administrator.

O’Brien is currently suspended from his job with pay while an independent counsel appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court investigates allegations of patronage raised by a series of reports by The Boston Globe Spotlight Team. The hiring of Genevieve O’Brien, first reported by CommonWealth, was also mentioned prominently in the initial Globe report.

The Globe report said Robert Mulligan, the trial court’s chief justice for administration and management, warned O’Brien in 2005 that he was violating the court’s rule against employing family members. The Globe reported that O’Brien sidestepped Mulligan by hiring his daughter on an “acting” basis.

The records reviewed by CommonWealth indicate Mulligan approved the hiring of Genevieve O’Brien on a temporary basis in 2004. In a Dec. 14, 2004, letter to Stephen Price, the executive director of the Office of Community Correction, Mulligan welcomed O’Brien to the trial court and said her annual salary would be $34,464.

When Price sought to make O’Brien a permanent employee 10 months later, Mulligan began raising concerns about her employment. Price responded by seeking an advisory opinion from the state Ethics Commission. When an initial opinion gave the green light for the hiring, Mulligan raised additional concerns, prompting a second review by the Ethics Commission.

Diane Meibaum, general counsel to the Ethics Commission, said in a Jan. 27, 2006, advisory opinion that Price could appoint his boss’s daughter to a permanent position as long as he remained impartial in supervising her and disclosed in writing the potential conflict of interest to O’Brien and top court officials. Genevive O’Brien was living in her dad’s home in Quincy at the time, according to the opinion.

Joan Kenney, a spokeswoman for the trial court, said in an email response to questions that Mulligan still has reservations about the conclusions reached in the Ethics Commission opinions and, as a result, has not approved Genevieve O’Brien as a permanent employee. In February 2008, Mulligan did approve a change in classification for O’Brien’s job, which resulted in an increase in her pay.

Asked if Mulligan felt the probation commissioner had sidestepped him by hiring his daughter on a temporary basis, Kenney said “sidestepped” was the Globe’s word. “I don’t recall Chief Justice Mulligan using it,” she said.

Kenney said Mulligan did not raise concerns about the initial hiring of Genevieve O’Brien on a temporary basis because, at the time, he was not aware she was the probation commissioner’s daughter. Genevieve O’Brien disclosed the relationship on her job application, but Mulligan apparently did not see it. Kenney said Mulligan signed more than 100 appointments, promotions, and reclassification letters in December 2004.

In September 2005, Kenney said, Mulligan was informed by human resources officials at the trial court that Genevieve O’Brien was the commissioner’s daughter. When Price sought to make her hiring permanent, Mulligan began raising concerns and advised him to seek an ethics opinion and, later, a second one.

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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.

In her advisory opinion, Meibaum said she was relying solely on information provided by Price, who had told her that he – and not O’Brien — hired and supervised employees at the Office of Community Corrections. According to the opinion, Price said his personnel appointments were approved by Mulligan.

Meibaum also said in the opinion that she was providing advice to Price only. “You have not asked for any opinion on behalf of the Commissioner of Probation about his conduct,” she wrote.

O’Brien listed his daughter on his annual statement of financial interest form but never filed a conflict of interest disclosure with the Ethics Commission.