New probation officer donated to senator
Records show acting probation commissioner also gave donations to politicians
The state’s probation commissioner was suspended in May for allegedly handing out jobs and promotions to people who donated money to politicians on Beacon Hill, but his replacement is doing the same thing with his first hire.
Ronald P. Corbett Jr, the acting commissioner, recently appointed a new chief probation officer for New Bedford District Court as part of a hiring process that court officials said would be by the book and a break with the past. Lourenco A. Lopes Jr. seems well qualified for the post, yet state campaign finance records indicate he and his wife, like scores of other workers at the agency, have given thousands of dollars to their powerful local state senator as well as the governor and the Democratic state party.
The records show between 2003 and 2009, Lopes and his wife Tracy, an assistant district attorney in the Bristol County District Attorney’s office, donated nearly $2,000 to Sen. Mark Montigny of New Bedford, a one-time chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. In addition, the couple donated $250 to Gov. Deval Patrick and Tracy Lopes gave $100 to the Democratic State Committee in June.
It was unclear whether Paul Ware Jr, the independent counsel appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court to investigate patronage practices at the agency under commissioner O’Brien, would now begin investigating Corbett, the acting commissioner appointed after O’Brien’s suspension, and Mulligan, who oversaw the hiring of Lourenco.
Ware could not be reached for comment. He recently prevailed in the Supreme Judicial Court on a challenge by Rep. Thomas Petrolati to his subpoena powers. Ware wants to interview Petrolati under oath about 95 of his contributors who are also employees of the Probation Department. Petrolati has not announced whether he will testify.
In an interview with CommonWealth in June, Mulligan said he and Corbett would handle hirings differently than O’Brien and said the New Bedford position would be done by the book.
“I intend to interview the final candidate myself,” Mulligan said then, indicating he never interviewed candidates proposed by O’Brien. “We’re going to proceed differently going forward.”
Lourenco was hired for the top probation post in New Bedford despite a two-year hiring freeze Mulligan ordered in the Trial Court. There are another 27 chief probation officer positions that are vacant and being manned by acting chief probation officers.
Montigny, Corbett, and Lourenco Lopes could not be reached for comment and Joan Kenney, a spokeswoman for the courts, asked that questions be emailed to the probation department. A spokesman for the agency had no immediate comment.
Earlier this month, when CommonWealth first learned of Lopes’s appointment, a spokeswoman for Mulligan’s office said all procedures laid out in the Trial Court’s human resources guidelines were followed precisely. Mary Rafferty wrote in an email that Mulligan and Corbett “decided to post the CPO position in New Bedford to utilize the thorough, systematic selection process for the appointment of a CPO set forth in an administrative order for that position. Qualified staff were eligible to apply and the position was filled from within with no backfill of the position vacated by the selected candidate.”
Lopes appears to be qualified for the probation post, having served most recently as assistant chief probation officer in Fall River District Court since 2005. A probation officer since 1995, Lopes has a master’s in criminal justice and is also a lawyer.
O’Brien and many of his supporters have argued that while his hires may have been politically connected, those selected were nonetheless qualified to serve in their appointed positions. The SJC, in a recent decision on a case filed by a man whose appointment was nullified by Mulligan because he would have been the seventh member of his family to work in the Trial Court, said qualifications are “beside the point” if the hiring violates or appears to be counter to the Trial Court’s guidelines against nepotism and favoritism.
Court officials did not initially respond to questions for this story but issued this statement late Friday, the day after the article was first posted. A spokeswoman declined to answer any questions, asking only that the statement be printed in full.
September 24, 2010
Joint Statement of Chief Justice Robert A. Mulligan & Acting Probation Administrator Ronald Corbett
The selection process to fill the Chief Probation Officer position in New Bedford was thorough, fair and impartial, and completely unrelated to political contributions by any applicants.
The appointment followed Administrative Order 4 which defines the hiring committee and selection process for identifying a final candidate for probation positions. The candidates submitted a written action plan outlining their assessment and recommendations for the needs of the department. They also presented and discussed their plans, as well as their qualifications and experience, with the interview committee, which included a local District Court judge.
As noted by Commonwealth and demonstrated by his resume, Lourenco Lopes is very qualified to be a Chief Probation Officer, based on his prior experience and educational background, which includes a master’s degree in criminal justice, a law degree and bar membership. He was highly recommended by all four members of the selection panel and he subsequently met with Chief Justice Mulligan.No information on political contributions was sought or provided at any point before or during the selection process. Trial Court employees may make donations in accordance with the guidelines of the Ethics Commission.
We determined that this department head position was appropriate for replacement to enhance stability and permanency in the office. Consistent with the hiring freeze, only internal applicants were eligible and the selected candidate’s position was not backfilled. Future appointments will be subject to posting and the full selection process.