SJC denies bid to quash subpoena

Rep. Petrolati had argued court lacked authority

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today denied a motion by a high-ranking House lawmaker to quash an independent counsel’s subpoena in connection with an investigation into patronage at the state’s Probation Department.

The justices issued an unsigned memorandum and order stating that they, through their independent counsel, had the constitutional and statutory authority to subpoena witnesses outside the judicial branch, including state lawmakers like Rep. Thomas Petrolati of Ludlow, the third-ranking member of House leadership.

“To conclude otherwise would make it impossible for the court properly to investigate alleged misconduct within the judicial branch in any instance where nonjudicial branch employees may have been involved or have information relevant to the inquiry,” the court said.

The court also held that requiring Petrolati to comply with a subpoena would not encroach on the separation of powers between the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government.

Neither Petrolati nor his attorney could be reached for comment.

On Tuesday, after Petrolati attorney John Pucci appeared before the SJC, he said he didn’t know if his client would comply with the subpoena if the court ruled against him. “We’re taking it one step at a time,” he said.

In legal briefs filed with the court, Pucci had raised the possibility that Petrolati might not comply and also the notion that the subpoena could precipitate a constitutional crisis.

“If this court fails to quash the subpoena, and petitioner refuses to comply, does this court, in the context of its ‘administrative inquiry’ into alleged misconduct within its own branch of government, plan to hold petitioner in contempt?” Pucci asked in an Aug. 27 brief. “Will this court jail petitioner until he submits to the subpoena? How will the Legislature respond? It does not strain the imagination to foresee a constitutional crisis precipitated by the judiciary’s breach of the separation of power doctrine if this subpoena is enforced.”

Independent counsel John Ware, an attorney at Goodwin, Procter, was appointed by the SJC to investigate alleged patronage practices at the Probation Department after a Boston Globe story on the agency in mid-May. The Globe described Petrolati, whose wife works for probation, as “the king of patronage” in courthouses west of Worcester.