Was Murray playing the patronage game?

Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray wasn’t mentioned in the 337-page report on probation patronage, but maybe he should have been.

It’s hard to tell how deep Murray’s involvement was with probation, but he was recommending people for jobs there and he was also pocketing campaign donations from probation officials – more than $5,000 over the last four years, mostly from probation workers in his hometown of Worcester.

Sources tell CommonWealth that Murray’s office shows up on the list maintained by Probation Commissioner John O’Brien of officials recommending people for jobs. James Leary, Murray’s former chief of staff and a former state representative himself, was the person who handled most of the recommendations. He has since left Murray’s office for a $104,000-a-year job as associate vice chancellor for community affairs at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

The Boston Globe, which recently posted online a list it compiled of politically connected employees at probation, cited Murray as the political connection behind three of the hires. One was Stacey Pignatoro, who was identified as a probation officer in the Worcester probate and family court. The Globe’s list says she made no political contributions, but state campaign finance records indicate she gave $940 to Murray over the last four years.

The other two probation workers linked to Murray were Catherine M. Agnelli and Brandon J. McLaughlin. McLaughlin is identified as an assistant coordinator in the electronic monitoring program and Agnelli is an associate probation officer in Natick District Court. Agnelli gave $250 to Murray and her father gave $1,950. Records indicate McLaughlin gave no contributions to Murray.

In his report, Paul Ware, the independent counsel appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court to investigate patronage practices at probation, focused all of his attention on lawmakers because they apparently pushed the hardest for hires. He said judges and others also pushed for jobs, but his report provides no details on their actions and the spreadsheets O’Brien kept on who recommended whom for jobs have not been released to the public.

Murray declined to talk to Back Story, but his spokesperson, Heather Johnson, issued a statement suggesting he was just doing his job when he recommended people for jobs at probation.

“Constituents contact our office on a regular basis for assistance on a variety of matters, including recommendations or references for employment,” the statement said. “In instances where we are familiar with the individual and also aware of their qualifications, we have provided recommendations or references for consideration. We expect any hiring decisions to be made on the merits.”

Ware’s report indicates the people hired at probation met the minimal qualifications, but often the most politically connected individuals were the ones who landed the jobs.

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.

Murray, who is likely to run for governor in four years, says he favors moving control of the Probation Department from the judicial branch to the executive branch.

“The Patrick-Murray administration has long expressed the need for reform within the Probation Department well before the current investigations were launched, and has actually vetoed funding for the Probation Department five times,” the statement issued by Murray’s office said. “The administration has proposed to create a modern, efficient, and transparent department, and believes this can be achieved if the Probation Department is combined with parole under the jurisdiction of the executive branch.”