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Report Finds 'Systemic Abuse' In Probation Hiring

BOSTON — The Massachusetts’ highest court is ordering a major shake-up of the state Probation Department after an independent review discovered what the justices described as a system of “systemic abuse and corruption of the hiring and promotion processes.”

The Supreme Judicial Court ordered Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert Mulligan to begin steps to remove senior officials in the department most responsible for the alleged abuses.

John O'Brien (NECN)

Mulligan told the court he will immediately seek to remove Probation Commissioner John O’Brien.

O’Brien was suspended in May after a series of Boston Globe articles alleged the department has become a patronage haven for lawmakers.

“Such abuse and corruption are intolerable and are a betrayal of the just expectations of the public and of employees in the judicial branch, including those in the Probation Department,” the justices wrote in a five-page statement.

“Corrective measures must now be taken to repair the damage wrought by the conduct laid bare by Independent Counsel’s investigation, and to restore the integrity of all aspects of the Probation Department.”

The justices have been reviewing the report — conducted by independent counsel Paul Ware — since Nov. 10 and released the report publicly Thursday afternoon.

Ware’s probe — a 307-page report produced after he conducted interviews with more than 90 witnesses and reviewed more than 525,000 documents — found that Probation’s hiring has “disproportionately favored politically-connected candidates.”

“(H)iring and promotion have been thoroughly compromised by a systemic rigging of the interview and selection process in favor of candidates who have political or other personal connections,” Ware wrote.

As an example, the report cites a “sponsor list,” which was an Excel spreadsheet of people who had donated money or made calls, what jobs those people were seeking and who had “sponsored them.”

Ware’s report also found O’Brien “retaliated” against employees who failed to cooperate in what Ware described as “systemic fraud.”

The allegations are so severe, Gov. Deval Patrick is renewing his call for the Probation Department to be run by his office. Patrick says the state should do more than just fire the people responsible.

“We need a different kind of Probation Department than we have right now, a professional and transparent one, and that’s not what we have right now,” Patrick said.

The SJC also said it is giving Ware’s report to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the state Attorney General’s Office, the Massachusetts Inspector General and the Office of Bar Council of the Board of Bar Overseers “for any such action … they deem appropriate.”

WBUR’s Benjamin Swasey and Bianca Vazquez Toness contributed reporting.

– Here’s Ware’s report on the Probation Department (on Scribd):

http://www.scribd.com/doc/43186245/Report-of-Independent-Counsel-in-the-Matter-of-the-Probation-Department-of-the-Trial-Court

– Here’s the SJC statement (on Scribd).

Earlier Coverage:

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