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Top Aide To Senate President Murray Testifies To Role In Probation Hiring

BOSTON — A top aide to Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray described for a federal jury Friday how she helped a politically connected job applicant win a post as a probation officer despite a poor interview performance.

Francine Gannon, Murray’s director of constituent services, said she fielded phone calls and notes from job seeker Patrick Lawton and reached out to a top aide to former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien for help securing employment.

Lawton brought Gannon flowers after he got the job and left a note thanking her for her “generosity and kindness.”

Gannon’s testimony came at the end of the first full week of the mail fraud and racketeering trial for O’Brien and two former deputies, accused of covering up a sprawling political patronage scheme.

The testimony forges the first direct connection in the trial between O’Brien and a high-ranking elected official.

Murray and other elected officials do not face criminal charges. But the trial could produce some embarrassing moments for some of the top figures on Beacon Hill.

Lawton has emerged as a central figure in the trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak held up the job applicant in his opening statement as a poster boy for all that was wrong with O’Brien’s patronage scheme.

Lawton, the son of a judge and former state representative, was fired from a job in the Plymouth County district attorney’s office after he used his work computer to send a political email.

He then sought the probation officer job in Plymouth County Probate and Family Court.

Plymouth Judge Catherine Sabaitis testified Thursday that Lawton was “dreadful” in his interview and that she gave him a poor interview score.

Another interview panelist, Plymouth Probate Court chief probation officer Michael LaFrance, gave Lawton poor marks too. But he testified Thursday that, after receiving a phone call from deputy commissioner Francis Wall expressing concern about Lawton’s ranking, he worked with a supervisor to expand the list of finalists for the job and push Lawton forward.

O’Brien eventually appointed Lawton, who lasted fewer than two years on the job. He was arrested for heroin possession and suspended. He later resigned.

Gannon testified Friday to the role of the Senate president’s office in getting Lawton the probation officer job.

She said she kept case files for constituent seeking jobs. And she began reviewing the Lawton file, page-by-page, in her testimony.

The file shows Lawton was interested in several state jobs in 2008, eventually homing in on the probation officer post.

One email from Lawton’s father Mark, a judge and former state representative, makes direct reference to O’Brien.

“I know that Jack O’Brien takes very seriously calls from your office where there is a strong interest on the part of the Senate president,” Mark Lawton wrote on March 11, 2008. “Francine, I need your help & assistance.”

Gannon’s notes show that she spoke with the Probation Department’s legislative liaison, Ed Ryan, who said Patrick Lawton had a “bit of difficulty” getting through his interview at the court.

But after getting through that interview, the notes continue, Patrick Lawton landed in the hands of the Probation Department’s central office and “should be OK.”

The file includes a handwritten note from Murray asking, about Patrick Lawton and his job hunt, “How are we doing on him?”

After he got the job, the case file shows, Patrick Lawton’s note assures Gannon “your kindness will always be remembered by me.”

Gannon will resume testimony Monday. Judge Mark Lawton and Patrick Lawton are scheduled to testify after her.

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