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Probation Case Hears About Qualifications Of State Senator’s Girlfriend

BOSTON — In the racketeering trial of former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien, a former state judge has called the interviewing and hiring of a state senator’s girlfriend “a sham.”

The prosecution is rolling out one probation hire after another to build a case that the hiring process at the state’s Department of Probation was rigged.

On Thursday, the focus turned to Kelly Manchester, a job candidate at the Bristol County Probate and Family Court, who was interviewed in February 2008.

The presiding judge and one of three members of the interview panel was Judge Elizabeth O’Neill LaStaiti. She testified that the candidate was “not qualified.” Of 16 candidates, LaStaiti said she didn’t even give Manchester a rank. That, the judge later acknowledged, would suggest she had ranked Manchester at the bottom.

The two other interviewers on panel, both members of the Probation Department, gave Manchester a rank of “5″ (out of 10), however, and Manchester was hired, even though other candidates had higher scores.

Before the interview began, Judge LaStaiti testified, she was told that the 21-year-old Manchester was the girlfriend of state Sen. Mark Montigny of New Bedford/Fairhaven.

“She was very pleasant and personable,” the judge conceded.

But, “she had no experience in the work we did,” LaStaiti continued, and, in a dry, but forceful line, she also said Manchester’s relationship with Montigny “appeared to be her only qualification for the position.”

Called next to the stand was a second member of the panel who interviewed Manchester. James Casey, chief probation officer of the court, called Manchester only an “average” candidate. But before testimony ended for the day, Casey said he was told by a regional supervisor, who also sat on the panel, that there was an “interest in [Manchester]…from the office of the commissioner.”

And what did that mean, asked the prosecutor? Answer: “I suppose to give a little extra consideration,” he said.

Was this another example of simple patronage, as the defense claims? Or was it the sign of a criminal scheme? That will be the battleground as the trial continues.

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