Under fire, Probation chief quits Scandal sinks John J. O’Brien

Under fire, Probation chief quits
Scandal sinks John J. O’Brien

Massachusetts Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien has resigned from his post.
By Dave Wedge and Marie Szaniszlo  |   Saturday, January 1, 2011  |  http://www.bostonherald.com  |  Local Politics

Photo by Herald file
Embattled Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien jumped before he was pushed, stepping down at the eleventh hour to avoid a hearing next week his attorney says would have left him fighting a losing battle.

In a two-page statement announcing the resignation, O’Brien’s attorney, Paul Flavin, said his client “categorically denies any participation in any fraud or corruption.”

“Numerous individuals from every branch of government involved in the investigation make, receive and take into consideration recommendations,” Flavin said. “The singling out of Commissioner O’Brien is a travesty.”

Flavin said his client decided to step down after the state’s highest court rejected his bid to view the testimony of Trial Court Chief Justice Robert Mulligan, who was slated to preside over O’Brien’s termination hearing tentatively slated for Tuesday.

Flavin said he was given access to only eight of more than 60 pages of transcripts of Mulligan’s testimony and that the Supreme Judicial Court — which has recommended O’Brien’s firing — kept key information secret.

Among the sealed testimony Flavin sought was the judge’s explanation of a handwritten note Mulligan sent to O’Brien in 2000 thanking the commissioner for hiring the daughter of his brother’s friend. Mulligan’s note, written on his official court stationery, was first reported by the Herald.

“Judge Mulligan is presiding over a disciplinary hearing involving the termination of my client, and I can’t see how he answered the questions?” Flavin said last night. “My client is caught in the middle of a power struggle and is a scapegoat.”

Mulligan’s testimony is among thousands of pages of witness statements and evidence collected by independent counsel Paul F. Ware who wrote a scathing report alleging widespread “fraud” and “abuse” in the Probation Department’s hiring. The report alleges plum jobs were rigged for campaign donors after politicians sent O’Brien letters of recommendation.

Flavin also unsuccessfully sought to have Mulligan — who was responsible for approving O’Brien’s hiring decisions — recuse himself from presiding over the hearing.

“My client is facing a disciplinary hearing where the outcome is predetermined,” Flavin said.

Noted defense attorney Harvey Silverglate said O’Brien may have made the move to avoid answering questions that may come back to haunt him if he faces criminal charges.

“In a civil proceeding, you do not have the same privilege against self-incrimination that you do in a criminal trial,” Silverglate said.

Federal and state authorities have launched criminal probes. A source said reams of documents were subpoenaed this week from State House lawmakers.

House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones (R-N. Reading) called O’Brien’s resignation “long overdue,” and added, “It is my hope that this will be the first step in the long, difficult process of cleaning up what is known to be a very corrupt Probation Department.”

Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/politics/view.bg?articleid=1306524

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