Berkshire Eagle 07/30/2011, Page B06
Probation Patronage Scandal
Reps push hiring reform
BOSTON ( AP) — Lawmakers have given final approval to a bill aimed at overhauling the administration of the state’s courts, including the way job applications are handled.
The compromise bill was approved Friday in both the Massachusetts House and Senate on a voice vote and without debate. Both branches earlier approved separate versions of the bill, which now heads to Gov. Deval Patrick. A spokesman said Patrick will review the legislation.
The bill creates a standard hiring process for all court and probation officers. It comes after an investigative report last year found abuses in hiring and promotions.
Applicants will be required to take an entrance exam and be screened to make sure they meet minimum qua lifications. They will then be subjected to a background check and behavioral interviews to make sure they are suited for the job. The bill also creates a new civilian court administrator responsible for the general oversight of the courts.
The legislation rejects a Patrick proposal to merge the Probation Department with the Massachusetts Parole Board and bring both under the control of the executive branch.
Top lawmakers say the bill will bring a new level of professionalism to the management of the courts.
“With new rigorous procedures in place, we will create a more efficient and transparent court system where only the most qualified and well-suited candidates are hired,” Senate President Therese Murray said in a statement.
Approval of the bill follows the release of an investigative report commissioned by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that found abuses in the Probation Department’s hiring processes.
That report by independent counsel Paul Ware said there apparently was “ an understanding” between certain legislators and former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien that generous appropriations for the department were linked to O’Brien’s willingness to give jobs to applicants recommended by the lawmakers.
O’Brien was suspended and later resigned.
According to the Ware report, 24 of 36 job candidates sponsored by former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi were hired.
Seven of 12 candidates sponsored by DeLeo, including his godson, also were hired. DeLeo has acknowledged writing a letter of recommendation for his godson but said he put no “undue pressure” on the department.
Under the legislation, the new civilian Court Admin-istrator will be responsible for reviewing and approving the hiring of non-judicial employees, administering appropriations and expenditures, negotiating contracts and leases, an d other administrative functions.
The bill removes unilateral hiring power from the Commissioner of Probation, making hiring within the Probation Department subject to the approval of the Court Administrator.