BOSTON, JULY 8, 2014…..Defense attorneys spent Tuesday attempting to tie former Chief Justice of Administration and Management Robert Mulligan to the same types of patronage-influenced personnel decisions that are part of the criminal case against three former state probation department officials.
Before becoming chief, Mulligan spent a term as head of the Massachusetts Superior Court, but after Barbara Dortch-Okara succeeded John Irwin as head of the Trial Court, Suzanne DelVecchio was selected to replace him, Mulligan said.
In 2003, the Supreme Judicial Court chose Mulligan to lead the Trial Court and soon after DelVecchio was up for reappointment with a powerful ally in the House of Representatives, Speaker Salvatore DiMasi.
“Sal DiMasi urged me strongly to reappoint Suzanne DelVecchio,” Mulligan said under cross examination Tuesday. The top judge instead selected Barbara Rouse, who took the Superior Court slot in October 2004.
“But it was payback time,” suggested defense attorney John Amabile. An objection from prosecutor Fred Wyshak left the question unanswered.
Former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien and two of his former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, are fighting charges that they systematically rigged hiring to give jobs to politically connected applicants. O’Brien allegedly gave jobs to lawmakers as a form of bribery with the hopes the Legislature would favor the probation department.
DelVecchio and DiMasi came up earlier in the trial when Judge Bertha Josephson recalled hearing DelVecchio on the phone with DiMasi in 2000 or 2001, when judges still had the authority to appoint probation officers. “Well next time send me goddamn candidates who can make it through an interview,” Josephson recalled hearing DelVecchio say.
Mulligan, who was the chief justice of administration and management from October 2003 through O’Brien’s 2010 ouster, signed off on O’Brien’s probation appointments. While the prosecution has tried to show he was repeatedly duped by O’Brien and other probation officials, the defense has sought to make Mulligan shoulder some of the responsibility for signing off on the hires and portrayed him as operating a similar system for hiring court officers.
Judge William Young blocked several other inquiries into Mulligan’s history.
When Amabile asked whether Mulligan appointed a relative of a Supreme Judicial Court justice after Mulligan’s narrow 2008 reappointment, Mulligan said that is “absolutely wrong and terribly misleading.” Amabile asked about Timothy Mahoney, who is reportedly the son-in-law of Justice Margot Botsford, but the questioning was cut short by a Wyshak objection. According to Commonwealth Magazine, Mulligan promoted Mahoney to court officer in Dedham District Court, but then rescinded the promotion after questions were raised.
A question about whether Mulligan helped Trial Court Executive Director Frank Carney’s son get a job in a clerk’s office was ruled irrelevant and a query about Mulligan giving a court officer job to the son of Hampden Superior Court Chief Probation Officer Nick DeAngelis was also deemed out of bounds by Young. Mulligan said he served at the Springfield court in 2003 and DeAngelis used to cook for him and others.
Mulligan acknowledged keeping a spreadsheet of court officer candidates that listed public officials who backed particular candidates, and he said he kept letters of recommendation.
“Where are those files? They weren’t produced, were they sir?” asked Amabile. Mulligan said he turned over everything that federal law enforcement subpoenaed and after further questioning said, “I did not destroy any files.”
In addition to casting scrutiny on Mulligan’s own personnel decisions, defense attorneys attempted to put him on the hook for O’Brien’s probation appointments. Mulligan had the authority to approve the appointments, and he could reject them if they were not in line with Trial Court policy.
“You were the big boss over there?” asked Amabile.
“I was in charge,” Mulligan responded.
The prosecution claims O’Brien orchestrated a system where job-winners were pre-selected based on the political heft of their backers and the purportedly merit-based hiring system was manipulated to make sure the favored candidate scored high enough in interviews to win the job.
“This was a very small portion of my responsibilities,” Mulligan said of his oversight of hiring. He said, “I had to rely upon the people who were working for me to do this in a proper and honest way.”
Under questioning by defense attorney Stellio Sinnis, Mulligan acknowledged that he didn’t recall any “red flags” raised by the appointments of several hires that prosecutors claim were fraudulent. On several of the hiring forms – where O’Brien’s signature certifying the Trial Court policies were followed is key to the alleged fraud – the space for Mulligan’s signature is left blank.
“I’m perplexed by it. I don’t know why it doesn’t have my signature,” Mulligan said.
Mulligan also admitted that while he believes he transferred $4 million into the probation department budget in fiscal year 2004, he had not seen any documentation of that.
“I have not. I spoke to Jack O’Brien about it,” Mulligan said. Mulligan’s ability to transfer money in and out of the probation department was left out of the fiscal year 2006 budget and subsequent annual spending bills, which prosecutors have claimed was part of a “quid pro quo” with Rep. Robert DeLeo, who was then chairman of Ways and Means and is now Speaker of the House.
While Young restricted much of the testimony about Mulligan’s appointments, defense attorneys have been able to quiz the retired judge about court officer hires.
Sinnis zeroed in on Ralph Ruzzo, the former manager of Antonio’s Restaurant in Boston, who was appointed an associate court officer and promoted to a court officer in 2008 with the backing of former Senate President Robert Travaglini and East Boston Sen. Anthony Petruccelli, according to notes kept by an aide to Senate President Therese Murray.
“This is an entry-level position,” Mulligan said. He said Ruzzo must have performed well as an associate court officer to warrant the promotion.
During discussion of the fiscal year 2010 budget, Mulligan lobbied members of the House and Senate with personal notes that referenced their district, in an attempt to override an $18.5 million gubernatorial veto of the Judiciary budget, he said.
Mulligan said his suspicions that hiring was amiss in probation were heightened by a meeting at his home in 2005 or 2006 with Ed Dalton, who was then a regional probation administrator. Dalton’s account of the extent of top-down influence on hiring decisions was a surprise, Mulligan said.
In a 2012 interview with Commonwealth Magazine, former Supreme Judicial Court Judge John Greaney said Mulligan had never told justices on the high court about his concerns over probation hiring.
“At the administrative levels of the Trial Court, they knew what was going on. I think Mulligan had a good sense that there were some real problems here. But we had no direct knowledge of it until the whole thing blew up. I can assure you that if we had known about it, we would have taken some aggressive action at that point,” Greaney told Commonwealth. Placing the blame on the courts and lawmakers, Greaney said, “People were asleep at the switch.”
Young also cut short questioning about the political support Mulligan and his family had given Gov. Edward King. King appointed Mulligan to his judgeships and appointed his brother Gerald Mulligan commissioner of banks. Mulligan donated $1,000 to King’s campaign in October 1978, according to records at the Governor’s Council. Amabile noted King nominated him for the Superior Court in December 1982 when the governor was a “lame duck.”
Amabile and Sinnis took varying approaches to their cross examination of Mulligan. Last week, Sinnis led off asking Mulligan if he recognized his brother sitting in the court room, and then accused Mulligan of attempting to influence the hiring of an acquaintance of his brother Gerald. At times, Young stepped in and cautioned Sinnis to allow Mulligan to finish his answer before delivering another question.
Amabile led off noting how he and Mulligan have known each other professionally for decades, and later asked if he wanted to be called “Judge Mulligan” or “Mr. Mulligan,” settling on “Mr. Mulligan” when the former judge said it was up to Amabile. The defense attorney also at one point instructed the judge to call him “Mr. Amabile” rather than “John.”
Amabile also noted that Mulligan had declined invitations to meet with the defense, though he had met several times with the FBI, and asked pointed questions of the retired judge, asking if he was “in a little over your head” as the chief of the Trial Court.
Mulligan was at times insistent on giving an extensive answer to questions, rather than a yes or no, but did not appear particularly rattled by cross examination, smiling at times when Young told him to limit his answers to the questions asked.
Mulligan was O’Brien’s superior, and Mulligan and the SJC suspended O’Brien on May 24, 2010, the day after a Boston Globe story detailing patronage in the probation department. Mulligan’s testimony could go toward a conviction for O’Brien and his former deputies, on charges, which defense attorneys have said carry a sentence of up to 20 years.
“You didn’t like Jack O’Brien, is that correct?” Amabile asked.
“I didn’t like the way he acted and what he did,” Mulligan said.
The trial ended Tuesday afternoon with prosecutor Fred Wyshak resuming his examination of Mulligan, who will likely return to the stand Wednesday morning.
Copyright 2014 State House News Service