Nomination for Parole Board chair raises issues for Governor’s Council

Veteran Suffolk County prosecutor Paul Treseler nominated to lead board

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BOSTON (State House News Service) – When the Governor’s Council convenes next week to consider the confirmation of the governor’s first Parole Board nominee, councilors will weigh the nominee’s experience as a prosecutor, his leadership skills and the philosophical balance of the board.

Earlier this month, Gov. Charlie Baker nominated veteran Suffolk County prosecutor Paul Treseler of West Roxbury to serve as chair of the Parole Board. Treseler’s appointment must be confirmed by the council, which has scheduled a confirmation hearing for 11 a.m. on Sept. 2.

“He is certainly qualified, he is certainly competent; I look forward to voting for him,” Councilor Michael Albano said. “There is nothing in his background or in his experience or in my interview with him that would lead me to believe he is not qualified.”

For 19 years, Treseler has worked as a prosecutor, supervising dozens of death investigations and trying more than 30 cases in district court and 30 more in Suffolk Superior Court. According to Baker’s office, Treseler worked on the MBTA Green Line “texting” crash case and the state’s drug lab crisis involving tainted evidence.

Albano said he recently met with Treseler to discuss his appointment and his views on parole and other justice system issues.

“I said to him, ‘so we’re getting a prosecutor here, okay, I got it. Does that mean there will be a higher rate of denials of paroles?,’ ” Albano recounted. “He countered that he is a believer in parole and he is a believer in re-entry.”

Councilor Robert Jubinville, a criminal defense attorney from Milton, said he has spoken to Treseler “many, many times over the years” and has argued cases against him.

“We’re going to have a hearing, so I will reserve my judgement. But he understands the addiction issue,” said Jubinville, who last month cast the lone dissenting vote against Baker’s nominee for chief justice of the Appeals Court because the nominee said he knows little about drug addiction. “He has some experience with that and he understands it, which is nice to have on the Parole Board.”

The seven-member parole board makes recommendations to the governor for pardons and commutations, conducts face-to-face parole release hearings, supervises more than 8,000 parolees, and provides notice and assistance to thousands of victims and as well as reentry services to nearly 700 state offenders leaving custody with no post-release supervision.

Jubinville, Albano and other councilors said it is important that the Governor’s Council considers the makeup of the Parole Board to maintain a balance between various schools of thought. Under state law, each board member must have at least five years of training or experience in either parole, probation, law, law enforcement, psychology, psychiatry, sociology or social work.

“Overall, it’s good to get a balance on the board, but I wouldn’t use someone’s background or experience as a litmus test,” Councilor Joseph Ferreira said. “I base each individual on their own knowledge, training, experience, and general demeanor or character.”

Councilor Terrence Kennedy added, “What’s important is not whether someone has been a prosecutor, a defense attorney or comes from outside the system. What’s important is that we have a balance on the Parole Board and that the person is qualified.”

Because he is nominated to serve as the board’s chair and would serve as the board’s advocate, Albano said he plans to question Treseler about his experience with leaders at the State House, with whom he may need to negotiate.

Baker’s predecessor, Gov. Deval Patrick, last November named Charlene Bonner, a member of the board since 2011, as chair. Bonner has a doctorate in psychology and has specialized in forensic psychology and the addictive disorders, including a stint as director of ambulatory services at Bournewood Hospital in Brookline.

While Bonner would remain on the board if Treseler is confirmed, the nominee would fill a slot held by board member Lee Gartenberg, the former long-time director of inmate legal services at the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office.

In June, a majority of the Governor’s Council pressed Baker to reappoint Gartenberg, a holdover from Patrick’s time in office, now that his term has expired. Gartenberg had joined the board for a six-month stint to fill the remainder of a five-year term.

“Mr. Gartenberg is more qualified than any other person in Massachusetts to be reappointed to the Parole Board,” Jubinville said in June, reading a letter signed by six of the eight councilors requesting Gartenberg’s reappointment that he then gave to Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.

When asked Wednesday if he is disappointed Baker did not reappoint Gartenberg, Jubinville said he is not and that he respects the governor’s prerogative to select his own candidates for the Parole Board.

“I’ve known Lee for many years and he is tremendously qualified,” he said. “But it is the governor’s right to appoint someone of his choosing; it’s part of our system.”

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