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A court job offer brings a state veto

Magistrate chose daughter of a friend

Joseph Ligotti, left, and Robert Jubinville have had many dealings.

Bill Brett for the Boston Globe

Joseph Ligotti, left, and Robert Jubinville have had many dealings.

Time and again, Governor’s Councilor Robert Jubinville came through for his old friend Joseph A. Ligotti, writing letters on his behalf when the Hingham District Court clerk magistrate got into trouble and providing free legal services when Ligotti was accused of taking part in a speeding ticket scam in 2001.

So, it raised more than a few eyebrows when Ligotti recently offered Jubinville’s daughter a job as an assistant clerk, a coveted $84,000-a-year position that drew more than 200 applicants. Maura Jubinville, 32, had been a low-level Probation Department employee making little more than half as much money, and, unlike other job candidates, she had no law degree.

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Now, Ligotti’s offer to hire his friend’s daughter is becoming a test of whether the Massachusetts court system has changed its hiring practices since 2011 when the rampant hiring of friends, relatives, and politically connected job applicants led to federal racketeering charges against former probation commissioner John J. O’Brien and two top deputies.

Harry Spence, who was hired to the new position of court administrator to improve management and ensure greater fairness in hiring, has vetoed Ligotti’s job offer. He is also moving to discipline Ligotti for failing to disclose his relationship with Maura Jubinville’s father when he recommended her for the position.

But the group that represents court clerks is challenging Spence’s authority to stop the younger Jubinville’s hiring or to punish Ligotti. Though some of the 400 members of the Association of Magistrates and Assistant Clerks have little fondness for Ligotti, who has repeatedly faced misconduct charges, they believe he was within his rights to hire Maura Jubinville.

“From our perspective, the court administrator has the right to reject an appointment only if it fails to comply with policies and procedures,” said Daniel J. Hogan, head of the association, which is considering an appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court to block Spence. “That’s it. Whether he likes the candidate or not is irrelevant.”

Indeed, Maura Jubinville meets the minimum requirement to be a court clerk: She has a bachelor’s degree and at least six years’ relevant work experience. But Jubinville’s name was not on the list of most qualified candidates from the original 200 that the human resources department of the trial court sent to Ligotti.

In order to interview Jubinville, Ligotti had to ask the trial court for a second list of applicants, this time a list of all 40 court employees who had applied, including Jubinville. She then emerged as the top pick of a hiring committee that included Ligotti, though he did not vote.

Massachusetts court officials are not speaking publicly about the Ligotti controversy, but people with direct knowledge of the fight say that Spence and others fear that the hiring of Jubinville would be a black eye to a court system still trying to recover from the Probation Department hiring scandal.

A 2010 Globe Spotlight report identified 250 probation employees with personal or political ties to politicians and court officials. Probation employees hoping for promotion reported feeling pressured to contribute money to legislators who were believed to have special sway with O’Brien.

Since O’Brien’s resignation at the end of 2010, the Legislature passed measures for the court system that included creation of an administrator’s office to oversee spending, contracting, and hiring of employees other than the judges themselves. The Supreme Judicial Court hired Spence, a former state Social Services commissioner, in 2012.

State Representative Eugene O’Flaherty, chairman of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said the Jubinville hiring could become a test of just how far Spence’s power goes in regulating court hiring.

“The court administrator is trying to do his job within the construct of the law, but there are some gray areas,” he said.

One of those areas, he said, is Spence’s authority over clerk magistrates. “Clerks are appointed by the governor and are supposed to be independent from the judges” that hired Spence as administrator, said O’Flaherty.

Robert Jubinville, a longtime attorney and former State Police detective from Milton who was elected to the Governor’s Council in 2012, said he doesn’t see any issue at all, insisting he did nothing to influence Ligotti’s decision to hire his daughter and that she earned it entirely on her merits.

“I am damn proud of my daughter. Maura has sat in courtrooms for the last eight years. She’s eminently qualified to be an assistant clerk,” said Jubinville, adding, “My daughter should not be denied that job because I am her father, and she should not get that job because I am her father.”

Ligotti declined to comment. Maura Jubinville, who works as an associate probation officer at West Roxbury District Court, could not be reached.

But court officials say that Ligotti’s decision to hire Jubinville raised numerous concerns, starting with the personal relationship between Ligotti and Jubinville’s father and the fact that Ligotti did not disclose it when he informed Spence that he wanted to make Jubinville his first new assistant clerk in 14 years.

Ligotti, who has twice been punished by the Supreme Judicial Court for misconduct, including abusive behavior toward the public and issuing an illegal arrest warrant, said he has been friends with Robert Jubinville for years.

In 2001, Jubinville publicly defended Ligotti against charges that he was helping State Police get extra overtime pay by urging citizens to appeal speeding tickets, thereby requiring extra hearings where the troopers would serve as witnesses. In exchange, troopers funneled more work to Ligotti’s work on the side as a bail bondsman, according to two state troopers who made the allegation in a lawsuit. At the time, Ligotti received a $25 fee for every person he bailed out of jail.

In news coverage, Jubinville was described as Ligotti’s attorney. But when questioned by Spence, Ligotti said Jubinville was representing him on various occasions as a friend and did not charge for his services, according to two people briefed on the dispute.

Since then, Ligotti’s family has donated to Jubinville’s campaigns for Governor’s Council, while Jubinville’s campaign finance records show he hired Ligotti Entertainment, owned by Joseph A. Ligotti Jr., for advertising services.

In his campaigns for the council, which approves appointments of judges and clerk magistrates, Jubinville portrayed himself as a champion of good government. “I want to do my part to make sure only the best get a robe,” Jubinville said in a 2012 debate. “If they’re not the best, we all pay the price in that [court] room.”

Jubinville acknowledged his friendship with Ligotti — “I’m friends with Ligotti and friends with a lot of court personnel.” — but said it’s irrelevant, noting that his daughter simply responded to a publicly posted position. Jubinville acknowledged that he is “very close” to his daughter, sometimes attending her job interviews for moral support, but he insisted he made no effort to help her get the Hingham post.

Instead, a panel consisting of Ligotti and two other clerks from other courts interviewed almost 40 people before settling on Maura Jubinville as their first choice for the job, which carries with it an automatic pay raise to $104,000 next July.

But Spence, who has built a reputation as a bureaucratic troubleshooter, questioned whether Jubinville was the best candidate, especially since she was not on the trial court’s original list of qualified candidates.

Since joining the Probation Department in 2005, Jubinville had risen to temporary probation officer under O’Brien. But Jubinville and 14 other temporary probation officers lost their jobs as a result of a union grievance, and Jubinville was unable to win a permanent promotion, unlike eight other temporary probation officers. As a result, Jubinville remains an associate probation officer, earning $48,454 a year.

Robert Jubinville said his daughter’s demotion was strictly a union issue that did not reflect on her talents.

“She got excellent ratings,” asserted Jubinville. “I never heard of one criticism of my daughter.”

At this point, however, the most important issue to Spence may be the appearance of favoritism if the hiring of Maura Jubinville goes through, say court officials familiar with the situation. He has scheduled a hearing with Ligotti for Sept. 22 to decide what discipline, if any, should be imposed on the longtime clerk magistrate.

Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.
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