Suffolk County Register of Probate Patricia Campatelli will remain on paid leave indefinitely after an outside investigator found her to be “not truthful” in recounting her personal conduct in a series of office controversies, say court employees and Campatelli herself.
Top court officials have asked a committee of the Supreme Judicial Court to determine whether to issue further discipline against Campatelli, court employees and Campatelli said. She has been on paid leave since Jan. 14 after reports that she assaulted an employee following a Christmas party.
Her attorney had insisted that an outside investigator’s report, to be delivered this week, would vindicate Campatelli, but court administrators told Campatelli’s employees Thursday that their boss will remain on paid leave indefinitely from the $122,456 job.
“The report has been completed and submitted to the trial court,” a court spokeswoman said in a two-sentence statement. “Patricia Campatelli remains on paid administrative leave.”
Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula Carey has already referred Campatelli’s case to the disciplinary committee, which operates in secrecy, say court employees and Campatelli. In the past, the committee has taken months, even years, to rule, raising the possibility that she could be off the job through November, when she is running for reelection in a race that has attracted four opponents.
But Campatelli, in her first remarks to the Globe, strongly denied that she lied to the investigator, Ronald Corbett, or that she punched employee Timothy Perry, whom she described as a friend. More broadly, she insisted that court administrators have no power even to place her, as an elected official, on administrative leave.
“They can’t suspend me; they’re not my boss,” she said. “I’ve been put in a category with someone who was stealing money. . . . I did nothing illegal.”
The controversy swirling around Campatelli, a first-time candidate when she won an upset victory to become register in 2012, has put the Executive Office of the Trial Court in an awkward position. As register, she manages routine court cases involving family issues such as child custody, estates, and divorces, but, unlike most court employees, she answers to voters, and, her lawyer argues, only voters or the Supreme Judicial Court can remove her.
“The trial court is infringing on [Campatelli’s] right to do the job the people elected her to do,” said Philip Boncore, who is Campatelli’s lawyer.
She has been suspended from her job twice, first for four days in December after the reported assault. Court officials allowed her to return to work, saying they could not substantiate Perry’s allegations.
They suspended her again weeks later amid “new and serious allegations” from employees about Campatelli’s management style, including complaints that she may have threatened Perry with disciplinary action after the alleged Dec. 18 assault, court officials said.
Since then, Corbett, a former probation commissioner, has conducted an investigation of Campatelli’s conduct, interviewing employees, as well as Campatelli, on issues ranging from her reported use of profanity in the office to the frequency of her cigarette breaks and whether she is really working when she is in her office.
“It’s nonsense. There’s no sworn testimony. It’s garbage with no dates,” Campatelli said of the investigation, noting that Corbett would not even tell her who was making complaints.
“He asked me, ‘Did you say the F-word at work?’’’ she recalled, saying she responded: “I don’t think so. Who did I say it to?” Corbett would not say, said Campatelli.
She said Corbett also asked her if she took long cigarette breaks because “someone timed you at 25 minutes.”
Campatelli denied she smokes cigarettes. “I smoke electronic cigarettes,” she said. “Maybe I got a cup of coffee.”
Corbett also questioned Campatelli’s work ethic.
“He asked, ‘Do you read the newspaper? Do you do crossword puzzles?’ Yeah, I do. I don’t sit in my office. That was a chief complaint about the last two registrars,” said Campatelli. “I took one vacation. I have funerals. I have wakes. I took one vacation, taking my 81-year-old aunt back to Florida.”
Campatelli was equally adamant that she never punched Perry, a longtime employee who said she assaulted him while the two were passengers in a car coming home from partying at two Boston bars. Perry checked himself into alcohol rehab shortly after the incident, the Globe has reported, citing people who know him.
Campatelli said she drank relatively little on the night of the Christmas party and was not drunk: “Reports that I was doing shots were not true — I had a couple of cordials. I’m not saying I don’t have a few drinks — it’s legal.
“That [alleged assault] didn’t happen. I’ve been exonerated. There was no [police] complaint filed,” she said, insisting that Perry was the one who was “rowdy,” not her. “It didn’t happen. Timmy is not a well person. I wish him wellness.”
On Thursday night, Perry said in an interview that he stands by his story: “She hit me twice right across the face in the car coming back from the Christmas party. There are pictures of me showing I got hit. There’s a recorded message I left on someone’s phone right after, saying she hit me. Put two and two together.”
Corbett was apparently not satisfied with her answers. “He found me not truthful,” she said.
Campatelli insists she is the victim, saying: “I’m a good person. They’re kicking me while I’m down.”
Campatelli and court employees said Corbett’s report has been forwarded to the Committee on Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the Court, which investigates allegations of misconduct for the SJC.
The panel has removed a register of probate in the past, Middlesex County Register of Probate Robert B. Antonelli, in 1999. But it took two years and a ruling by the SJC before Antonelli was ousted for mistreating employees. Court officials have been trying to develop a new disciplinary process for clerks, recognizing that the committee has traditionally taken too long.
So far Campatelli is facing challenges from several candidates: John Sepulveda, an East Boston community activist, former Boston councilor and school committee member Felix Arroyo, and Martin Keogh, a Boston lawyer and unsuccessful candidate for Boston City Council. John A. Aliperta also pulled nomination papers.
Campatelli is pressing ahead with her campaign.
“I was out at the Moose Club in Revere and getting signatures,” she said, in response to a question about why she posted on Facebook that she visited several bars and social clubs. “I’m not going to get signatures at a church or someone’s job. That’s where people are.’’
“I’m convinced I’ll win again,” Campatelli added.Sean P. Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Andrea Estes can be reached email@example.com.