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Embattled Suffolk register wants to return to work

Suffolk County Register of Probate Patricia Campatelli asked the Supreme Judicial Court Friday to let her return to work, arguing that court officials had no legal right to suspend her and bar her from entering the courthouse.

Campatelli’s appeal to the state’s highest court said she has been suffering “severe mental anguish” since court officials placed her on paid administrative leave in January amid questions about whether she assaulted an employee after a Christmas party at two Boston bars.

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“Her relationship, reputation, and goodwill” have been so damaged that “she is losing the trust and confidence of her constituents, which is severely jeopardizing her ability to seek reelection,” wrote her lawyer, Philip R. Boncore.

Boncore asserted that court officials violated the US Constitution, as well as state law, which gives authority to remove clerks to the full SJC alone.

Trial court officials “have no right to simply ignore the laws of the Commonwealth,” wrote Boncore, who also asked the SJC to order court officials to issue a press release notifying the public that Campatelli “is no longer suspended and will be resuming her duties.”

A trial court spokeswoman declined to comment on Campatelli’s court filing, but some legal experts say Campatelli’s case has put court officials in the awkward position of disciplining an elected official who answers to the voters.

Top court administrators decided last week to extend Campatelli’s administrative leave indefinitely after an outside investigator turned over a nine-page report on Campatelli’s conduct that found she worked too little, swore too much, and had a “fundamental inability to understand that . . . she should be a dignified figure.”

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The court-appointed investigator, Ronald P. Corbett Jr., found that Campatelli often worked only 15 hours a week and spent much of that time taking smoking breaks, scratching lottery tickets, filling out puzzles, and looking at East Boston real estate on the Internet.

He also found that she had created a “fearful atmosphere” in the office, retaliating against some workers who questioned her frequent and lengthy breaks and plotting to get rid of employees so she could hire her own people.

Campatelli denied all the allegations, but Corbett said he did not believe her, saying that of the dozens of employees he questioned, only Campatelli seemed untruthful.

“It simply is not credible that so many employees would falsely report so many specific and similar details,” Corbett wrote in the March 3 report. “I conclude that the Register did not respond truthfully to material questions I asked her.”

Corbett’s confidential report was forwarded to a committee of the Supreme Judicial Court for possible disciplinary action. That panel, the Committee on Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the Court, has scheduled an emergency meeting next week to discuss the complaint.

The committee is made up of two judges, two clerks, and a lawyer.

Until the high court rules, however, Boncore plans to argue before a single justice of the SJC that Campatelli should be allowed to work.

Justice Fernande R.V. Duffly is hearing single-justice appeals this month.

Some court observers warned that Campatelli’s strategy could backfire. Duffly could send the case immediately to the SJC, which has the power to immediately take any action it sees fit, including terminating Campatelli or suspending her without pay.

Campatelli, a first-time candidate, was elected in 2012 to fill the unexpired term of Richard Iannella, who resigned in 2011.

She is running for reelection for a six-year term, and five opponents have taken out nomination papers.

The job pays $122,500 a year, and the salary will increase to $132,500 in July.

In his SJC appeal, Boncore said that Campatelli, who previously worked for the Probation Department, had an unblemished record until recently.

She “worked her way up without ever having an incident report” or any written complaint filed against her, Boncore wrote.

Campatelli cooperated with the court’s investigation of “anonymous unfounded allegations,” Boncore continued, but was never given a chance to confront her accusers.

Boncore complained that Corbett’s questions were “overly broad and without any reference to any person, place, or time of certain statements.”

Boncore also suggested that Campatelli may be a victim of bias from a top court official, noting that one of the judges involved in her suspension — Angela M. Ordonez, the chief justice of the state probate and family court — worked at the Suffolk County Registry of Probate and is friends with some of Campatelli’s disgruntled employees.

“These anonymous and informal allegations came to Justice Ordonez from her former co-workers and friends in the register’s office,” he wrote.

Not everyone Corbett questioned had criticized Campatelli, wrote Boncore. “Several employees reported having no problem with how they are treated in the office, reporting variously being ‘treated with respect,’ observing the register acting in a professional manner, and stating that she is not rude,” he wrote, quoting Corbett’s report.

Boncore, who declined to comment, explained in his filings that he turned to the SJC for help when court administrators would not give Campatelli an audience.

After Corbett issued his report, Campatelli requested a meeting with Paula Carey, chief justice of the trial court, and court administrator Harry Spence, but neither responded, Boncore wrote.

The event that triggered Campatelli’s original suspension, the alleged assault on employee Timothy Perry, was not a major issue in Corbett’s report. He said he could not sort out the facts because Campatelli and Perry had been drinking heavily.

Corbett said Campatelli was guilty of “poor judgment” in her conduct that night. Perry has not returned to work since two days after the alleged event.

Andrea Estes can be reached andrea.estes@globe.com; Sean Murphy at sean.murphy@globe.com

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