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Ex-judge says Probation hiring panel was a ‘sham’

A former judge told a federal jury Friday that she was so disgusted with the hiring process within the state Probation Department that she told her superiors she no longer wanted to participate.

“I felt totally disrespected as a judge to be part of this panel,” said Gail Garinger, a former Middlesex Juvenile Court judge who has since worked as the state’s child advocate.

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She told the jury in the federal trial alleging a corrupt hiring process in the Probation Department that the process would fail to produce good-quality probation officers for the juvenile court, and she watched her top candidate, who had wowed her in the interview process, be passed over for six other people for jobs.

Four of those people had already been favored by top probation superiors in Boston, according to earlier testimony Friday, and prosecutors allege the candidates were preselected because they were politically connected.

Garinger did not know it at the time, and she testified that she told her chief justice that the process was a “sham.”

“There’s no point of having a judge sit on that panel,” she said. “I felt at best it was a waste of my two days. . . . I wanted the role to be a meaningful one for me, as a judge.”

Garinger was the fourth judge to testify about the hiring process in the state Probation Department, and prosecutors have sought to establish a theme: that the judges were unaware that probation officials who sat on hiring panels with them had already received the names of preferred candidates.

The case involves allegations that John J. O’Brien, the former commissioner, and his top deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, ran a rigged hiring process by favoring candidates who were sponsored by state legislators instead of more qualified applicants.

In exchange, according to prosecutors, the legislators routinely boosted the department’s budget, helping O’Brien to build political clout. The jobs were called political currency, and prosecutors say the defendants committed fraud by violating the department’s hiring policy and covering up their scheme from the judges involved in the hiring process.

Defense lawyers argue that their clients did nothing wrong, even if it was patronage.

Stellio Sinnis, a lawyer for O’Brien, argued in cross-
examining Garinger that her disappointment in the hiring process was based on her inability to probe candidates with her own questioning.

He argued that questions had to be predetermined and equal for each candidate, to make sure they met the hiring policy’s “objective” standards.

He also argued that the resume of one of the candidates Garinger had ranked low — but who was favored by top Probation officials and was hired anyway — was not much different than the resume of a candidate that Garinger had preferred. Both were hired anyway.

Sinnis sought to argue that the hiring process was subjective, and the four preferred candidates were still qualified. The candidates were Kevin O’Brien, Michael White, Mari-Elena Sanchez, and Antonio Mataragas.

Earlier Friday, a regional probation administrator who served on the 2007 interview panel with Garinger acknowledged that he had received the names of five preferred candidates from Tavares and said he passed them on to the other probation official who served on the three-member panel.

The administrator, Brian Murphy, said he received preferred names from Tavares roughly 75 percent of the time he served on a hiring panel, but he added that the candidates were mostly qualified.

He agreed under questioning by defense lawyers that he was never ordered to hire candidates who were not qualified.

Under questioning by prosecutors, Murphy acknowledged that one of the five candidates that Tavares had favored was woefully underqualified and yet advanced to the final round. That person was not hired and ranked last in the final round.

Garinger said during her testimony that she was confused as to why Murphy seemed disinterested in her favorite candidate.

She described Murphy as “lukewarm” and said he told her “I just wasn’t impressed” with the candidate.

The candidate was not hired.

Milton Valencia can be reached at Milton.Valencia@globe.com
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