The state’s highest court upheld the suspension Friday of Suffolk Register of Probate Patricia Campatelli, who has faced allegations that she punched one of her employees after a holiday gathering.
The Supreme Judicial Court was faced with the question of whether two administrative judges and a court administrator had the power to suspend Campatelli with pay.
Campatelli’s lawyers, Philip R. Boncore and Jeffrey R. Turco, argued that the authority to suspend an elected official such as Campatelli could only be exercised by the SJC.
Boncore and Turco asked the SJC to rescind the suspension and return Campatelli to her office while a full-scale investigation of the allegations against her, including mistreatment of her staff and insufficient work effort, goes forward.
But the court ruled that the administrative judges had the statutory authority to suspend Campatelli and further, that the administrative judges, besides statutory authority, had the power to act under their “inherent judicial authority” to manage the courts.
That inherent authority “must be broad enough to allow judges to perform core functions necessary for the proper administration of justice,” the SJC ruled in a unanimous opinion written by Justice Margot Botsford.
“The decision to suspend Campatelli with pay falls well within the inherent judicial authority,” the SJC ruled.
Campatelli, who is paid $122,500 a year, was elected by Suffolk County voters in 2012 in a stunning political upset. She is a candidate for reelection this fall. She is being challenged by five other candidates.
Campatelli was initially suspended by court administrators over allegations she punched one of her employees in the face after the pair attended an office holiday party in December.
Court administrators later determined they could not substantiate that charge, but new allegations arose that Campatelli was neglecting her duties and acting inappropriately and unprofessionally.
An investigator appointed by administrators, Ronald P. Corbett Jr., later 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, lengthy breaks. She was also accused of plotting to get rid of employees so that she could hire her own people.
Campatelli denied all the allegations. Corbett, however, said he did not believe her, saying that, of the dozens of employees he questioned, only Campatelli seemed untruthful, the Globe reported in March.
Campatelli’s lawyers argued that the registry of probate — which handles cases involving family issues such as child custody, estates, and divorces — was “well run” under Campatelli in the year since her election and that she never had an adequate chance to answer the charges in Corbett’s report.
The allegations against Campatelli are also being investigated by the Committee on Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the Courts, a committee of the SJC that investigates misconduct allegations.
The results of that investigation could wind up back in front of the SJC for the court’s consideration of whether Campatelli’s conduct warrants termination.