A former state probation supervisor who oversaw hiring panels told a federal jury Friday that he was reassigned in 2005 and that he felt he was being punished, after he failed to advance a candidate that had been pre-selected by John J. O’Brien, then the probation commissioner.
Edward Dalton, who retired as a regional administrator in 2010, said he was told by Deputy Commissioner Liz Tavares in early 2005 that O’Brien wanted a certain candidate advanced to a final round for a position in Barnstable District Court.
But that candidate was late to an interview, because of a scheduling error by probation officials, and Dalton failed to persuade a judge who served on the panel to interview the candidate anyway, according to his testimony.
Probation officials scrapped the entire process and started over, to include O’Brien’s candidate. Dalton was reassigned, he told jurors.
Dalton said he told Tavares that he and another supervisor “were being punished for not cooperating with the hiring process.”
“She felt the commissioner wasn’t sure of my loyalty to him,” Dalton told the jury.
Dalton was testifying for the second day in the federal trial alleging a corrupt hiring process in the Probation Department, and prosecutors sought to show that O’Brien manipulated the hiring process by telling subordinates who to hire and replacing them if they did not follow his orders.
On Thursday, prosecutors played a recording of voice messages that O’Brien’s aide left at Dalton’s home in 2000 telling him whom to recommend as finalists in two separate interview panels.
Dalton said he met with Judge Robert Mulligan, then the state court system’s chief justice of administration and finance, at his home in 2006 to explain his concerns with the hiring process, but that Mulligan told him, “What can I do?”
Defense attorneys sought to show through Dalton’s testimony, however, that the candidates who were recommended were qualified and that the person who missed the interview deserved to be involved in the process.
William Fick, an attorney for O’Brien, also argued that Dalton had an agenda. He argued that Dalton already disliked O’Brien, because he was named commissioner in 1998 over Dalton’s friend, former probation commissioner Ronald Corbett. Dalton agreed he was friendly with Corbett and other administrators in the Probation Department who had opposed O’Brien, including some who have testified in the trial.
O’Brien also passed Dalton over for several promotions. Dalton insisted, however, that his testimony was not related to any agenda.
In the middle of testimony Friday, defense attorneys sought a mistrial in the case, which began with opening arguments May 8, after Dalton disclosed that he had talked with prosecution witnesses Richard O’Neil and Ellen Slaney about their earlier testimony in the trial.
Dalton said prosecutors never told him he could not discuss the case with other witnesses.
US District Court Judge William G. Young said he will consider the request for the mistrial.
Prosecutors allege that O’Brien, the Probation Department’s commissioner from 1998 to 2010, and top deputies Tavares and William Burke III ran the department like a criminal enterprise by favoring job candidates who were sponsored by legislators over more qualified applicants.
In exchange, prosecutors say, legislators routinely boosted the department’s budget, helping O’Brien build his political clout. The jobs were considered “political currency.”
The defendants face a maximum of 20 years in prison on charges including racketeering and mail fraud. Prosecutors say the defendants created an organized scheme, making applicants go through a bogus hiring process. O’Brien then falsely certified to judges that he followed proper policies and procedures in making appointments, prosecutors allege.
Defense lawyers argue that the defendants did nothing illegal, calling it patronage hiring typical of Beacon Hill politics. Dalton, for instance, acknowledged that he himself listed judges and state representatives when he was first hired nearly four decades ago.
Also, his friend Slaney, who had taken over the Probation Department for a short time after O’Brien left the department under scandal in 2010, had hired Dalton as a consultant, at more than $450 a day. Dalton had already been collecting a $90,000 pension from the department.
The defense lawyers plan to argue that Mulligan, who oversaw final appointments, knew of the patronage all along. He could testify next week.