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Ex-judge grilled on probation hiring

The defense accused Robert A. Mulligan of hypocrisy.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The defense accused Robert A. Mulligan of hypocrisy.

Lawyers for the former Probation Department officials accused of illegally exchanging jobs for political favor sparred with a prosecution witness Tuesday, as the lawyers argued that the witness, the retired head of administration for the state courts, had the ultimate authority to monitor the department’s hiring.

Judge Robert A. Mulligan, who retired last year, was testifying for a third day in the corruption trial of John J. O’Brien and two of his deputies, and he sought to describe a bogus hiring process within the Probation Department while also trying to fend off accusations that he was a hypocrite who engaged in the same type of patronage hiring.

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“Aren’t you responsible for what happens in the office when you were [the chief justice]?” asked defense attorney John Amabile, noting that Mulligan certified the hires that prosecutors now say were part of the hiring scheme.

Mulligan testified that he trusted probation officials to implement an honest system.

“Were you a little in over your head, Mr. Mulligan?” Amabile asked.

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Mulligan shot back, “I was not an expert in [human resources], I was a trial judge.”

“I relied upon the people who were working for me to do this in a proper and honest way,” Mulligan said.

Prosecutors say that O’Brien and deputies Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III ran the Probation Department like a criminal enterprise, by directing jobs to the friends and family members of state legislators, in exchange for regular budget increases and legislative favors.

Defense lawyers say that their clients did nothing illegal, saying the hiring arrangements were patronage typical of Beacon Hill politics. But prosecutors say they committed fraud by creating an organized scheme and making applicants go through a bogus hiring process. O’Brien is also accused of falsely certifying to judges that he followed proper policies and procedures in making appointments. If convicted, the defendants face up to 20 years in prison on some charges.

Stellio Sinnis, an attorney for O’Brien, argued that Mulligan himself had hired courthouse security officers that were sponsored by state legislators, including the father of Senate President Therese Murray’s chief of staff, who had been a restaurant manager.

Mulligan argued that he gave consideration for a person’s “maturity” and other experiences, such as whether the person served in the military. He also said many of his appointments were for entry-level positions. He said the standards for a position as a probation officer were much higher.

Assistant US Attorney Fred M. Wyshak Jr. sought to show, through questioning Mulligan, that the chief judge did not create a bogus hiring scheme.

“Did political references control your hiring of court officers?” Wyshak asked. Mulligan said they did not.

Milton J. Valencia
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