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Juror blasts Walsh’s support of ex-probation chief

Former probation commisioner John J. O’Brien was convicted last week.

AP

Former probation commisioner John J. O’Brien was convicted last week.

A juror in the federal corruption trial of former state probation commissioner John J. O’Brien sharply criticized Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Thursday for questioning O’Brien’s guilt, dismissing his comments as reckless and “borderline ridiculous.”

Two days after Walsh defended the disgraced commissioner and said he did not believe O’Brien’s actions were criminal, one of the 12 jurors who found O’Brien guilty of corruption issued an unusual public rebuke, calling Walsh’s comments irresponsible and ill informed.

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“He also seems confused as to what the charges were even about,” the juror wrote in an e-mail. “I would hope the mayor of a major city would know something [anything] about an issue before he comments.”

Last week, O’Brien was convicted of running a rigged hiring system that favored friends of legislators over more qualified candidates. His top aide and a deputy were also found guilty in the scheme, a verdict law enforcement officials said should deliver a strong warning against political corruption.

But on Tuesday, Walsh said he knew O’Brien to be a “good man” and described the case as “a sad day for Massachusetts.”

“I think he went to work every day to do his job,’’ Walsh said in an interview with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on WGBH-FM. “I think somehow the system got the better of him.”

Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

Walsh also said elected officials have an obligation to help constituents obtain jobs when appropriate, a comment that rankled the juror. O’Brien’s lawyers had argued that he was merely practicing political patronage, which is legal.

RELATED: Yvonne Abraham: Marty Walsh misses the point in probation case

But the juror said the panel determined that O’Brien crossed a line by taking specific steps to advance his preferred candidates, then falsely claimed the hires were based on merit. “We didn’t weigh our decision on whether or not it was patronage,” he said in a telephone interview. “They’re not the things O’Brien was charged with.”

Walsh’s office declined to comment Thursday. O’Brien’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.

After the July 24 verdict, another juror said O’Brien had committed a crime by violating the department’s hiring procedures. O’Brien and his top aide were convicted of four counts of mail fraud and racketeering.

On Thursday, the juror who blasted Walsh said the decision to convict O’Brien was difficult and said Walsh’s comments diminished the jury’s efforts.

“I felt it was irresponsible for him to say those things,” the juror said.

A 2010 Globe series exposed widespread patronage hiring in O’Brien’s department, which oversees defendants facing charges in a criminal court and mediates disputes in family courts.

The juror, who first voiced his opinions in an e-mail to Braude, the radio host, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the publicity attached to the case. The juror said he was speaking for himself, not the jury as a whole.

The Globe obtained a copy of the e-mail, spoke with the juror by phone, and verified he had served on the jury.

A second juror said Thursday that Walsh’s comments were insulting and that the jury deliberated for seven days before reaching its verdict.

“I took offense to it,” he said. “We went through every piece of evidence. It was fraud.”

At O’Brien’s trial, prosecutors alleged that legislators boosted the Probation Department’s budget in exchange for hiring preferences and that they worked to preserve O’Brien’s control over hiring.

RELATED: Jury finds ex-commissioner O’Brien led corrupt hiring operation

Witnesses told jurors that O’Brien gave particular weight to recommendations from certain legislators, including House Speaker Robert DeLeo. DeLeo has denied any wrongdoing and said the verdict confirmed he had not “engaged in any inappropriate conduct.”

The juror, however, took issue with DeLeo’s interpretation.

“In no way do I feel our decision exonerated DeLeo,” he wrote. “To the contrary, I feel he should have been on trial rather than O’Brien.”

“All of it seemed suspicious,” he added. He said he felt O’Brien was “stuck between a rock and a hard place — make the Legislature happy, or suffer budget cuts and/or layoffs of the staff you oversee and care about.”

“He did the wrong things for the right reasons,” he wrote.

The juror’s comments drew a sharp reply Thursday from DeLeo, who said he found it incredible that an unidentified juror would question his actions in a case “in which I was not charged, not called as a witness, and not able to present evidence or otherwise defend my reputation.”

“The evidence was lacking because the allegations are untrue,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, allegations don’t have to be true in order to be harmful; they need only be frequent.”

DeLeo said there was no evidence that he traded jobs in the Probation Department for political gain. But he has not explained how he was able to offer jobs in the department to friends of legislators when he was chairman of the committee that oversaw the department’s spending.

John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.
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