Metro

Suffolk probate register is suspended

Felix Arroyo, candidate for Boston City Councilor, is seen during a debate, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2007 at the Park Street School in Boston. (Photo by Lisa Poole)

Lisa Poole/FILE

Felix Arroyo was elected register of probate in 2014.

Two years after he unseated an official accused of lax work habits and confrontational behavior, Suffolk Register of Probate Felix D. Arroyo has been placed on administrative leave and the office is under investigation again, a court official said late Friday.

The state’s Trial Courts ordered an independent investigation of the registry Friday, following an internal shakeup that ousted Arroyo’s first assistant and brought in a manager from the Essex court system to oversee management of the office for the past four months, officials said.

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Terri Klug Cafazzo, who was first assistant register in Essex Probate, was brought in “to provide managerial assistance to the office” in October, said Jennifer Donahue, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Trial Courts.

The suspension again throws light on an oft-overlooked office seen by many as a political anachronism headed by an elected official who makes nearly $135,000 a year. The Probate Court handles complicated legal and family matters like adoptions, divorces, paternity cases, and name changes.

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Arroyo, who called the suspension “unwarranted” Friday night, was placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, Donahue said. His annual salary of $134,692 is due to increase to $139,789 as a result of the pay increase for legislators and judicial employees that the Legislature passed on Thursday, overriding a veto by Governor Charlie Baker.

Cafazzo makes the same $134,692 salary as Arroyo and is due to receive the same boost to $139,789.

In a statement Friday night, a spokesman said, “Arroyo inherited an office that had a long and well-documented history of mismanagement and poor performance.

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“Since taking office, he has committed himself to finding efficiencies, improving operations, and promoting diversity,’’ spokesman Patrick Keaney said..

The office under Arroyo’s management was described as disorganized and disorderly by one former employee who said that cases had built up and paperwork wasn’t filed.

“Things just weren’t getting done,” the employee said, while calling Arroyo “a very good man. He really is trying hard to get that place fixed.”

In Probate Court on Friday, Cafazzo declined an interview request, but worked a line of a dozen customers, trying to see if she could satisfy their requests without their waiting in line.

Another dozen customers waited by the counter for files or legal actions they had already requested.

“In her role, Terri is finding efficiencies and streamlining operations and has been a valuable addition to the Registry,” Donahue said.

The Probate Court’s Suffolk County branch has been the focus of unlikely drama in recent years.

‘Since taking office, he has committed himself to finding efficien-cies.’

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The last register, Patricia Campatelli, was accused of confrontational and violent behavior online and in person.

In 2013, she was accused of punching a subordinate after a party, prompting her suspension and an investigation in which employees said she often worked only 15 hours a week.

Much of her time on the job was spent taking “numerous smoking breaks, scratching lottery tickets, looking at East Boston real estate on the Internet, and filling out puzzles,” according to employees quoted in a confidential report obtained by the Globe.

She lost reelection in 2014 to Arroyo, a former Boston city councilor whose son, Felix G. Arroyo, was also a city councilor who ran for mayor in 2013 and went to work for Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration.

Some of those who worked for Arroyo at Probate said that, like his predecessor, he lacked experience with the courts he was elected to oversee.

A spokesman for Arroyo suggested that Cafazzo had actually been brought in at his request, after he discovered the depth of disorder in the office.

An audit that Arroyo requested from the state auditor’s office for the year and a half before he took office found that his predecessor did not perform annual inventories or properly maintain information about the office’s assets, putting inventory at risk, and was sitting on inactive accounts totaling $1.45 million without determining whether they were abandoned property.

Travis Andersen and Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff contributed. Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert
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