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SPOTLIGHT UPDATE

Former top Mass. lawmaker often helped his business, family

Former state Representative Garrett Bradley resigned his seat in 2016.

Debee Tlumacki for the Boston Globe/File

Former state Representative Garrett Bradley resigned his seat in 2016.

The calls kept coming, one after another. It was state Representative Garrett Bradley on the line, wanting to get a message to the governor, pushing a plan to have the state bail out some financially struggling county governments.

But Bradley left out one key fact in his calls to then-governor Deval Patrick: Bradley’s law firm represented the retirement systems in Plymouth, Norfolk, and Bristol counties, and stood to make millions of dollars in legal fees from lawsuits filed on their behalf. If the counties disappeared, so would the county treasurers, jeopardizing Bradley’s legal work.

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Bradley’s keen interest in the successful county bailout, described to the Globe by a key Patrick aide who talked on the condition of anonymity, is part of a pattern in his 16-year legislative career of taking actions in his official capacity that advanced his business interests, state records and interviews with other officials show.

“Did he say he represented the county retirement systems? Absolutely not,” said the former Patrick aide, who was involved in the internal debate over the fate of the counties. Two years after the county bailout, the Hingham Democrat’s law firm reported earning $583,596 in lawsuits involving the retirement systems of the three counties that were in danger of shutting down, according to state records.

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E-mails to and from Bradley show that more than a decade earlier, in 2004, he helped his law firm win legal work from the state retirement system that was worth millions a few years later. Bradley’s own legal advisers later warned him against soliciting business from state agencies.

Bradley, who became assistant House majority leader in 2015, also tapped his Beacon Hill connections to help his sister and father-in-law get jobs, and two members of the Governor’s Council accused him of using political donations to help his wife get a judgeship.

E-mails obtained by the Globe under a public records request show that Bradley even complained to the office of the state treasurer, Tim Cahill, when the job Cahill had arranged for his sister hadn’t “challenged” her enough.

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Bradley said that he filed all the appropriate state disclosure forms “whenever there was any appearance of a conflict” between his public role and private interests, according to a written statement from spokesman Peter Mancusi.

Mancusi said Bradley was just doing his job when he lobbied the Patrick administration on behalf of the counties. He was “far from alone in advocating for the continued existence of the counties,” said Mancusi, adding that Bradley “never discussed any of the firm’s clients with anyone in the governor’s office.”

Ethics experts said Bradley’s conduct, at a minimum, looks bad, and some of it raises thorny legal questions. For instance, no law prevents Bradley from doing legal work for county governments. But he is required to disclose whenever private work creates a potential conflict of interest with his legislative duties, something Bradley did not do on the county bailout bills.

Likewise, legislators are allowed to recommend family members for public jobs, but they can’t use their position to help them get hired. Experts ask: Would Bradley have been able to contact top officials in the state treasurer’s office on his sister’s behalf if he were not a legislative leader?

More broadly, experts say, public officials have a responsibility to make sure voters have no doubt that they are doing their constituents’ business and not their own.

“Holding public office is a public trust,” said Paula A. Franzese, a Seton Hall University law professor and former head of the State Ethics Commission in New Jersey. “Those who serve are put into office to preserve and protect the best interests of the people. They are not there for personal enrichment at the public’s expense.”

Bradley abruptly resigned from the Legislature last July as the Globe asked questions about the overlap between his political and his legal careers, including his law firm’s longtime practice of reimbursing Bradley and other partners for their campaign contributions.

Since then, multiple agencies have launched investigations of Thornton Law Firm, where Bradley is now the managing partner. A federal grand jury is looking into millions of dollars in reimbursements for campaign contributions, which may violate laws that require political donations to be made in the name of the actual donor. State regulators recently asked Attorney General Maura Healey to open a criminal probe of her own.

Separately, a federal judge has appointed a special master to look into whether Thornton Law and two other associated law firms grossly inflated their bills in a case that paid the lawyers $75 million. Judge Mark Wolf made the appointment within weeks after the Globe published a story detailing the padded legal expenses.

Bradley’s career as a onetime rising star legislator and rainmaker for his law firm often straddled the line between business and politics. His firm was a national leader in lawsuits over asbestos exposure, and the lawyers donated millions to members of Congress who opposed efforts to restrict victims’ claims.

In recent years, Bradley was increasingly involved in lucrative lawsuits against corporations on behalf of shareholders, working with a New York City firm called Labaton Sucharow. These class-action lawsuits were often initiated by the lawyers themselves, based on suspicion of corporate misdeed; they would then recruit public pension funds that own the company stock to serve as the plaintiffs.

Bradley acknowledges that he used his political contacts to enlist public and union pension funds for shareholder lawsuits. Bradley and other lawyers at Thornton and Labaton became top political supporters of several county treasurers, who served as chairmen of these retirement systems. Plymouth County’s Thomas J. O’Brien got nearly half of his donations from the attorneys.

Bradley has asserted it was all legal because Massachusetts law allows legislators to represent city, town, or county agencies.

But the potential conflicts between Bradley’s public and private roles prompted his law firm in 2006 to hire a former attorney general, Scott Harshbarger, to provide ethical guidance.

“Garrett has consistently done, and continues to do, the ‘right thing,’ ” Harshbarger concluded at the time. “Garrett’s instincts in these areas have been excellent and he has generally abstained from even marginal conduct on his own accord.”

However, another lawyer from Harshbarger’s firm had a clear warning for Bradley: He should avoid seeking legal work from state agencies, since the Legislature has direct influence over their budgets and policies.

“Bradley may not be involved in ‘pitching’ for work from any state agency, including the Attorney General or the Treasury,” wrote the lawyer, Eben Krim, as part of Harshbarger’s guidance.

Bradley has said that he always followed that advice and never solicited legal work from state agencies. But public records suggest that, by the time he received the legal advice, he already had done that very thing.

The e-mails obtained under state public records law show that Bradley helped the Labaton firm, Thornton’s partner, get business from then-state treasurer Tim Cahill’s office in 2005.

A few weeks after Labaton lawyers met with Cahill and his chief of staff, Doug Rubin, about filing securities lawsuits on behalf of the state retirement system, Bradley contacted Rubin himself on the same subject.

In September 2004, Bradley sent Rubin information about a potentially big securities case that the state retirement system, known as PRIM, could file.

“Let me know what you think,” Bradley wrote in an e-mail.

Within weeks, Bradley and the Labaton firm had scheduled a fund-raiser for Cahill, followed by a second one, raising a combined $30,000, state campaign finance records show.

Within months after the second fund-raiser, the attorney general’s office, on behalf of PRIM, chose the Labaton firm as one of four law firms to handle securities work for PRIM.

Since then, court records show, Labaton has made roughly $60 million from two lawsuits brought by PRIM, sharing the money with Thornton Law, though Thornton payroll records show that none of the money went directly to Bradley.

Bradley did, however, receive more from non-PRIM securities cases than his share of the law firm would otherwise entitle him to.

Bradley acknowledged hosting the fund-raisers to the Globe, but said he never discussed the securities work with Cahill. If he had, he would have violated another state rule barring applicants for state contracts from contacting officials during the bidding. Making contact is grounds for immediate disqualification, state rules say.

Bradley’s spokesman, Mancusi, said the attorney general’s office, not Cahill, was hiring the lawyers for PRIM and “all donations were legal, within limits and reported properly.” He also pointed out that the Labaton firm did not get its first case from PRIM until 2008.

With Bradley making the introductions and pitching the business, Labaton Sucharow has cornered the market for securities litigation in Massachusetts: Reports filed with the state show that no other firm made more than a few thousand dollars from lawsuits filed on behalf of pension funds in 2016, while Labaton and Thornton took in $3.7 million. In all, the two firms have made more than $30 million in legal fees since 2007 from suing companies on behalf of Massachusetts counties.

But Bradley argues that his firm’s profits from county pension systems did not influence his 2014 decision to lobby the Patrick administration to protect county governments. Through his spokesman, Bradley pointed out that he always supported county government — and all of the legislators in Southeastern Massachusetts supported his successful effort to bail out the remaining counties in 2014. Most counties were abolished in the late 1990s, though some have continued to operate pension systems, while others have joined PRIM.

Bradley has also aggressively helped family members get state jobs, reaching out to top officials on their behalf.

Through his spokesman, Bradley said the “fact that [he] worked in government did not preclude members of his family from doing the same.”

Bradley acknowledged helping his sister, Kristen, and his father-in-law, Chester Smith, land jobs in treasurer Cahill’s office. Smith still works at the lottery, which the treasurer oversees.

Kristen Bradley was hired as a $34,000-a-year enrollment analyst for the state retirement board in late August 2006 and, the next month, Bradley thanked Cahill by phone, e-mail records show.

But by the end of November, Bradley was on the phone with Cahill aides again, to say that his sister wasn’t feeling “challenged” enough, according to e-mails between two Cahill aides, who were amazed by Bradley’s brass.

“Imagine?” wrote Scott Campbell to his then-colleague, Neil Morrison, who responded that Bradley “is out of line.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” Campbell wrote back. “I think the key word here is:” followed by an exclamation related to a male body part.

Bradley also helped get his brother, Michael, a pay raise by filing a bill to increase the hourly rate that the state pays public defenders. Though the raise was small, $3 an hour, ethics experts say the state’s conflict of interest law prohibits legislators from even voting on legislation that might affect an immediate family member’s financial interests.

Garrett Bradley, through his spokesman, said that at some point the head of the Committee for Public Counsel Services asked him to file a pay-raise bill, and he saw no problem since the raise would apply to all public defenders, not just his brother’s work in Quincy District Court.

When Garrett Bradley’s wife, Heather Bradley, was nominated for a judgeship by Governor Deval Patrick in 2011, two members of the Governor’s Council questioned whether Bradley had used political donations to help his wife get the job. Bradley had raised $72,500 for Patrick; the lieutenant governor, Tim Murray; and the Democratic party over the previous two years.

The donations “create the appearance this judgeship was bought and paid for,” Councilor Jennie Caissie told The Patriot Ledger at the time. A second councilor, Charles Cipollini, threatened to file a complaint with the State Ethics Commission, questioning whether there was a link between the donations and the judgeship.

In the end, four of the eight councilors opposed her nomination. Murray broke the tie by voting for Heather Bradley.

Mancusi, Garrett Bradley’s spokesman, denies that Bradley’s fund-raising affected the outcome, saying, “Mr. Bradley’s wife’s consideration for a judgeship and her appointment to the bench were based on her merits.”

After Heather Bradley took office, Garrett Bradley asked a legislative colleague, Representative James Murphy, to file a bill providing $150,000 for improvements to the Hingham courthouse where she works. (The Legislature ultimately reduced the amount to $100,000.) The Bradleys also spent their own money to redecorate her office.

Through his spokesman, Bradley said that he had always advocated for the courthouse in his district. “In order to avoid the appearance of a conflict after his wife became presiding justice of the Hingham Court, however, he thought it would be better if Hingham’s other state representative dealt with court budget issues,” Bradley’s spokesman wrote.

But Jeanne Kempthorne, a former member of the State Ethics Commission, was surprised to learn that Bradley appeared to be openly mixing public and personal business.

“It’s unfortunate our public servants have so little appreciation of the limits of propriety. Aren’t we done with this stuff?” Kempthorne asked.

Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.

This story has been updated to reflect editorial changes.

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