This story was reported by The Globe Spotlight Team, reporters Scott Allen, Marcella Bombardieri, Andrea Estes, and editor Thomas Farragher. It was written by Allen.
By any measure, Deirdre I. Kennedy was an outstanding candidate for chief probation officer at West Roxbury District Court. A Wellesley College graduate with two master’s degrees, Kennedy was a streetwise veteran of the Dorchester courthouse who spoke fluent Spanish. She was also a proven leader who had run an antidomestic violence program that won nearly $8 million in federal grants.
But, in the closed world of the Massachusetts Probation Department, dazzling credentials scarcely matter. Probation Commissioner John J. “Jack’’ O’Brien chose the 73-year-old father of a state legislator instead, doing a favor for then-House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, one of O’Brien’s key political mentors, who said he sought the promotion for James J. Rush as a “capstone’’ to the man’s 41-year probation career.
The top judge in West Roxbury warned O’Brien that Rush was not up to the task, and his two-year tenure turned out to be a fiasco. Rush clashed with five female employees who alleged that he threw tantrums, tossed papers at them, and slammed the door in one woman’s face. He abruptly retired in September 2006, leaving behind a sex and race discrimination lawsuit filed by two of the women, but taking home a boost in his pension thanks to his late-career promotion.
Rush’s quick exit gave O’Brien a second chance to take the advice of Judge Kathleen E. Coffey, who recommended Kennedy for the job. Instead, O’Brien chose another politically connected candidate: a veteran probation officer who has donated $2,100 to Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, an O’Brien ally who employs O’Brien’s wife and one of his daughters.
After 12 years in charge, Jack O’Brien has transformed the Probation Department from a national pioneer of better ways to rehabilitate criminals into an organization that functions more like a private employment agency for the well connected, the Spotlight Team has found.
O’Brien’s agency now employs at least 250 friends, relatives, and financial backers of politicians and top court officials, the Spotlight review found, including children of US Representative William D. Delahunt, former mayor Raymond L. Flynn of Boston, and former Senate president William M. Bulger. The agency has also hired House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo’s godson, who, at 28, is now the youngest chief probation officer in Massachusetts.
O’Brien has taken care of friends, too, finding jobs for the children of his Boston College football teammate, for a friend who ran a fur shop, for a former plasterer friendly with Cahill, and promoting two probation officers who moonlight as bartenders at a Northampton pizza joint frequented by one of his top deputies. Along the way, O’Brien’s family has also benefited.
O’Brien’s agency hired his daughter Genevieve, despite a warning that he might be violating the court system’s rules against nepotism. That gave O’Brien’s immediate family two jobs at the Probation Department, including his own, and two more under Cahill with a combined annual income of $260,000.
No legislator has reaped greater benefit from the pattern of hiring than state Representative Thomas M. Petrolati, the third-ranking House member who is regarded by many members of the Western Massachusetts legislative delegation as the “king of patronage’’ in courthouses west of Worcester. Under O’Brien, the Probation Department has provided jobs for Petrolati’s wife, a former staffer, the husband of his legislative aide, and literally dozens of Springfield-area residents who have donated money to Petrolati.
Since 2002, Petrolati has collected twice as much in campaign contributions from probation employees as any other legislator, according to campaign finance records. And O’Brien’s former deputy commissioner, William H. Burke III, planned to help Petrolati raise even more last week as master of ceremonies at his annual fund-raiser.
“Tommy can get whatever he wants as long as Tommy delivers on the budget,’’ said a Petrolati confidant who said Petrolati gets first crack at finding candidates for probation jobs throughout Western Massachusetts.
Petrolati for weeks declined requests for an interview, and went so far at one point as to evade a reporter who visited him in Ludlow. Last week, in an e-mail response to Globe questions, he denied that he has undue influence over the Probation Department, saying that he recommends only people he believes are qualified.
“All that I expect . . . is that they will do a good job,’’ wrote Petrolati. He also pointed out that he doesn’t vote on the department’s budget because his wife works for the agency.
But it’s clear that the Probation Department’s friends in the Legislature have delivered: The department’s budget grew more than 160 percent from 1998 to 2008, a period in which other public safety agencies’ spending increased by 20 percent or less, according to a recent report by the nonprofit Boston Foundation. The largesse has enabled the department to pay 79 managers at least $100,000 annually and to give pay increases in 2010 to 43 of its 100 best-paid employees amid a budget crisis.
O’Brien, who agreed to only one half-hour telephone interview with the Spotlight Team, denies that his budget has soared compared with others. He argues that changes in the court budget process in 2004 make comparisons to earlier years impossible. Since 2004, however, O’Brien’s budget has grown more than twice as fast as other court offices’.
He also says managers’ pay has been frozen since 2004. But he did not note that the freeze doesn’t apply to increases based on seniority or promotions. In fact, most managers’ pay has increased since 2004, including O’Brien’s own salary, which rose from $116,241 to $130,305.
While O’Brien’s reign has been rewarding for top legislators and his inner circle, the pervasive intrusion of politics and favoritism has, according to interviews with a broad array of Probation Department personnel, badly damaged the morale of an agency with a big job to do: supervising tens of thousands of those convicted of drunken driving, sex offenses, and other crimes who are serving their sentences in the community. A six-month investigation by the Spotlight Team also found that:
The department is beset by a “pay to play’’ mentality in which ambitious employees, whether qualified or not, make campaign contributions to key politicians in hopes of advancing their careers. “You’ve got to have political juice,’’ complained one probation officer who was passed over for promotion in favor of a less experienced but politically connected candidate.
Since the Legislature, at Finneran’s urging, transferred power over hiring from judges to O’Brien in 2001, Probation Department employees’ donations to legislative campaigns have more than doubled, a Spotlight Team analysis shows, rising from $23,413 in 2002 to more than $55,000 in 2008. Most of the money goes to just 10 powerful legislators, including DeLeo, Petrolati, and two others who have immediate family members working for the department.
■ Promising candidates who don’t have political connections are routinely passed over to make way for the politically wired. O’Brien, for example, didn’t promote veteran probation officer Karen Jackson to assistant chief probation officer in 2005, even though she was the unanimous first choice of a hiring committee at Milford District Court that included the local judge and Jackson’s boss, a chief probation officer. Instead, O’Brien hired the grandniece of then-State Representative Marie J. Parente.
Jackson said that when she called Parente, the lawmaker said she felt guilty to have lobbied for her relative, who initially was ranked in the middle of the pack of candidates. “The fix was in,’’ said Jackson. “If you don’t know anyone, you’re not going anywhere.’’
Parente said she has repeatedly helped Jackson throughout her career in the department. The former lawmaker said she does not recall whether she lobbied for her relative’s promotion. “I was always careful about the conflict-of-interest law,’’ Parente said. “I truly can’t remember what I did for her.’’
■ Lax oversight of the collection of fines and court costs paid by probationers has left the department, which handles more than $70 million a year in cash, vulnerable to theft. The Spotlight Team has learned that the state’s trial court, after an embezzlement scandal in the Lawrence probation office, has identified five other probation offices that have multiple deficiencies in the way they handle and account for funds. A cashier at a sixth office, in Stoughton, resigned in August after allegedly stealing thousands in court-ordered payments from offenders.
The alleged theft of $2 million from the probation office in Lawrence District Court went on for three years despite two formal warnings from outside auditors that the clerk, Marie Morey, had almost no supervision, appeared to use irregular bookkeeping methods and couldn’t explain some missing funds. Ultimately, the Administrative Office of the Trial Court — not the Probation Department — discovered the scope of the alleged crime. Morey has pleaded not guilty.
Yet the regional supervisor who oversaw the Lawrence District Court probation office, Jeffrey L. Akers, is still on the job and says he has little knowledge of the scandal. O’Brien said in a statement that he had no plans to discipline Akers because it’s up to court administrators to oversee “the financial integrity of the court.’’
Akers’s written job description, however, calls for him to provide “technical assistance’’ to Lawrence and other probation offices in “fiscal matters and personnel issues.’’ Moreover, State Auditor A. Joseph DeNucci’s scathing 2007 report finding discrepancies in Morey’s bookkeeping was addressed to probation officials, who formally promised to fix the problems.
Chief Justice Robert A. Mulligan, chief administrator of Massachusetts’ trial courts, said he is frustrated by the apparent lack of accountability by probation. “There was absolutely no oversight,’’ he said.
■ In three cases, politically connected employees with histories of alleged misconduct or sloppy work avoided serious career fallout. For example, Worcester police fruitlessly complained to O’Brien in 2008 that associate probation officer Ashley Losapio, the stepdaughter of a judge, had compromised an investigation by leaking information to criminals.
Alfred E. Barbalunga was promoted despite an investigation recommending he be sanctioned for poor job performance.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Alfred E. Barbalunga was promoted despite an investigation recommending he be sanctioned for poor job performance.
Police say Losapio admitted hanging around with “bad guys,’’ and had the telephone numbers of drug and gun suspects programmed into her cellphone. While she told police she never gave the suspects information about criminal matters, she acknowledged that she would tell them whom she saw in court.
The Worcester district attorney’s office said it found no probable cause to prosecute Losapio, but then-Detective Captain Edward J. McGinn Jr. wrote to O’Brien that “she is not a suitable person to serve this community as a probation officer.’’ McGinn said he’s never heard back from O’Brien. Since then, Losapio has been transferred. She continues to work for probation, and her pay has increased by nearly $3,000 a year.
McGinn, now Worcester’s deputy police chief, said his investigators believe Losapio continues to associate with known criminals.
“How on Monday through Friday from 8 to 4 can you sit down and try to guide a probationer, try to straighten their lives out . . . and then go run with them at night?’’ McGinn said in a recent interview.
Losapio did not respond to multiple messages left at her home and office. O’Brien’s office said the matter was “fully investigated, resulting in the appropriate action.’’
More generally, O’Brien categorically denies that politics play a role in hiring at his 2,000-plus employee agency. He asserted that everyone is hired in an open and fair manner, contending that all candidates for posted jobs go through a three-step screening process. Finalists are selected at the local level, and the top candidate is chosen by O’Brien’s office in Boston, he said, adding that his choice then must be approved by Chief Justice Mulligan, technically his boss.
But the Legislature clearly intended to give Mulligan very limited power, declaring repeatedly in the Probation Department’s budget that the commissioner has “exclusive authority to appoint, dismiss, assign and discipline probation officers.’’ Mulligan can veto O’Brien’s decisions only for limited reasons, such as failure to follow affirmative action guidelines.
Nonetheless, O’Brien contends the hiring process is collaborative. “I know of no other position in the trial court that has a more extensive interview process,’’ he said.
Reports of irregularities in the process are legion, however: the children of influential people who got jobs even though they didn’t make the list of finalists, friends and allies hired on an “acting’’ basis without a formal hiring process, job applicants with no political ties who find their interview evaluations inexplicably changed to reduce their overall ranking.
Moreover, the Spotlight Team has found a disturbing pattern in which probation officers suddenly start donating to key legislators just before or after they get a job in the department, giving the appearance that political contributions pave the path to success.
For example, Arthur Sousa of Somerville began donating to House Speaker DeLeo in April 2006 even though he didn’t live in DeLeo’s district. Since that year, he has given DeLeo $1,700, and his career has taken off: Sousa was promoted from associate to full probation officer, and his pay jumped almost $15,000 a year to $50,348. In a brief interview, Sousa claimed to be a longtime DeLeo supporter, but campaign finance records show that he had not made donations to DeLeo or other state candidates in the four years before he began giving to the speaker.
Probation employees, like all citizens, can legally give $500 a year to any politician for any reason. State law, however, forbids bosses from pressuring state employees to donate to campaigns. Harder to assess is a department like probation where there is little plain evidence of such direct pressure, but where political contributions seem closely linked, in many cases, to career advancement.
For his part, DeLeo defends the Probation Department. In an e-mailed statement, he said, “While every organization has its own flaws and weaknesses, I hear that the Probation Department is a functional organization that does a difficult job under tough conditions.’’
But others say politics and favoritism are eating away at the agency’s morale.
“Every single promotion is done by politics,’’ lamented Jack Alicandro, the recently retired president of Local 229 of the National Association of Government Employees, the union that represents probation officers. “The rule of thumb to either get hired or promoted is you had to have attended BC [O’Brien’s alma mater], worked at Suffolk County [where O’Brien once worked], or get three calls from politicians.’’
Chief Justice Mulligan has sometimes challenged O’Brien’s hiring practices, but with limited success. Mulligan warned O’Brien in 2005 that he was violating the court’s rule against employing family members by hiring his daughter as a secretary in the department’s Office of Community Corrections. But O’Brien sidestepped Mulligan by hiring Genevieve on an “acting’’ basis, for which hiring standards are less strict. In 2009, she made $44,123.
O’Brien at first wouldn’t speak to his daughter’s hiring, and his spokesman called the inquiry an “ambush question.’’ Last week, however, he said in a statement that he did not directly hire his daughter because she works in a separate division of probation from his office. He said her hiring is supported by “two ethics decisions,’’ which he did not detail.
Mulligan also tried to stop O’Brien from hiring a second child of his former Boston Col lege football teammate, Stephen Anzalone, himself a probation officer. In 2007, Mulligan discovered that six members of the Anzalone clan worked for either the Probation Department or courtroom security, though Stephen P. Anzalone Jr. had disclosed only three on his job application. Mulligan argued that he had the power to block the hire because the younger Anzalone falsified his job application.
But the younger Anzalone has waged a fight all the way to the Supreme Judicial Court to get his job, saying that Mulligan waited too long before he vetoed the offer and that he didn’t deliberately withhold information about three cousins who work for the court.
While Mulligan battles O’Brien, the Legislature has remained steadfastly supportive of the commissioner’s priorities, continuing to pump in money even as the state plunged into a budget crisis in 2009. With virtually no floor debate, the House and Senate in November restored $4.4 million in probation spending that Governor Deval Patrick had vetoed.
On the House floor, Petrolati and other O’Brien supporters celebrated their “win’’ for the Probation Department by giving one another high fives and patting each other on the back, according to one veteran legislator.
“The vote was insensitive to those forced to bear cuts not only in other court services and programs but also in public safety, local aid, and human services,’’ said state Representative John H. Rogers. “It’s an insult to every needy person out there.’’
The rules changed when O’Brien got in the game
Boston bootmaker John Augustus invented the concept of probation back in 1841 when he approached the police about taking custody of a “common drunkard’’ who he thought could be rehabilitated without sitting in a jail cell. Augustus sobered the man up, found him a job, and launched a new approach to corrections that has kept millions out of prison.
For generations, Massachusetts probation officials have taken pride in the legacy of Augustus, and, as late as the 1990s, the state continued to be a leader in guiding criminals into the mainstream. Under Commissioner Donald Cochran in the 1990s, Massachusetts probation officers developed a cutting-edge questionnaire to estimate the public danger posed by probationers. A chief aide, Ronald P. Corbett Jr., served as editor of a national journal on probation.
But in 1997, Chief Judge John J. Irwin Jr. shocked probation observers by selecting O’Brien to succeed Cochran instead of Corbett, who had just been voted national probation executive of the year by his peers. Irwin, now deceased, indicated to his staff that he wanted a more street-wise commissioner, someone who was more focused on “getting probation officers into the community’’ than producing research papers. Who better than Jack O’Brien, then running a new program that set up community-based offices where probationers could go for services ranging from drug-testing to basic education?
As O’Brien, who had also served 15 years in the trenches as a probation officer, said in a rare interview with his hometown newspaper back in 1998, “You have to be out there to be effective.’’
But O’Brien also had the political pedigree for Beacon Hill success: He played football in the late 1970s for Boston College, Irwin’s alma mater, and grew up in Dorchester, not far from former speaker Finneran. Irwin liked the former BC athlete enough to make him the court’s legislative liaison years before he named O’Brien commissioner. At the State House, O’Brien played up his ties to the powerful Finneran. An inside player was born.
As commissioner, O’Brien began filling top jobs with former colleagues from Suffolk Superior Court, while hiring friends and family of the influential for entry-level jobs. The rules changed in other ways, too.
Alfred E. Barbalunga was promoted despite an investigation recommending he be sanctioned for poor job performance.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
That was underscored by the case of Alfred E. “Alf’’ Barbalunga, the son of a Pittsfield judge said to be friendly with O’Brien. In 1999, Barbalunga came under fire for poor job performance as a probation officer in the district court in North Adams, according to several sources with direct knowledge of the situation. Among the complaints against the younger Barbalunga was that he wasn’t always showing up for work, the sources said.
One judge recommended Barbalunga be fired, but the judge overseeing an investigation recommended a severe sanction short of dismissal, according to the sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the personnel proceedings were confidential.
In the end, Barbalunga received no discipline at all. And when a slot opened in 2002 for chief probation officer at the district court in Great Barrington, O’Brien gave him the promotion. Today, he makes $102,946 a year, more than twice the income he earned when he was investigated.
In an interview, Barbalunga denied that his work ethic was the central focus of the investigation. He gave the Globe a list of court references, including a former judge who said he is a solid worker.
“That was a very unfortunate time,’’ Barbalunga said. “I think I’ve done an outstanding job.’’
After O’Brien’s appointment in 1997, legislative leaders appreciated the commissioner’s attentiveness to their hiring suggestions. But they remained frustrated that probation officers assigned to the courts had to be approved by local judges. Finneran, in an interview, said the process needed to be streamlined, and he pushed through a bill in late 2001 centralizing hiring and promotion decisions in O’Brien’s office. Finneran knew that might increase the number of political hires. That’s not always bad, he said.
“You don’t want to bring someone in who is inept or has a bad attitude,’’ the former speaker explained. “If you scan a list of probation officers, there might be sons and daughters of politicians and judges there. That’s not going to go away. And, honestly, I don’t think it should. They shouldn’t be excluded because of the achievements of their parents.’’
O’Brien’s new power to hire and fire made it easier for politicians to advocate in favor of particular candidates, and some legislators began keeping lists of candidates they wanted to place. Petrolati, the House speaker pro tempore, became increasingly involved in hiring decisions in 15 courthouses in Western Massachusetts.
At sleepy Belchertown District Court, for example, David E. Roy, a respected lawyer with 24 years of experience, lost his job as acting chief probation officer in 2005 in favor of the husband of Petrolati’s legislative aide, Colleen Ryan. Robert Ryan had just retired from a long career in the federal probation service, but wanted to work for the state. When Roy declined to apply for the job as Ryan’s assistant, probation hired Petrolati’s former aide and sometime driver, Andre Pereira.
“I don’t want to talk about that part of my life,’’ said Roy, who was demoted to probation officer in 2005 with a $20,000 pay cut.
Ambitious probation officers and job candidates quickly figured out that campaign donations to politicians with O’Brien’s ear could jump-start a career like nothing else, and events such as Petrolati’s fund-raiser at Ludlow Country Club last Thursday became important dates. Since 2002, at least 100 probation employees have given money to Petrolati even though he hasn’t faced an opponent since 2000.
“You gotta kiss the ring,’’ explained the Petrolati confidant with direct knowledge of how the patronage process has worked and who asked not to be named.
Former deputy commissioner Burke, who said he interviewed 3,000 potential probation employees before retiring in 2008, angrily denied that Petrolati or other politicians influenced his recommendations. “I’m telling you, if they were dummies, they didn’t make it,’’ said Burke, who bought four $100 tickets to Petrolati’s fund-raiser last week because “I like the guy.’’
Some probation officers resent Petrolati’s influence, but paying homage seems to work.
Michael J. LeCours, an official with probation’s community service program, began donating heavily to Petrolati and state Senator Stephen J. Buoniconti of West Springfield after he got in trouble in 2003 for writing a letter of recommendation for a convicted racketeer on court stationery. LeCours called Carmine Manzi, convicted for activities related to the New York Genovese crime family, “a great asset to both [his] barbershop and his community.’’ He got a public rebuke from Chief Justice Mulligan’s office for not using common sense.
Since the incident, LeCours has become a supervisor and increased his annual pay by almost $20,000 a year to $73,647 in 2009. During the same period, he has given $1,775 to Petrolati and $1,800 to Buoniconti, compared with just $75 for both in the two years before.
LeCours calls both men friends, but denies they helped advance his career.
LeCours is more forthcoming than many colleagues with similar giving patterns: The Spotlight Team attempted to contact about 30 of the 155 probation employees who’ve given at least $300 to one state legislator in recent years, but most either declined to comment, hung up, or did not return phone calls.
Some, however, said legislators none too subtly pressure probation employees to contribute, especially after they deliver a job or promotion.
“It’s made very clear: You’re on the team. We’ll be calling on you for support,’’ said the confidant of Petrolati, referring to Petrolati’s expectations of probation employees he has helped. “They’re put on the mailing list and they’re expected to donate.’’
Petrolati rejected the confidant’s characterization, writing, “To contend that I expect ‘pay’ for supporting a particular individual’s job application is wholly irresponsible.’’
Similarly, some probation employees may feel pressure to support politicians backed by O’Brien. In July 2005, an impressive 45 probation employees — mostly senior managers — donated $5,900 to state treasurer Cahill. O’Brien said he played no role in orchestrating the donations to help out his fellow Quincy resident and the man who hired his wife to work in the state Lottery a few months later.
Cahill said in a statement that he had known Laurie O’Brien for years and that she was hired based on qualifications.
For years, O’Brien relied on his powerful connections and a determinedly low public profile to build his empire with minimal notice, nearly tripling his department budget (after allowing for inflation) during a decade when the number of criminals who require hands-on supervision fell by more than 10 percent.
Recently, a series of unflattering reports have focused an uncomfortable light on O’Brien, portraying his agency as a “dysfunctional’’ rogue in state government. So far, the Legislature has shown little interest in reform proposals — the joint Judiciary Committee didn’t even ask questions when Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan presented the administration’s plan to bring probation under the governor’s control.
The bitter 2008 fight to succeed disgraced House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi left behind suspicions among Rogers supporters that O’Brien had played a hand in helping DeLeo defeat the Norwood Democrat. Two Rogers supporters, insisting on anonymity, point to what they view as a suspicious pattern of hiring — an accusation that DeLeo and his allies reject and resent.
In the spring of that year, the House Ways and Means Committee, then chaired by DeLeo, recommended $137 million for probation, $2.3 million more than Chief Justice Mulligan requested. In the course of the budget debate, probation’s friends in the House increased funding by another $3.7 million.
The legislative windfall gave O’Brien more money for a flurry of hiring. By May 2008, O’Brien had hired people associated with legislators Rogers believed were supporting him, including Democratic state Representatives James J. O’Day of West Boylston, Geraldo Alicea of Charlton, and Harold P. Naughton Jr. of Clinton.
All three legislators say they always supported DeLeo for speaker and did not change their support based on O’Brien’s hiring of O’Day’s colleague, Alicea’s intern, and the daughter of the police chief in Naughton’s hometown.
“I was with Bob DeLeo from the beginning,’’ said Alicea, a former probation officer who said O’Brien has done a good job. “Jack O’Brien never reached out . . . in asking for support for Bob DeLeo.’’
DeLeo flatly denies that he offered probation jobs in exchange for votes. O’Brien said he played no role in the speakership fight.
But supporters of Rogers said they believe that the burst of probation hiring helped doom Rogers by peeling off the votes of legislators such as Alicea.
High stakes, consequences in the house O’Brien built
State Representative Michael F. Rush, the West Roxbury Democrat whose father served as chief probation officer of the district court there, was said to be furious when a draft report by the trial court’s affirmative action officer found merit to the allegations that his father discriminated against five women. The elder Rush announced his plan to retire three days before the report was completed.
The younger Rush is now sponsoring a budget amendment, backed by DeLeo, to move the trial court’s downtown administrative offices to public safety Siberia — the dingy top floor of Charlestown District Court — to save money. A source with direct knowledge of the matter said Rush has spoken of wanting to punish Mulligan, the chief administrative judge, for how his father was treated. Mulligan said James Rush was not pressured to retire.
DeLeo’s office insisted the proposal is only about cost savings, but it underscores the stakes for probation employees and judges in going up against the house that Jack O’Brien built. Time and again, employees wanted to talk about the gross inequities in today’s Probation Department, but they shrank from speaking out publicly for fear of retaliation from O’Brien and his allies.
For good reason, it appears.
Two of the women who complained about Rush, both African-American, went on to sue him and O’Brien, citing sex and race discrimination. Their case is pending. That lawsuit, say Helen Brown and Crystal Young, set off a chain of retaliatory actions by fellow probation officers, particularly Rush’s replacement, Mark J. Prisco, who has given more money to political campaigns since 2002 — $10,000 — than any other probation employee.
Brown says Prisco took away her main duties as assistant chief, supervising more junior probation officers, and assigned her instead to oversee the front counter of the probation office. According to court papers, Prisco denied that he demoted her, but said Brown was performing her job increasingly poorly. Thirteen members of the Probation Department signed a petition complaining that Brown had a negative attitude and was creating a hostile environment.
The presiding judge, Coffey, felt that “the omnipresence of Representative Rush,’’ and his anger over the accusations against his father, had poisoned the probation office against Brown, she said in her deposition.
The elder Rush is said to be seriously ill and not available for comment; in court documents he denied all the allegations. Michael Rush did not return numerous messages, but in his deposition he denied wielding influence in probation and said Coffey “tortured my father.’’
Coffey, in her deposition, noted that Rush sits on the Ways and Means Committee, which holds sway over probation’s budget and therefore its ability to save jobs from budget cuts.
“It’s my understanding that a lot of employees believe that loyalty and allegiance to the Legislature, and in particular to Mr. Rush, ensures job safety and protection,’’ she said.
Matt Carroll of the Globe staff contributed to this report.