Spence tapped to run trial courts after probation scandal

Management experience cited

Lewis H. “Harry’’ Spence

Lewis H. “Harry’’ Spence, a former state social services commissioner, has been named to fill a new position overseeing administration of the state trial courts, which have been embroiled in controversy over patronage hiring while facing continued budget tightening. He will be paid an annual salary of $140,358.

Spence’s selection was announced Tuesday by Chief Justice Roderick Ireland of the Supreme Judicial Court, who noted that Spence has a long history of managing complex organizations in both the private and public sectors.

“His in-depth background in fiscal and operational management, visionary leadership, and strong collaborative and motivational skills will be a tremendous asset to the courts,’’ Ireland said in a statement.


Spence’s post was created by the Legislature after a Globe Spotlight series on the Probation Department, which was followed by an investigation by Boston attorney Paul Ware. Both the series and the investigation found hiring in the department relied on political connections, not professional qualifications.

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The position of court administrator, the post that Spence will fill, is meant to manage the sprawling government agency on a daily basis. Spence will be working with Robert Mulligan, chief justice for administration and management.

“With the help of all who work in the trial court, we have made substantial progress in implementing court reforms focused on accountability and performance management,’’ Mulligan said in the statement released by the SJC.

The justice added, “We must now build on those areas to further improve our efficiency and effectiveness, as we modernize the delivery of justice using technology and other available tools.’’

Spence was chosen by the court on the recommendation of an 11-member panel.


“I look forward to assisting in further advancing and accelerating that work, so that Massachusetts might provide national leadership in the provision of justice to its citizens in a rapidly changing world,’’ Spence said in a statement.

Spence has often been chosen by courts and governors to repair troubled bureaucracies. He served as commissioner of the Department of Social Services from 2001 through 2007.

He was ousted from that job after several high-profile cases involving children who died or were abused while in the care of foster parents, who were under his agency’s supervision. In announcing the appointment of Spence’s successor, Governor Deval Patrick said at the time that Spence had performed well under difficult circumstances.

Spence also served as a governor-appointed receiver for the city of Chelsea, putting it back into fiscal health after bankruptcy. Other appointments included a stint as the court-appointed receiver for the Boston Housing Authority in 1980.

“This new position is an important step in strengthening the day-to-day business operations of the Massachusetts court system,’’ said Martin W. Healy, chief counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association.


The trial court system has a fiscal 2012 operating budget of $553 million and employs about 6,300. Under its umbrella are the district, probate and family, superior, and Boston municipal courts.

Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Noah Bierman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.