The Massachusetts Trial Court abruptly placed Suffolk County Register of Probate Patricia Campatelli on administrative leave Wednesday night and launched an independent investigation of her conduct, following new questions about her alleged assault against an employee.
Campatelli allegedly punched longtime court employee Timothy Perry repeatedly in the face as the pair rode home from a night of partying at two Boston bars on Dec. 18. Perry told friends the assault left him bloodied and begging to get out of the car as it sped along Route 1A.
Court officials initially said they could not substantiate Perry’s allegations even though he had photos showing swelling on the right side of his face as well as a bloody lip and a cut on his nose, according to a person familiar with the case. The court allowed Campatelli to return to work after four days of paid administrative leave.
But the Administrative Office of the Trial Court reversed its position late Wednesday after Globe reporters asked for comment on allegations by others at the party that Campatelli had been loud and profane while drinking freely before the alleged assault and may have threatened Perry with disciplinary action after the fact.
“Based on new and serious allegations, the trial court is placing Suffolk Register of Probate Patty Campatelli on paid administrative leave, as of today, and beginning an independent investigation of her conduct by Dr. Ronald Corbett,” read a statement from the trial court.
The Supreme Judicial Court tapped Corbett to take over the Probation Department in 2011 after a massive patronage scandal engulfed commissioner John J. O’Brien, who is now facing a federal criminal trial next month in the case.
Campatelli, a first-time political candidate who won a surprise victory over a better-funded opponent in 2012 to become register, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
She faces a fall reelection campaign for the $110,075 job managing cases involving divorce, estates, child custody, and other family matters.
Campatelli’s employees say she is far from a traditional boss, a former Probation Department manager who speaks in vulgar street vernacular. Her rough manner has stirred controversy in the past: Supporters of her opponent said she loudly berated them and knocked over a table at Ecco restaurant in East Boston in September 2012.
“She was yelling at people she didn’t even know,” said Nancy LoConte, who filed a complaint with Boston police after the incident, saying she feared Campatelli would strike her. The police did not pursue the complaint.
A former friend of Campatelli accused her of sending him hateful text messages, calling him a “faggot” and saying “I hope you die of AIDS.” Robert Burnett of Lynn sought a restraining order against Campatelli, though the judge turned it down, saying the remarks were protected by the First Amendment. Campatelli denied sending any hateful messages.
Despite that history, court investigators didn’t question other guests who could have told them about Campatelli’s conduct on the night of Dec. 18 at Hennessy’s and later at Prezza in the North End. Several guests told the Globe that she was loud and aggressive, swearing in front of guests, almost all of them court officials.
Co-workers who went to one or both of the bars say that Perry, a 16-year court employee, started calling friends for aid within minutes of the alleged attack in the car.
“Hello ---- I need your help,” Perry said in a frantic taped message to one co-worker moments after the incident with Campatelli, according to the employee. In the message, he said he had just been beaten up.
One guest, who was never contacted by court investigators, said people were afraid to speak up publicly because they are afraid of Campatelli.
Speaking up in Campatelli’s favor was her friend, Adela Mendoza, the person who was giving Campatelli and Perry a ride to their homes in East Boston and Malden respectively when the alleged fight occurred. Mendoza, who confirmed she was interviewed briefly by investigators over the phone, told the Globe that Perry was the one who was drunk, while Campatelli was “OK.” Mendoza said that she didn’t see any punches thrown but that Perry was agitated and Campatelli ordered him out of the car.
Perry voluntarily checked himself into rehab after the incident, remaining out of work on paid leave for nearly a month.
Perry told friends that both he and Campatelli had been drinking on the night of the alleged fight and that he couldn’t even remember what they were fighting about in the moments before Campatelli allegedly punched him, the person with knowledge of the event said.
As the two argued, according to Perry’s account to friends, Campatelli suddenly turned around from the front seat and struck him in the cheek, nose and mouth in rapid succession. Perry told friends he began pounding the car seat and asking Mendoza to let him out of the car.
Mendoza pulled over and left Perry on a city street at around 11 p.m., Perry told investigators. He immediately contacted friends to get a ride home, taking pictures of his battered face along the way, according to the person familiar with the episode.
The co-worker who received the taped message from Perry told the Globe that court investigators never asked for an interview.
Another court worker said Perry called at 7 a.m. the morning after the incident “crying and hysterical.” He said he needed to talk, said the co-worker, and Perry went on to describe being “in town at the party and I got a ride from Patty and (Mendoza) and she turned around and started punching me in the face.” The employee asked Perry why. “I don’t know,” he replied, according to the employee.
Perry said, “I ducked. I put my hands up and got down on the floor,” the co-worker told the Globe. He planned to file a police report, but later changed his mind, said the coworker, who was “surprised” not to be interviewed by court investigators.
Perry called in sick the day after the altercation, but the incident quickly became the subject of office gossip. One employee, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, heard that Campatelli and Perry had argued over Perry’s decision to bring a sample of bourbon to the office a few days before, part of Perry’s side job representing a liquor company. This employee said Campatelli’s language sounded like a threat.
In fact, when Perry returned to work on Friday, the 20th, Campatelli called him aside and upbraided him for bringing alcohol into the office, according to friends of Perry. Within hours, Perry was called to the Administrative Office of the Trial Court, where human resources officials questioned him about his encounter with Campatelli.
This week, Perry told friends that he received a letter from the court’s director of personnel, Mark T. Conlon, saying that his account “could not be substantiated” and that he should return to work.
However, that conclusion changed on Wednesday afternoon as Globe reporters prepared the story about Campatelli’s conduct at the holiday parties and afterward.Sean P. Murphy can be reached at sean.murphy @globe.com. Andrea Estes can be reached at email@example.com.