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Prosecutors want Probation trial judge to stay on

Prosecutors called on the federal judge overseeing the long-awaited trial in the Probation Department scandal to again reject a request by defense lawyers that he recuse himself, saying the latest maneuver is only a strategy to delay the trial.

“Defendants’ ‘newly raised’ issue is nothing more than an untimely, strategic move to force this court’s recusal and delay the trial in this case,” the federal prosecutors said in a court filing Friday.

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A hearing is slated for Monday.

John J. O’Brien, the former Probation Department commissioner, and two top deputies are scheduled to go on trial in March on political corruption charges. Prosecutors allege they ran a rigged hiring system that favored candidates sponsored by state legislators over more qualified ones.

In exchange, prosecutors allege, the legislators regularly boosted O’Brien’s budget, helping him build his political power as head of an agency where jobs were for sale.

Lawyers for O’Brien argue that the allegations do not constitute a crime and represent nothing more than political patronage, which they say is widespread in state politics. They maintain that judges also recommended jobs, and they say they plan to call US District Court Judge Timothy S. Hillman as a witness in the case, to show that he himself recommended candidates for jobs.

Hillman, a former state judge, is a friend of US District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV, and both sat in federal court in Worcester when Hillman was a federal magistrate judge.

Saylor had already rejected a request that he recuse himself in the probation case, based on his ties to Paul Ware, a former law partner who was one of the original investigators in the scandal. The judge said there is no basis for him to step aside, because he was a partner with Ware more than a decade ago, before the probation scandal occurred, and that they had only a professional relationship and he has barely seen him since then.

Lawyers for O’Brien and his top deputies said in their renewed request that Saylor should consider all their arguments in the request to step aside, including the new argument that Hillman would be called as a witness. They said the judge would have to step aside even if there is an appearance of a conflict of interest.

In a court filing Friday, prosecutors argued that there is no basis to call Hillman as a witness and that defense lawyers were dragging him into the case as a strategy to muddy and delay the trial.

They also argue that the case is not about recommending candidates or political patronage, but about O’Brien’s alleged fraudulent scheme, and they argued that Hillman’s relationship with Saylor has nothing to do with the allegations.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@
globe.com
. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.
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