Witness recalls favoritism in Probation hiring

Official says bosses singled out candidates

A regional administrator for the state Probation Department who oversaw hiring panels told a federal jury Thursday that his supervisors would routinely pass along the names of favored job candidates they wanted him to advance.

Brian Murphy, who oversees 10 court districts, testified that he recalled getting names of favorite candidates from Elizabeth Tavares, the former first assistant commissioner, and Ed Ryan, the legislative liaison, just before conducting a hiring panel. He said he would pass along those names to another probation official who served with him on the panel.

Murphy told federal jurors of one particular example while serving on a hiring panel for a Middlesex Juvenile Court position in 2007.


He said that Tavares told him, “Give these folks a good look, and try to move them along,” said Murphy, 51, who has worked for the Probation Department since 1987.

“We were given specific names for us to do, for me to do what I could to move them on to a final round,” he said. The four people Tavares named, Murphy said, were ultimately hired.

Murphy said he would receive names of preferred candidates about 75 percent of the time he conducted hiring panels. At times, he would raise concerns that a particular candidate was not qualified, and he told Tavares the hiring could be subjected to a union grievance.

He said Tavares told him, “Just do whatever you can, and we’ll deal with whatever comes later.”

Murphy added, however, that on most occasions, “the names I was given were good candidates on their own.”

He testified Thursday in US District Court in Boston in the federal trial alleging a corrupt hiring process in the Probation Department.

The case involves allegations that John O’Brien, the former commissioner, Tavares, and top deputy William Burke III ran the Probation Department like a criminal enterprise, by favoring candidates who were sponsored by state legislators over applicants who were more qualified.


In exchange, prosecutors said, the legislators routinely boosted the Probation Department’s budget, helping O’Brien build his political clout as the head of a sprawling agency.

Prosecutors called the jobs political currency and said the defendants committed fraud by rigging the process and then creating a scheme to cover it up from the judges who had to approve appointments.

Defense lawyers say the probation officials did nothing illegal, even if it was patronage, and they argue that they never hired anyone who was unqualified.

Murphy was the 19th witness after 13 full days of testimony. The case began with opening statements May 8 and could last several more weeks.

Earlier Thursday, an associate probation officer of several years, Kathryn Anzalone, told jurors that she applied in 2007 for an official position as a probation officer — what constituted a promotion. She had the support of her chief probation officer and the judge of the Plymouth District Court where she worked. But she was not hired.

Prosecutors argued that she was passed over for two politically connected candidates, Melissa Melia and Patricia Mosca, who had both been sponsored by Senate President Therese Murray. Anzalone did not seek any help from state legislators.

But defense attorneys sought to show that Melia, a social worker who had been studying for her master’s degree in criminal justice, and Mosca, who had worked for the Department of Transitional Assistance, were better candidates than Anzalone, who had been associate for only 20 months and whose previous job was at a restaurant.


Defense lawyers also argued through her testimony that she had four relatives who already worked in the state Trial Court system, including her father, an assistant probation chief.

Milton J. Valencia
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