Metro

Judge in probation trial may give prosecutors time limit

A federal judge said Wednesday that he may set a budget of time for prosecutors to present the remainder of their case in the high-profile public corruption trial of former Probation Department officials, out of concern that the trial is beginning to wear on jurors.

US District Court Judge William G. Young gave prosecutors until Thursday morning to estimate the length of the rest of their case and said he will seek to keep the “government attorneys on their feet.”

The request from Young came on the 22d full day of testimony, and after prosecutors told the judge they planned to trim some of their case. The trial began with opening statements May 8, and 35 witnesses have taken the stand so far.

Advertisement

“I think the jury is entitled to know how long, our best judgment is, that this is going to be,” Young said during an afternoon hearing in which the jury was not present.

Get Metro Headlines in your inbox:
The 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Assistant US Attorney Fred M. Wyshak Jr. said the trial could go on to the end of July.

Prosecutors allege that John J. O’Brien, the Probation Department’s commissioner from 1998 to 2010, and top deputies Elizabeth Taveres and William Burke ran the department like a criminal enterprise by favoring job candidates who were sponsored by legislators over more qualified applicants.

In exchange, prosecutors say, legislators routinely boosted the department’s budget, helping O’Brien build his political clout. The jobs were considered “political currency.”

The defendants face a maximum of 20 years in prison on charges including racketeering and mail fraud. Prosecutors say the defendants created an organized scheme, making applicants go through a bogus hiring process. O’Brien then falsely certified to judges that he followed proper policies and procedures in making appointments, prosecutors allege.

Advertisement

Young told the lawyers that he has already drafted a verdict slip based on the evidence he has seen presented. Young said he does not plan to ask jurors whether the defendants bribed or offered gratuities to legislators by hiring their preferred job candidates, as initially alleged in the racketeteering charge.

The judge also said he does not plan to ask jurors whether Burke committed mail fraud, even though he is charged with the crime.

“I don’t see how you can find he aided and abetted in any of those hires,” the judge said. “I don’t see evidence. Maybe it’s coming, but I don’t see it.”

The judge said he will ask jurors whether Burke is guilty of conspiracy to commit racketeering.

Defense lawyers argued that prosecutors have already overwhelmed jurors with cumulative evidence related to the alleged mail fraud, and that jurors are “fatigued.”

Advertisement

Young said he will allow prosecutors to continue to present their case. Some of the witnesses expected over the next couple of days include former Probation Department superiors who allegedly participated in the hiring scheme but who were not charged, as well as state legislators who allegedly recommended hires.

During testimony Wednesday, Representative Anne Gobi of Spencer and former representative Robert L. Rice Jr. of Gardner, both Democrats, told jurors that their party leader, Representative Robert A. DeLeo, approached them in 2007 and asked if they wanted anyone appointed to newly created Probation Department jobs.

DeLeo was then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee — he eventually became House speaker — and both of Gobi and Rice’s recommendations were hired to the Probation Department without an interview. They told jurors that they later supported DeLeo in his quest to become House speaker.

Under defense questioning, however, the lawmakers acknowledged that they were never charged with a crime and did not think they did anything wrong, even if they thought DeLeo’s proposition was unusual.

“You didn’t view that as him trying to buy your vote for speaker, did you?” defense attorney Christine DeMaso asked Gobi.

She said she did not.

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