It was one of the most brutal hits of the 2006 governor’s race: A month before the election, the Boston Herald reported that Deval Patrick’s brother-in-law was a convicted rapist who had failed to register as a sex offender.
Patrick, who had been battling accusations that he was soft on crime, was infuriated. He accused his Republican opponent of playing “dirty politics” by planting the story in the press. Then Patrick won the election, and the story became a forgotten footnote in the annals of bare-knuckled politics.
But not for Patrick. On Monday, Patrick, still seething over the story eight years later, explained his recent decision to remove the top two officials at the state Sex Offender Registry Board, saying they improperly tried to force his brother-in-law to register as a sex offender.
In his first public comments on the shakeup at the agency, Patrick blamed the officials, his own appointees, for a number of other problems, including failing to update regulations and fostering an unproductive work environment. But he made it clear, as he prepares to leave office, that he is still nursing wounds from his first political campaign.
Blaming the Herald and the Republican Party for the revelation, Patrick said the disclosure that his brother-in-law had been convicted of raping his wife, Patrick’s sister, more than a decade earlier in California “nearly destroyed their lives.”
“So it was time for them to go,” Patrick said Monday, referring to the removal of board chairwoman Saundra Edwards and executive director Jeanne Holmes.
It was an unusually blunt acknowledgment: Politicians are usually loath to admit a personal stake in public policy decisions.
In October 2006, as Patrick appeared poised to complete his rise from obscure Justice Department lawyer to the governorship, the Herald reported that his brother-in-law, Bernard Sigh, had been convicted in 1993 of raping Patrick’s sister, Rhonda, in San Diego. Sigh pleaded guilty, served a short prison sentence, and reconciled with his wife. The couple subsequently moved to Milton.
The story did little to derail the massive grass-roots effort to elect Patrick, but the case lived on. In 2007, the Sex Offender Registry Board reviewed whether Sigh needed to register as a sex offender in Massachusetts.
A hearing officer, Attilio Paglia, determined that Sigh was not obligated to register, ruling that he posed no danger to the public, according to court records.
But Edwards, Holmes, and other top officials at the board pressured Paglia to reverse his decision, according to the governor and to a lawsuit Paglia filed in December 2008, alleging improper interference in the case and others.
In his lawsuit, Paglia alleged that board officials sent him a revised ruling that concluded that Sigh was obligated to register and asked Paglia to sign it.
Paglia refused and then began to receive “unprecedented criticisms” of other pending decisions he had drafted as well as poor performance reviews, according to his lawsuit. He left work on a medical leave in June 2008, citing emotional distress and anxiety, and resigned six months later.
Paglia settled his lawsuit for $60,000 this April, a month before the case was set to go to trial. He now works as an aide to Bruce E. Tarr, the Republican leader of the state Senate. Paglia declined to comment on Monday and referred questions to his attorney, John G. Swomley.
Swomley said he was frustrated the governor did not act more quickly to remove Edwards and Holmes and said more needs to be done to restore integrity at the board.
“The system was rigged,” he said. “When they didn’t like the decisions that would come down, they would order them changed.”
Edwards and Holmes could not be reached for comment Monday.
Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office, which defended Edwards and Holmes against Paglia’s lawsuit, released a statement Monday saying “this was a complicated case in which valid arguments came to light on both sides, and that is why a settlement was agreed upon short of trial.”
The decision to remove the officials, the statement said, was “made solely by the [Patrick] administration.”
Republican Charlie Baker, who faces Coakley in the campaign to succeed Patrick as governor, said through a spokesman that he believes the Sex Offender Registry Board “is crucial to public safety, and would hope any changes to personnel are only made in the best interest of the public.”
Patrick did not explain why he waited until last week to act, but said it took months to find replacements for Edwards and Holmes.
Last week, he named Anne Conners, an investigator at the state Department of Early Education and Care, to replace Edwards, who was ousted last Wednesday. He appointed Kevin Hayden, the board’s general counsel, to replace Holmes, who was placed on paid administrative leave last Wednesday.
Patrick said the alleged pressure in his brother-in-law’s case was not the only reason he removed Edwards and Holmes.
He also pointed to a December 2013 ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court, which found that the board had not updated its regulations since 2002, even though the scientific understanding of sex offenders and their likelihood to reoffend has expanded considerably since then.
Patrick first announced the shakeup while he was on a trade mission in Europe last week, and he did not explain his reasoning at the time. On Monday, he defended his decision not to explain the ousters in a more timely fashion.
“Not every execution needs to be in public,” he told reporters. “If they did something dastardly, yeah. But this was an accumulated loss of confidence.”