Embattled Suffolk Probate Register Felix D. Arroyo stood Monday on the courthouse steps and vowed to fight his “unjust and unwarranted suspension.”
Speaking for the first time since his February suspension, Arroyo and his supporters amplified allegations that entrenched white court employees hid files to undermine his efforts to diversify the staff and hire people who could speak languages in addition to English.
Saying he inherited an office with a well-documented history of mismanagement and cronyism, Arroyo said his efforts to end these practices were met with stiff resistance. Trial court administrators control the budget, he said, and they refused to allow him to hire a full management team as longtime employees actively undermined his authority.
“Some of the staff that I inherited or who were later placed in my office by trial court administrators intentionally sabotaged my efforts to reform this office,” Arroyo said, reading from a typed statement on the steps of the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse in downtown Boston. “Their racist and sexist actions have not only impacted me and their co-workers, but the entire judicial process and the residents of Massachusetts.”
A spokeswoman for the Trial Court said in an e-mail that officials investigated “allegations of inappropriate racial comments” and as a result transferred one employee and continue to closely monitor another. Under Arroyo, Suffolk Probate received its “share of the resources,” the e-mail said.
Arroyo held a press conference after emerging from the courthouse following what his attorney described as nearly three hours of questioning by investigators. Arroyo did not provide significant new insight into the investigation, but pledged to return to his post and hold court employees accountable for acts of racism, sexism, and sabotage, with or without the support of trial court administrators.
“I do not need their support or permission to do what is right,” Arroyo said. “I have the support of the voters of Suffolk County and I work for them.”
The court suspended Arroyo with pay Feb. 3 for what administrators have described as a “procedural meltdown” in the long troubled Suffolk Probate Registry. An assessment found an office paralyzed because of scores of missing files, hundreds of thousands of dollars in unprocessed checks, and an indifference to the needs of the public, whose cases in court were often delayed as a result.
Arroyo hired prominent attorney Walter B. Prince, who alleged that his client faced sabotage by white court employees who resented his efforts to diversify the staff and hire people with language skills to assist residents who don’t speak English. Arroyo was the first person of color elected probate register and said he hired staff who spoke Spanish, Portuguese, French, Cape Verdean Creole, and Haitian Creole.
The Globe reported last week that before Arroyo’s suspension the trial court had launched an investigation into pervasive accusations of racial hostility, sexual harassment, and sabotage. Documents show that investigators determined that a number of disciplinary charges were warranted on offenses that include sexual harassment and racial discrimination.
Arroyo is roughly two years into his six-year term. An investigation into his leadership is expected to be complete this month.
On Monday Arroyo noted that “democracy depends on transparency” and criticized Trial Court administrators for what he described as a “secretive investigation.” But an Arroyo spokeswoman made clear the register would not answer questions from reporters, citing the advice of his attorney. Instead he read from a lengthy typed statement.
The group standing behind Arroyo included Gabriel Gomez, the first Latino to win a Republican primary for US Senate in Massachusetts. Gomez described moving to the state 15 years ago with his wife because it was a place they wanted to raise their kids. But he said the allegations of racially motivated sabotage and suspension of Arroyo run counter to Massachusetts’ core values.
“If I didn’t know any better I would think that the people who are doing this unjustly to Felix Arroyo might be working for the president of the United States or his policies,” Gomez said in a reference to President Trump. “If we let this happen to Felix Arroyo, imagine what could happen to someone who doesn’t have his name or reputation?”
Others at the podium included Roxana Rivera of 32BJ Service Employees International Union District 15, who said Arroyo diversified the registry staff “to make sure that the underrepresented communities of Boston are served.”
Michael Curry, a board member of the national NAACP, said that, “racism is alive and well in Boston.”
“It’s about institutional racism,” Curry said. “It’s about systems that don’t want to change.”Andrew Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.