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    letters | the culture of patronage

    Why must we dance around legality of patronage hiring?

    Wendy Maeda/Globe staff/file 2013

    The pretrial skirmishing in the criminal trial of John J. O’Brien, the former probation commissioner, has been very revealing (“O’Brien judge asked to recuse himself,” Metro, Jan. 25). While the underlying public outrage, generated initially by a Globe Spotlight investigation in 2010, is focused on the blatant patronage hiring that took place at the Probation Department, both sides in the criminal trial appear to agree that filling state job openings with politically connected individuals is not illegal in Massachusetts.

    That has been the defense’s position for months. Now the Globe reports the prosecutor as saying, “This case is about falsifying documents” to hide the rigged hiring system. “The crime is the fraud.”

    It is dismaying that prosecutors have to dance around the central abuse in this case — blatant patronage hiring — to find a handle to convict O’Brien.


    Whatever happens in the trial, the time has come for Massachusetts to join many other states in making patronage hiring for government jobs clearly illegal.

    Allan Fierce