Union Seeks Reform After Pay-to-Play Probe

     (CN) – A government employees union wants restitution after a report found that members of the Massachusetts Probation Services have spent the last decade making unconstitutional employment decisions motivated by applicants’ political affiliations and contributions.

     In November 2010, an independent counsel appointed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court released a scathing 337-page report about corruption within the state’s probation department.
     Based on interviews and depositions from more than 80 witnesses, independent counsel Paul Ware concluded that his investigation “revealed a degree of abuse and systemic corruption in hiring and promotion that cannot be ignored, and which as implemented, became an obstacle to the very principals articulated in Trial Court policies. That extent of interference with merit hiring and promotion transformed a credible process into a patronage hiring machine. However well-oiled, that machine no longer serves the public interest.”
     In its lawsuit, the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) says the Massachusetts Probation Service is supposed to fill positions based on merit and seniority, in accordance with state trial court rules and the department’s union contract.
     NAGE, also known as Local 5000 of the Service Employees International Union, bargains on behalf of approximately 2,000 trial court employees, more than half of whom work for the Massachusetts Probation Service.
     The union sued Chief Justice for Administration and Management of the Trial Court Robert Mulligan, Acting Probation Commissioner Ronald Corbett Jr. and six former probation officials who have since resigned or retired, including former probation commissioner John O’Brien.
     “From 2001 through 2010, Defendant O’Brien regularly received telephone calls or letters from Massachusetts government officials wishing to secure preferential treatment for particular persons applying for positions within the Probation Service,” according to the 28-page complaint.
     O’Brien shared these lists with deputy commissioners, who would then encourage the interviewers to hire the preselected applicants, NAGE claims. But while this was going on, each of these officials “were also conspiring to engage in intentional misrepresentations, the falsification of documents, perjury, and acts of retaliation in order to thwart any investigation of or challenge to the legitimacy of the Probation Service appointment process.”
     Despite the appearance of a legitimate hiring process, NAGE says probation department employees suspected “that job applicants could secure preferential treatment for themselves by making political contributions to particular powerful state legislators.”
     “Evidence later emerged that this perception was accurate and that a ‘pay to play’ system did exist within the Probation Service, that is, that O’Brien and his co-conspirators favored job applicants who made political contributions to state legislators,” according to the complaint.
     Former NAGE union officer Bernard Dow admitted to obtaining the position of assistant chief probation officer for Worcester District Court y making regular campaign contributions to former Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi, despite having been rejected for multiple promotions throughout his career, according to the complaint.
     Dow, like other inferior appointees, deliberately concealed his knowledge of the unlawful pay-to-play practices, “despite the fact that he was an officer of NAGE local and knew that political contributions were a prohibited basis on which to make appointments under NAGE’s contract with the Trial Court, that NAGE regularly expended members’ dues monies in carrying out responsibility, and that information establishing the corruption of the appointment process would have been material to NAGE in enforcing the contract.”
     NAGE is seeking an injunction ordering Chief Justice Mulligan “to exercise his recession authority by causing the rescission of any appointment within the Probation Service made during the period from 2003 to 2010 in which political association or affiliation played a substantial or motivating role in that appointment.” The union also wants Acting Probation Commissioner Corbett to hold a competitive hiring process “in accordance with the Trial Court Personnel Manual and any applicable collective bargaining agreements.”
     NAGE is also seeking compensatory and punitive damages from the six former probation officials, as well as a declaration that applicants who were denied positions from 2003-2010 were deprived of their constitutional rights.
     The union is represented by house counsel Jean Zeiler and Richard Barry Jr. in Quincy, Ma.

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