We shouldn’t be surprised by the findings of judicial mismanagement, although the evidence of official malfeasance uncovered in the Ware Report by the late Judge Irwin is disturbing. Judges are often poor administrators and often lack the political skills necessary to do battle with the Legislature, when the two branches become embroiled in conflict over issues such as patronage and human resources. The Legislature controls the budget of the judiciary and has, in the recent past, used its constitutional power to punish fiscally individual judges and the judiciary, as a whole, when it feels its “political prerogatives,” such as its asserted patronage rights, are threatened to be curbed by elements of the judiciary.
Governor Patrick’s proposed reform to remove the Probation Department from the judiciary and create a combined Department of Parole and Probation makes sound policy sense. Nevertheless, such an institutional reform won’t insulate the Probation Department completely from nefarious legislative influence.
In order to more fully develop civil service recommendations that will limit the ability of political patronage to become egregiously “out-of-control,” as in the Probation Department scandal and the Big Dig, Massachusetts desperately needs the creation of a 21st Century Ward Commission.
The original Ward Commission, officially entitled the Commission Concerning State and County Buildings in Massachusetts, was empowered in 1979 by the Legislature and the Executive branch to investigate rampant corruption in public state and county building contracting and construction. (It was led by the well-respected former President of Amherst College John William Ward.) Findings and recommendations issued by the Ward Commission resulted in significant reforms in the bidding and procurement of state and county contracts for public buildings, the creation of the Inspector General’s Office to review and have (limited) power to investigate allegations of fraud, waste, and abuse in the spending of public funds, and the referral to the US Attorney’s Office of information leading to the prosecution and conviction of two state legislators.
A Ward Commission for the 21st century should be empowered to examine all civil service, patronage, and state public open records laws and regulations and make legislative, judicial administration, and executive department recommendations that would apply across all state agencies and departments. The 21st century Ward Commission would need broad subpoena power and the ability to make referrals for criminal prosecution, similar to the original Ward Commission.
If the Legislature continues to display a reluctance to transfer control of the Probation Department and/or authorize the creation of a 21st century Ward Commission, with subpoena power, to investigate the many tentacles of this burgeoning political scandal. If the Legislature attempts to block the creation of a 21st Century Ward Commission, then Governor Patrick should use his executive authority to appoint an Independent Counsel (Special Prosecutor) to investigate and prosecute criminally those legislators, Probation Department officials, and judicial administrators that have violated state laws.
Finally, Governor Patrick states that he is willing and eager to take ownership of the Probation Department and all of its associated challenges. However, the pressing question remains whether the Legislature and the Judiciary are willing to cede a significant measure of their patronage power. Alternatively, the Legislature and the Judiciary will need to be coaxed, prodded, and coerced by the citizens of Massachusetts to cede their “patronage prerogatives” and permit genuine, committed reformers, which I hope Gov. Patrick will reveal himself to be in his second term, to begin a long-term reform process necessary to bring a greater level of merit, efficiency, honesty, and openness to state government.