[Probation] is ostensibly a division of the trial court but, thanks to the Legislature, operates with unusual independence…. In 1993, five years before [Probation Commissioner John] O’Brien was appointed, the Legislature eliminated the six-year limit on the term of the probation commissioner. In 2001, the Legislature gave O’Brien the exclusive power to hire and fire within his agency, eliminating the need for him to win [trial court Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert] Mulligan’s approval for personnel decisions. More recently, the Legislature has allowed Mulligan to move funds between trial court departments to deal with budget shortfalls. There was one exception, however: probation funds could not be touched.
The Legislature has also been generous with funding for probation. According to the Court Management Advisory Committee, a group that advises the trial court on management strategy, the probation caseload was basically flat from fiscal 2003 through fiscal 2008, while the agency’s staff increased by 10 percent and its budget went up 18 percent.
I mean, this is crazy, isn’t it? The lege keeps rewriting the rules for probation, making it basically an independent fiefdom inside the trial court, and then uses it as a dumping ground for all of its relatives who need jobs. No wonder people came out in droves to vote for the guy who wasn’t part of the existing power structure on Beacon Hill. (By the way, Senator, isn’t it time you got that website up?)
One particular probation job – that of one Stephen Anzalone, whose father, sister, and two cousins also work at probation – has ended up in court, pitting Anzalone against Mulligan, who tried to rescind Anzalone’s appointment. CommonWealth has this gem from the court papers:
As Mulligan’s attorney says in an SJC brief, “(Mulligan) had ample discretion under the personnel standards to have determined, once he had learned how many relatives were already employed, that ‘enough is enough.'”
Enough is, indeed, enough. Governor Patrick has the right idea: move probation into the executive branch where it belongs anyway, and clean it the f&@% up.
“He’s my cousin, OK?” is not OK. This kind of thing is where the Big Dig Culture came from; it’s why Scott Brown won; and it’s why things could be really ugly this November if we aren’t proactive.