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Massachusetts Clerk Magistrates and Assistants Pocket Millions in After-Hours Fees

by Matt Clarke

In 2009, 191 of 210 clerk magistrates and assistants in Massachusetts padded their incomes by pocketing over $2.5 million in after-hours bail fees.

Clerk magistrates and assistants are paid salaries ranging from $84,000 to $110,000. Due to a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that bail hearings must be held within six hours of arrest to avoid constitutional issues, the clerk magistrates and assistants are often called after work hours to set or deny bail.

If a bond is set and paid, the arrestee is charged a $40 fee. During normal business hours that fee goes into the state coffers. However, the fees for after-hours bail settings are pocketed by the clerk magistrates and assistants as a supplement to their salaries.

In 2009, 36% of Massachusetts clerk magistrates and assistants pocketed over $15,000 each in fees. Twenty-four took in more than $25,000 each. Further, 87 bail commissioners, appointed by the Superior Court Committee on Bail, pocketed another $734,000. About a third of the bail commissioners are also employed by the state in other capacities.

“This is a striking amount of money these fees are generating for these clerks,” said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. “They are paid well. This should be a part of their responsibilities.”

Worchester District First Assistant Clerk Brendan T. Keenan, 58, led the pack in 2009, pocketing $54,990 in after-hours bail fees in addition to his $92,034 annual salary. Between 2006 and 2009, he made $266,710 in after-hours fees. The second-highest salary supplementer was Brockton District Clerk Magistrate Kevin P. Creedon, who added $42,947 in after-hours bail fees on top of his $110,221 annual salary.

“It’s not easy work at all,” said Keenan, who is on call one weekend and eleven weeknights per month. “They can call me at 4 in the morning and I’ll be there within half an hour.”

It is “unrealistic to assume you should ask people to work beyond their normal hours of employment without any sort of compensation,” said Keith E. McDonough, vice president of the Association of Magistrates and Assistant Clerks. McDonough, a clerk magistrate in Lawrence District Court, himself pocketed $28,927 in after-hours bail fees in 2009.
Michael J. McEneaney, the State Bail Administrator, said the supplemental fees were offered to attract personnel to work after-hours, and noted that after-hours bail settings would be impossible without the fee incentive.

But the padding of well-paid state employees’ pocketbooks, especially in these budget-strapped times, is not the only issue raised by after-hours bail fees. No fee is paid unless bail is set and the arrestee posts bond. This could improperly influence magistrate clerks and assistants to set bail when it is unwarranted, and to set bail low enough so it can easily be paid by the defendant. In short, there is a fundamental conflict of interest when the official who sets bail has a financial interest in whether the arrestee makes bail or not.

“It’s clearly a temptation. Clearly from the point of view of a purer justice system, you don’t want this question to arise,” said Widmer. “It doesn’t engender trust in the judicial system to have this inherent conflict there.”

A 2003 trial court commission recommended that after-hours bail fees be paid into state coffers, which would “eliminate the conflict of interest magistrates face when making a judicial decision that can impact their personal finances.” That recommendation was ignored, and the magistrate clerks and assistants continue to claim there is no conflict of interest while supplementing their salaries with millions of dollars in bail fees.

Source: Boston Herald

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