Massachusetts Power Struggle over Cronyism Blocks Assistant Court Clerk Hiring
by Mark Wilson
An apparent power struggle over the proposed hiring of an assistant clerk in the Hingham District Court in Massachusetts, southeast of Boston, has blocked the daughter of a prominent attorney from taking the $104,000 position, leaving her in her current job as an associate probation officer, where she earns $49,125 a year.
Observers say the hiring decision was a test of the reforms enacted following a 2010 statewide scandal that led to the conviction and sentencing of the state’s former probation commissioner and two deputies.
Maura E. Jubinville, 32, was recommended for the assistant clerk position in 2013 by Hingham District Court Clerk Magistrate Joseph A. Ligotti. Jubinville is the daughter of attorney and former State Police detective Robert Jubinville, who was elected to the Massachusetts Governor’s Council in 2012 and has close personal ties to Ligotti.
Ligotti himself has blemishes on his record; he was twice disciplined by the Supreme Judicial Council for misconduct, including abusive behavior toward the public and issuing an illegal arrest warrant. In 2001, he was accused of helping the State Police earn extra overtime pay by encouraging citizens to appeal speeding tickets. When they did, the officers collected overtime for attending the hearings as witnesses. In exchange troopers funneled work to Ligotti, who moonlighted as a bail bondsman and received a $25 fee for each person he bailed out of jail, according to a lawsuit filed by two state troopers.
Ligotti’s attorney who defended him in that lawsuit? Robert Jubinville, who insisted he did nothing to help his daughter be recommended for Ligotti’s first new assistant clerk in 14 years. “I am damn proud of my daughter,” he declared. “My daughter should not be denied that job because I am her father, and she should not get that job because I am her father.”
Maura Jubinville’s hiring was blocked by Harry Spence, hired by the Supreme Judicial Court in 2012 to fill the newly-created position of court administrator. The Massachusetts legislature had created the post to improve management and ensure greater fairness in hiring decisions following the 2010 patronage scandal. Spence vetoed Ligotti’s job offer and sought to discipline him for failing to disclose his close relationship with Robert Jubinville when Ligotti recommended Jubinville’s daughter for the assistant clerk job.
Both men admitted to a longtime friendship, but Robert Jubinville said there was no conflict. “I’m friends with Ligotti and friends with a lot of court personnel,” he noted.
Maura Jubinville met the minimum requirements for the position, though she did not possess a law degree that other candidates had, and her name was not among the list of the 200 most qualified candidates that the court’s human resources department originally sent to Ligotti. Ligotti requested a second list of all 40 court employees who had applied for the position, which included Jubinville. After interviewing nearly all 40 candidates, a panel consisting of Ligotti and two other clerks recommended hiring her, although Ligotti abstained from voting.
Robert Jubinville disagreed with Spence’s move to block his daughter’s hiring. “Maura has sat in courtrooms for the last eight years,” he said. “She’s eminently qualified to be an assistant clerk.”
The dispute took on the appearance of determining the reach of Spence’s power, noted state Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.
“Clerks are appointed by the governor and are supposed to be independent from the judges” who hired Spence, O’Flaherty said. “The court administrator is trying to do his job within the construct of the law, but there are some gray areas.”
Spence’s authority to block the hiring was also questioned by an organization that represents Massachusetts court clerks. The Association of Magistrates and Assistant Clerks does not include itself among Ligotti’s admirers, but members believed he should have been able to hire Maura Jubinville.
“From our perspective, the court administrator has the right to reject an appointment only if it fails to comply with policies and procedures,” said Daniel J. Hogan, the association’s president. “That’s it. Whether he likes the candidate or not is irrelevant.”
The flap evoked the specter of the highly-publicized 2010 scandal in which 250 Massachusetts probation employees were identified by the Boston Globe as having personal or political ties with lawmakers and court officials. Promotions of probation employees were contingent on contributing money to legislators who had influence with then-state Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien.
In the end, the pervasive hiring of friends, relatives and politically-connected applicants led to O’Brien’s resignation and federal racketeering charges filed against him and two of his deputies in 2011. [See: PLN, Jan. 2011, p.36].
O’Brien, 57, was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison following his July 24, 2014 conviction on four counts of mail fraud, racketeering and racketeering conspiracy. He could have received up to six years, but the judge said he would not single out O’Brien in a state where political corruption was apparently the rule, not the exception.
“John O’Brien did not invent patronage hiring in the Department of Probation,” stated U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young. “Today, every judge in the state of Massachusetts must stand ashamed and appalled at the level of patronage and corruption.”
O’Brien’s top deputy, Elizabeth Tavares, 57, was sentenced to three months in prison, while the probation department’s deputy for Western Massachusetts, William Burke III, 71, received one year of probation.
In the wake of the scandal, the Massachusetts legislature enacted court reforms, including the creation of an administrator’s office to oversee spending, contracting and hiring of non-judge employees. Apparently, such oversight is still needed.
Sources: Boston Globe, www.patriotledger.com, http://state-employees.findthedata.com
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