By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- Providing clues about where the prosecution will place its focus in its case against three former probation department officials, Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak used his opening statement Thursday to focus on a few specific actions in the alleged hiring scheme.
Former Probation Commissioner John O'Brien and two former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, are accused of shuttling jobs to politically connected applicants and then masking the patronage, making fraudulent documents to make the hiring appear proper. The trial began Monday with jury selection, and opening statements were made Thursday.
The defense attorneys made clear they plan to present the practice of receiving recommendations from lawmakers as a routine part of the hiring procedures in the court system and the rest of state government.
The burden to prove the case is on the prosecutors, and at the outset of the trial forecast to last two months, Wyshak indicated what facts he will try to lay out for the jury.
Wyshak described a meeting between O'Brien and then-Speaker Tom Finneran, witnessed by former probation official Fran Wall, that set in motion a change in law giving O'Brien greater authority over making appointments. The fiscal year 2002 budget, which was signed into law Dec. 1, 2001, shifted appointment authority from the chief justice of administration and management to the commissioner, though the chief justice retained the authority to approve or disapprove of the hires.
Former Chief Justice of Administration and Management Robert Mulligan will be called as a witness, Wyshak said, and statements by defense attorneys indicated Mulligan's testimony could be a flashpoint.
"Judge Mulligan hires people in precisely the same way," said John Amabile, defense attorney for Burke. Before prosecutors called their first witness, Ellen Slaney, Amabile described her as an unindicted co-conspirator in the alleged crime, and said she was a "competitor" with O'Brien in the department.
Court adjourned Thursday before the cross examination of Slaney.
Wyshak told the jurors they would also hear about a legislative move in 2005 that took away Mulligan's power to transfer money out of the probation department to other areas of the trial court. Wyshak said the probation department was "treated well" in the budgeting process and made passing reference to other events that involved the Legislature.
Wyshak said there was a 2007 meeting between then-probation-department attorney Christopher Bulger, son of the former Senate president, and Rep. Robert DeLeo, who was then chairman of House Ways and Means.
Wyshak also zeroed in on Pat Lawton, who was hired at the behest of his father, Judge Mark Lawton, a former Democratic state representative from Brockton. In his opening statement, Wyshak described how Francine Gannon, an aide to Senate President Therese Murray, reached out to the probation department's "fixer" Ed Ryan to push the appointment.
The federal prosecutor also discussed the hiring of Doug MacLean, son of former Sen. William "Biff" MacLean, a Fairhaven Democrat.
Both Doug MacLean and Pat Lawton had problems with drugs, Wyshak said.
Sen. Mark Montigny could also be a subject of the trial. In his opening, Wyshak said Kelly Manchester, who was the 21-year-old girlfriend of the New Bedford Democrat, was hired to a probation job.
Manchester's hiring could present an opportunity for the defense to make points, as well, as O'Brien's attorney Stellio Sinnis said Manchester's performance on the job has convinced a judge of her value, though that same judge previously gave her low marks in an interview before she was hired. Sinnis said the same judge now believes she is a "dynamite probation officer."
The defense highlighted other hires that are included in the prosecution's indictment. Sinnis said a recommendation from DeLeo, for Brian Mirasolo - the son of an aide, according to an independent investigation - was based on DeLeo's long history with the applicant.
"Are you going to ignore that?" Sinnis asked, saying DeLeo had made a "glowing" recommendation.
Sinnis said a person recommended by Rep. James O'Day had worked with the West Boylston Democrat for years, giving him a basis for the recommendation, had a master's degree in criminal justice and worked at the Department of Children and Families before taking a probation job in a family court.