By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- After four candidates recommended by former Superior Court Chief Justice Suzanne DelVecchio failed to advance toward probation officer jobs, a western Massachusetts judge testified Friday she overheard DelVecchio admonishing Rep. Sal DiMasi.
"They didn't make it through," Judge Bertha Josephson recalled hearing DelVecchio say in a phone call with DiMasi around 2000 or 2001. Josephson also said she heard DelVecchio say, "Well next time send me goddamn candidates who can make it through an interview."
Josephson, who was called by the prosecution to testify on another aspect of the case against three former probation department officials, said that when she was leading the hiring committee for probation officers DelVecchio had earlier passed her a piece of paper with four names on it and told Josephson she was "hopeful" they would move forward in the process.
"I said, 'I can't tell the committee what to do,' and she appeared to accept that," Josephson testified Friday. She said, "I never even read the names."
At the time, judges had the power to hire probation officers. After the annual budget was passed in 2001, the authority to appoint probation officers shifted from the presiding judges at individual courts to the probation commissioner.
Federal prosecutors have accused former Probation Commissioner John O'Brien and two of his former deputies, William Burke III and Elizabeth Tavares, of rigging hiring within the department, secretly shuttling jobs to people with the support of lawmakers and others with influence.
Defense attorneys are trying to make the case that patronage hiring is widespread in state government, and the chain of influence Josephson recalled gave credence to that theory.
"We're somewhat far afield here," Judge William Young cautioned the jury before Burke's attorney John Amabile drew out Josephson's recollection of the events 14 or 15 years ago.
On Friday, prosecutor Robert Fisher focused on Burke, the deputy commissioner for the western part of the state, and his role allegedly securing an assistant chief probation officer job in Franklin County Superior Court for Frank Glenowicz, which prosecutors claim was fraudulent.
Josephson said she was "upset" when Glenowicz received the post because she "didn't feel he had a good grasp" on Franklin County as he was a probation officer at a juvenile court in Springfield.
"He had worked with juveniles, and we were working with criminals who, for lack of a better word, had graduated" to worse crimes, Josephson said. When she asked Burke about it Josephson remembered him saying, "That's somebody else's decision and that's just the way it goes."
Josephson had preferred Sheila Dintaman, and served as a reference for the probation officer she had known since her time as a state prosecutor in the 1980s. Dintaman also testified Friday that she filed a grievance after she didn't receive the job, and was subsequently offered a position as probation officer in charge at a community corrections center.
Amabile suggested Burke was familiar with all the candidates up for the promotion, while Josephson did not know Glenowicz before the interviews, and said Glenowicz had lived his whole life in Franklin County.
A Gov. Bill Weld nominee, Josephson also spoke highly of Christopher Hoffman, another hire who federal prosecutors contend was fraudulent.
"I thought he was good," Josephson said.
"How about exemplary? Would you go there?" Amabile asked.
"I suppose," Josephson said.
"What's the biggest compliment you would be comfortable with?" Amabile asked.
"He was very good," Josephson said.
According to The Republican, of Springfield, Hoffman, the former Hampshire County probation official, was sentenced to two years imprisonment last October for intimidating and attempting to harass a witness. Both Hoffman and Burke are from Hatfield.
Josephson was also complimentary of Burke, who retired after 37 years in the public safety agency.
"It's hard not to like Mr. Burke. He's a very affable man," Josephson said.
Defense attorneys have cast recommendations from legislators and directives from O'Brien as aspects of a legitimate merit-based hiring system that incorporates the opinions of respected officials and delegated authority from O'Brien.
Prosecutors have claimed the patronage was systematic and hidden, as jobs were offered as bribes or gifts to powerful lawmakers with the hopes the Legislature would be generous to the department through the budgetary process and other laws.
Francis Wall, a former deputy commissioner who claimed to have been involved in hundreds of hires, said he always ensured that O'Brien's choice candidates were bumped to the top regardless of their qualifications.
Wall, who has corroborated a substantial portion of the prosecution's case while facing accusations that he is a "serial liar" from defense attorneys, ended his testimony Friday morning, after having first taken the stand Tuesday afternoon.
While defense attorneys have demonstrated that Wall recalls few specifics of the people he interviewed and scored, Wall has said he gave little thought to their qualifications or interview performance, giving them the scores that would advance O'Brien's goals of hiring pre-selected candidates.
Sometimes O'Brien would ask him how candidates performed in interviews, Wall testified, and Wall would reply sarcastically, saying "You want me to truly evaluate them" after "asking me to fix" the interviews?
Brad Bailey, an attorney for Tavares, attempted to cast Wall as the criminal in the department, noting that Wall had committed perjury in arbitration proceedings and admitted to embellishing scores when interviewing people for jobs. Bailey suggested Wall encouraged Tavares to lie to independent counsel Paul Ware during his 2010 investigation.
Tavares had told Wall she planned to tell the independent counsel about her role in passing preferred names from the commissioner, Wall said, acknowledging that upset him, and saying he told her, "You're setting us up."
"You were asking her to lie for you, weren't you?" Bailey asked.
"If she were to testify that way, she would be lying, that's correct," Wall said, acknowledging that he and his colleague Patricia Walsh planned to lie if they were forced to testify.
Wall, who received immunity ahead of his testimony, said he invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself when he was called to speak to Ware.
Wall has said he agreed to lie under oath out of "loyalty" to his boss, O'Brien, and on Friday under questioning by prosecutor Fred Wyshak, Wall said he committed perjury at arbitration proceedings "to maintain the integrity of this type of process, so the commissioner could continue to have preferred candidates selected to positions."
When Wyshak asked Wall about his conversation with Tavares about testifying, he said, "I said, 'You do know that with your understanding, Pat and I had gone into arbitration and lied under oath," prompting Bailey to accuse Wall of embellishing the account.
"I may have left that out," Wall said, acknowledging that in prior testimony he had not said he told Tavares he committed perjury "with your understanding."
"Is that an embellishment sir? Nothing further your honor," Bailey said. Because Wall had not been given an opportunity to answer, Young struck the question from the record.