By Andy Metzger

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

BOSTON -- A former heroin addict whose father was a South Coast lawmaker through the 1970s and 1980s asked the head of the probation department for a job at an event at a New Bedford family court, and was initially rebuffed, the court's former chief probation officer testified Tuesday.

"It was not going to happen under his watch," the former chief recalled John O'Brien, the former probation commissioner, telling Doug MacLean. James Casey, the former chief, said MacLean had "latched on" to O'Brien and it was becoming embarrassing at the ceremony for the court's accreditation.

As MacLean persisted, Liz Tavares, then a second deputy commissioner, asked Casey to "please get Mr. MacLean away from the commissioner," Casey recalled.

The retired chief said he was surprised when only a few months after that July 2004 confab, MacLean was appointed to a temporary probation officer position at the Bristol County Probate and Family Court, checking on people who owed child support to make sure they were looking for work.

Casey said the job was given without any interview or prior notice to the son of Sen. William "Biff" MacLean, a Fairhaven Democrat who held a House seat through the 1970s and served in the Senate from 1981 through 1992. Casey, who was the probation chief in the court for more than three decades before retiring in 2009, said he had been trying to fill the position since 2002 and had never heard of a "temporary" hire before MacLean was given the job.


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Sometime after MacLean was hired, Casey asked O'Brien about the about-face, he said.

"He said that he had a lot of pressure from the Legislature," Casey said. He did not specify any particular lawmaker.

Less than a year after his temporary appointment MacLean was hired to a permanent position.

O'Brien, Tavares, and former deputy commissioner William Burke, are on trial for allegedly rigging probation department hiring, ensuring that people with political backing received jobs regardless of whether they were the most qualified. Prosecutor Karin Bell attempted to draw out from witnesses that Doug MacLean's sponsor was Sen. Mark Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat who succeeded William MacLean in the Senate, a subject that could be further explored when the trial continues Wednesday.

MacLean, who said he now works on a fuel barge, testified for about 10 minutes before court broke Tuesday, telling the jury about his descent into heroin addiction.

A child of Fairhaven who now lives in New Bedford, MacLean said he had dyslexia and did not do well academically before he "quit school" in tenth grade, about 1974, and went to work for his grandfather's fish market in Fairhaven.

When he dropped out, MacLean said he was using marijuana and pills, having first used drugs at the age of 12, and said he was introduced to heroin at the age of 17. MacLean went sword-fishing for about six months and then joined the U.S. Navy, but he "brought the drug problem with me," and received an "other than honorable discharge" after less than three years.

Appearing at ease during his brief time on the stand, MacLean discussed how he became a fisherman from 1979 to 1993 and descended into more regular use of alcohol, heroin and cocaine. In 1993 he was unemployable and homeless and was arrested for a number of drug possession crimes and probation violations, receiving a sentence in a house of corrections.

According to his application, MacLean was the 1995 United Way volunteer of the year, received recognition for volunteering in the sheriff's office in 1996, and in 2000 he graduated from UMass Dartmouth with degrees in criminal justice and sociology.

In 1999 until he was hired as a probation officer in 2004, MacLean served as a substance abuse specialist for former Bristol County District Attorney Paul Walsh where he claimed he "spear-headed" the county's first alternative sentencing program.

When MacLean applied for the job in probation he listed Walsh, and Judges Lance Garth and Deborah Dunn as references.

The public's views on addiction, recovery and second chances can vary. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has spoken openly about his alcoholism and his decision to abstain, and the state Legislature in 2010 expanded the ability to have criminal histories sealed.

MacLean's former boss, Casey, said MacLean did "adequately well" in his interview for the permanent job, worked hard and said it was "fair" to say both he and Bristol Probate Judge Elizabeth LaStaiti were pleasantly surprised by how he turned out after O'Brien appointed him to the court.

"Very solid - articulates his thoughts and concepts directly & completely - open, sincere," Casey wrote about MacLean after an intermediary interview where he said he was forthcoming about his past. The interview included LaStaiti and Richard O'Neil, a probation official.

Casey said O'Neil told him that MacLean had to be moved to the next round because he was a temporary employee.

Asked Tuesday if MacLean was the most qualified, Casey said, "by no means."

In a September 2004 application, MacLean included information about his criminal history, while in a January 2005 application that information was not included.

"The probation department believes in giving people a second chance," Casey said under cross-examination by Burke's attorney John Amabile. Casey said the probation department keeps criminal records used in background checks and he is familiar with the legal steps people can take to keep them private.

As the son of a senator, MacLean's substance abuse was well known around the area, Casey said. O'Neil testified Tuesday he had attended a conference at the Bristol DA's office where MacLean showed a "picture of his face when he was strung out on heroin."

Under cross-examination by O'Brien's attorney Stellio Sinnis, O'Neil said MacLean viewed his difficult history as an "asset" in relating to people in similar circumstances.

Later prosecutor Robert Fisher drew out O'Neil's own opinion on how to view substance abuse.

"A history of personal drug abuse? No, I don't view that as an asset," Fisher said.