By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- Sen. Mark Montigny allegedly sought out a thank you at a cocktail party after the son of his predecessor in the Senate won a job as a probation officer at a New Bedford family court.
Doug MacLean, who now works on a fuel barge, testified Wednesday he ran into the New Bedford Democrat after he received the probation job and was "busting his chops."
"He mentioned that. 'A thank you would be nice,' and, 'You and your father don't know how to say thank you,'" MacLean recalled on the witness stand in the trial of three former probation officials accused of rigging hiring in the department to benefit politically connected candidates over others.
Probation Commissioner John O'Brien and two of his former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, have denied the charges of conspiracy and fraud, contending that recommendations from well-respected officials were taken into account as part of a merit-based hiring system.
On Wednesday, MacLean was fuzzy on why Montigny wanted to be thanked.
"It could have been the job. It could have been buying tickets to the United Way clambake," said MacLean, the son of William "Biff" MacLean, a longtime Fairhaven lawmaker.
Before being hired as a probation officer, MacLean worked for former Bristol County District Attorney Paul Walsh, helping set up a drug court and alternative sentencing, he said. MacLean went to work for the DA after graduating from UMass Dartmouth following a stint in jail that he said occurred when he was addicted to heroin and using cocaine and alcohol.
MacLean was initially hired by probation in 2004 to a temporary position that the former chief probation officer previously testified had never been posted, and was then hired full-time after not including references to his well-known criminal history on a 2005 application, he said. MacLean stopped being a probation officer on March 1, 2008, according to a probation department spokesperson, who could not say why he left the department.
In addition to Montigny, former Senate President Robert Travaglini and former Sen. Steven Tolman, who is now the president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, appear on a list of prominent officials supporting MacLean's candidacy for a range of probation positions at South Coast courts. MacLean said he has "no idea" who Tolman is, and Tolman told the News Service he did not personally know MacLean but was well aware of his work to combat drug abuse.
"He was very personable but his work soon fell off," said retired Judge Elizabeth LaStaiti, who presided at the Bristol County Probate and Family Court when MacLean was hired and participated in his job interview.
LaStaiti said Wednesday that Richard O'Neil, who oversees the family courts for the probation department, told her MacLean was favored by the commissioner and would need to be moved along to the final interview because he already held the position on a temporary basis.
"The process was unfair and a sham," LaStaiti said she told former Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court Sean Dunphy, and testified that the interviews with 43 candidates over three days were "meaningless steps."
O'Brien's attorney Stellio Sinnis laid into LaStaiti for prior testimony she gave in the trial related to the hiring of Kelly Manchester, who was Montigny's girlfriend in 2008 when she was hired by the probation department. LaStaiti had said she voiced concerns to Dunphy several months after his September 2007 retirement, but on Thursday said the conversation she recalled actually occurred with Dunphy's successor.
"Did you not say that under oath, judge, yes or no?" Sinnis demanded, asking, "When people testified in your courtroom and didn't tell the truth, what did you call it?"
At that point Judge William Young interjected and said, "The witness testifies she was mistaken."
LaStaiti said she was "shocked" that MacLean received the job and she would have hired Cori Harrington, who was an associate probation officer at the time and now works as a probation officer in a Fall River court.
Harrington testified briefly Wednesday, and said she listed James Casey, who was at the time the New Bedford family court's chief probation officer, as a reference when she applied for the probation officer position in 2005. She said, "For this job I did not" reach out to any legislators.
Attorneys on both sides stipulated that MacLean had been convicted in June 1984 for shoplifting and possession of a syringe; convicted in March 1989 for possession of heroin and a syringe; convicted in April 1992 of disturbing the peace and trespassing; convicted in May 1993 of possession of cocaine and conspiracy to violate the drug laws; and in December 1993 he was convicted for three restraining order violations and one count of assault and battery.
Until the assault and battery case, MacLean's punishments were fines, but after the 1993 conviction he was sentenced to a year of probation, and in July 1994 he was found to have violated his probation and was sentenced to six months in a house of correction.
MacLean quit drugs, passed a high-school equivalency test, went to Bristol Community College and graduated from UMass Dartmouth and got a job with the county prosecutor.
"When I started at the DA's office, the drug court was not active at that time," MacLean testified. Perhaps dampening the prosecution's argument that his father's prestige helped him secure the job, MacLean acknowledged under cross examination, "We're not very close, me and my dad."
In 2001, after he'd started working as a substance abuse specialist at the DA's office and before he received the probation job, MacLean told the Standard Times of New Bedford that his father was a "workaholic" when he was a youngster and that they had reconnected when the former senator's son was 39, describing the prestige of being a senator's son as a "double-edged sword."
"I felt I was a target for those who didn't like Dad, while others might have been inclined to cut a lot of slack," MacLean told the paper in 2001, years after his stint at the Ash Street Jail.
A one-time Fairhaven reserve police officer, William MacLean was elected to the House in 1961 and rose to the Senate where he served through the 1980s. He was indicted in February 1993 for two misdemeanor violations of the conflict of interest law, and pled guilty, according to a 2000 Supreme Judicial Court decision published by a third party online. MacLean, who had just left the Senate, later lost his pension because of the guilty pleas.
The SJC decision says the violations were related to MacLean's marketing of pension plans to government employees, and fees his wife received from a publicly financed housing development.