By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- Former House budget chief Charley Murphy defended himself Tuesday against accusations lobbed by his former boss, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, that he lied on the stand during the ongoing bribery and racketeering trial of three former state probation department managers.
But Murphy, whose once budding relationship with DeLeo fully fractured in 2011 when he was removed from his post as Ways and Means chairman, also defended his one-time political ally from the prosecution's claims that DeLeo traded jobs in the probation department for votes to help secure the speakership.
DeLeo has twice since last Friday challenged Murphy's testimony during the trial of former Probation Commissioner John O'Brien that the speaker told Murphy not to cut the probation department's budget during the recession in the spring of 2009. DeLeo on Friday called Murphy's testimony "not only illogical, it was untruthful" and pointed out that the agency ultimately saw its budget slashed by 14 percent in fiscal 2010.
Prosecutors have attempted to show that DeLeo protected the probation department and provided legislative favors in exchange for being able to place applicants favored by House colleagues in jobs at probation that he could use as leverage to secure votes for his speakership bid.
Murphy, in a statement to the News Service on Tuesday, admitted that his testimony may sound "illogical," but insisted he was telling the truth.
"Let me restate that my testimony, under oath, was true. He did tell me that. But I understand that it sounds illogical. We weren't going over the budget line by line during the meeting. We were having a general conversation. All budget line items were being reduced. I proposed a serious reduction. He said no. I said 'yes sir.' But the context was one where every department, even those favored by Speaker DeLeo were reduced," Murphy said.
Murphy testified last week that he proposed a 10 percent cut to the probation department budget in 2010, but was shot down by the Winthrop Democrat.
When the defense team showed Murphy budget documents that reflected a recommendation from Murphy's Ways and Means Committee of a 12 percent cut, Murphy amended his testimony: "It wasn't cut as much as the number I put forth. He told me we are not cutting probation, and I didn't. I followed his guidance."
DeLeo told reporters that day he had "no memory" of telling Murphy not to cut probation.
Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad said on Tuesday that she was "so disappointed" in Murphy after his testimony, and accused federal prosecutors of "trying to connect dots that aren't there." Asked if she or other House colleagues had urged DeLeo to publicly respond to the trial, Haddad said, "Let's say we didn't dissuade him from speaking out."
"He's defending all of us because this is trying to paint legislators as scummy people and that's not who I work with," Haddad said. "I'm happy when people ask me about it because I want to be angry. When (DeLeo) gets mud slung on him, literally, we all feel it."
Prosecutors and defense attorneys on Tuesday made closing arguments in the trial after more than two months of testimony. Republican Party Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes recorded her own "closing argument" on Monday accusing Democrats in the Legislature of going along with the scheme "to get along" and urging voters to question their lawmakers and put Republicans into office to restore balance on Beacon Hill.
"The supermajority of Democrats in the Legislature took the probation department, a public safety function, and created a dumping ground for their friends," Hughes said.
Budget figures provided by a senior House official show that Murphy's final fiscal 2010 budget recommendation proposed a 12 percent cut to the probation department's funding from $142 million in fiscal 2009 to $125 million. The House ultimately added $8 million to the department's budget during floor debate, but the $133 million approved by the House was still a 6 percent reduction from fiscal 2009 funding.
Many of the jobs that DeLeo and a former top aide allegedly dangled in front of House lawmakers were in the probation department's electronic monitoring division, which received its funding years earlier in 2006.
Prior to their falling out, Murphy played a central role in 2008 and 2009 helping DeLeo round up the votes needed to prevail in his battle against then-Majority Leader John Rogers to become the next speaker of the House. Murphy was rewarded for his efforts with an appointment to chairman of Ways and Means, a job he held for two years before DeLeo replaced the Burlington Democrat with current Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey.
The bond between DeLeo and Murphy broke down further over the course of that year as Murphy, who took over as majority whip, began holding informal meetings with members to discuss his desire to one day succeed DeLeo as speaker, and using the federal investigation into the probation department to sow seeds of doubt about DeLeo's longevity.
Still, Murphy on Tuesday defended the speaker against what DeLeo has described as a "desperate legal strategy" to link him to a conspiracy without evidence. DeLeo has not been charged with a crime, but prosecutors on Monday described him as an unindicted co-conspirator to the racketeering charges brought against O'Brien and his deputies.
"I want to reiterate that I in no way believe that the Speaker traded votes for jobs in the probation department," Murphy said in his statement.