Statement of Pam Wilmot & Common Cause Massachusetts on Probation Case Convictions

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Today’s conviction means the jury was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that John O’Brien, William Burke III, and Elizabeth Tavares violated federal laws when they hired unqualified politically connected applicants in order to curry favor with legislative leaders.

It also seems highly likely that O’Brien, Tavares, William Burke III and possibly others may have violated state ethics laws by securing unwarranted privileges for unqualified applicants and by falsifying documents and we urge the Ethics Commission to pursue the matter. The defendants, and possibly others, have also violated the trust of the people of Massachusetts.

Before O’Brien turned the probation department into a haven for the politically connected, the department was well-respected and noted for its professionalism and innovation. After Speaker Finneran effectively removed the department from judicial oversight, and O’Brien took over the department, it went downhill precipitously to the detriment of the Commonwealth and its clients.

The balkanization of the judiciary and related departments been studied by one blue-ribbon panel after another. All recommend direct oversight by the Supreme Judicial Court and severely restricted budgetary oversight by the legislature. Without vertical integration these departments become inefficient, unaccountable, and subject to the patronage abuses detailed in the trial and the Ware report.

Individual accountability for the perpetrators is important. More importantly, however, the systemic issues that allowed the problems to escalate over a period of years must be promptly addressed in the next legislative session. To that end we plan to work with interested lawmakers, ethics experts, and court reformers over the next six months to propose workable solutions to the issues of political patronage and court reform.