Our Opinion: Probation verdict is a needed wake-up call


The conviction Thursday of former state probation commissioner John J. O’Brien and two underlings on corruption charges should serve as a "wake-up" call to Beacon Hill said one of the jurors. Lawmakers who before and during the lengthy trial asserted not only that the relationship with the Legislature and the Probation Department didn’t involve illegalities but was no more than business as usual are in need of such a call.

Jurors agreed with prosecutors that Mr. O’Brien and his aides rigged the hiring system to the advantage of candidates who had political connections on Beacon Hill and to the disadvantage of deserving applicants, including current department employees. The connected candidates, usually friends and family members of lawmakers, were often thoroughly unqualified for the jobs they received. These actions robbed taxpayers, undermined the work of an important agency, and -- as determined for the first in time in this court case -- comprised racketeering, mail fraud and racketeering conspiracy.

Beacon Hill’s cavalier attitude toward patronage is personified by House Speaker Robert DeLeo who bristled last week when labeled an unindicted co-conspirator in the Probation Department fiasco by U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz and who responded to Thursday’s verdict with a statement observing that he had not been convicted of anything. What the speaker should have said with humility was that a patronage system that tempts lawmakers to inflate department budgets so jobs can be created for friends and family members, as prosecutors alleged during the trial, and leads to a sense of entitlement by lawmakers and department heads must disappear.

It should not be at all difficult to grasp that applicants for government jobs should be hired on the basis of their qualifications, not because they received a good word from a legislator who will be expected to return the favor to the department head. That by all appearances it is difficult to grasp reveals how deeply entrenched the corrupt and corrupting patronage system is on Beacon Hill. Following Thursday’s verdict, lawmakers and state officials have a powerful incentive to abandon the practice -- and fast.


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