By Andy Metzger
State House News Service
BOSTON --The questions were "standard," answers were compared against an "answer key," but according to a prosecution witness involved in the upper levels of state probation department hiring years ago, the final interview was weighted in favor of the commissioner's choice who received inflated scores.
Testifying under an immunity deal, probation department lawyer Edward McDermott said he was underwhelmed by the March 2008 performance of Kelly Manchester, the girlfriend of Sen. Mark Montigny who was up for a probation officer job at Bristol Probate and Family Court.
"She was woefully inadequate as far as her qualifications were concerned," said McDermott, who said he and probation official Patricia Walsh had "grievous concerns" about Manchester after interviewing her.
Nevertheless, evidence in a racketeering trial against three former probation officials shows Manchester received the top score after meeting with McDermott and Walsh.
Former Probation Commissioner John O'Brien and two of his former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, are pleading not guilty to fraud and other charges related to their alleged cover-up of a patronage system at the public safety agency.
Under cross-examination, McDermott acknowledged he hadn't previously been able to recall Manchester's name, remembering her by a prior job she held as a bridge operator for the town of Dartmouth.
In opening statements last week, prosecutors said Manchester was the 21-year-old girlfriend of Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat, while defense attorneys said even a judge who gave her low scores during the second-round of interviews was impressed with her performance.
McDermott, who expressed appreciation for O'Brien hiring him and said Tavares was a "great" boss, said it was "obviously greatly troubling" to learn on the stand Tuesday that he is an unindicted co-conspirator.
"I don't think I committed any crimes," McDermott said under questioning from O'Brien's attorney, William Fick. He said, "What I engaged in was a violation of the Trial Court policies and procedures manual," but said it fell short of a crime.
Judge William Young has instructed jurors that patronage is not a crime and neither is violating the manual, telling them to "keep your eye on the ball" about the alleged fraud committed to cover up the patronage system.
McDermott, who joined the department as a temporary employee in April 2004, with a recommendation from former Speaker Thomas Finneran, said he would score non-favored candidates accurately and inflate the scores of the commissioner's choices.
"They would be given the most consideration or the most liberal scoring that could be done," said McDermott, who said that when his score-sheet failed to advance the favored candidate to the top, "I would be directed to add a point or two."
McDermott said he complained to his supervisor, Francis Wall, and after interviewing Manchester he complained to Tavares, saying he told her "this is bad stuff."
"She said, 'Don't worry about it,' or dismissed it," McDermott testified.
"You were complaining to our client about something you had done yourself," said Tavares's attorney Brad Bailey. He said, "You had selected that candidate you were complaining about."
McDermott said he did not raise his concerns to others, didn't know how candidates came to be the "commissioner's choice" and didn't know what happened to the scoring sheets after he turned in his scores to Wall or Walsh.
"Why rock the boat, because everyone else seemed to be participating," said McDermott, who joined the agency after a career in civil litigation and with one of his children in college.
At another point McDermott said, "There was nobody else to go to. The whole upper management was in on the fraud scheme."
McDermott said he was assigned to participate in final stage interviews in 2007, with the directive to score the pre-selected candidates at the top so O'Brien could avoid having to participate in binding arbitration proceedings in case someone objected to being passed over for a promotion.
McDermott, who said he tried to quit his participation in the hiring panel, also acknowledged he had not read the portion of the procedures manual concerning hiring, but said his "innate sense" was that the hiring should be "merit-based."
Some of the commissioner's choices were the best job candidates, said McDermott, who said he participated in between 20 and 35 hiring panels, and in prior proceedings brought up in court has said between 25 and 10 percent of the favored candidates were "home runs."
A Holy Cross graduate, whose wife is director of admissions at the Worcester college, McDermott said he went to Holy Cross with Bill Kennedy, who became chief of staff and legal counsel to Finneran, and served as a mentor to McDermott. McDermott met O'Brien at a breakfast networking session held by Kennedy. McDermott said his sister Patricia worked for former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and his brother David worked for William Bulger, both as Senate president and president of UMass.
At the direction of assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak, McDermott pointed out in the audience the former senate president's son, Christopher Bulger, an attorney who previously worked for the probation department and was reportedly reprimanded for providing information to O'Brien when the former commissioner was under investigation. Bulger sat two rows behind U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who listened in on some of the afternoon proceedings.
McDermott said he attended fundraisers for Ludlow Rep. Tom Petrolati, a Democrat and the former speaker pro tempore, who allegedly provided names of his favored candidates to Burke, the deputy for the western part of the state.
The springtime fundraisers at the Ludlow Country Club were social occasions with probation department employees making up about 75 to 100 of the 200 to 250 attendees, McDermott said. He said he was approached by probation officials Paul Lucci and Wall to make contributions, and he gave cash.
Saying he had been "unilaterally demoted without cause," McDermott said he has concerns about his future employment with the agency. Wyshak wrote a letter on McDermott's behalf explaining to current probation officials that he has cooperated in the prosecution, he said.
"I'm going to get terminated probably in the next two months," said McDermott. He said, "I'm here to tell the truth."
McDermott said he is "forever grateful" to O'Brien and said he socialized with O'Brien and his wife Laurie. O'Brien was acquitted on state charges that he and a former aide to former Treasurer Tim Cahill conspired to give O'Brien's wife a job at the State Lottery in exchange for a 2005 fundraiser O'Brien organized for Cahill, a fellow Quincy resident.
Though Young cut short the line of questioning, Fick opened a window onto what defense attorneys say was a bad relationship between O'Brien and retired Chief Justice of Administration and Management Robert Mulligan. Under questioning by Fick, McDermott said O'Brien had given him his parking pass when he had hip surgery.
"No good deed goes unpunished," Fick said.
"Now what does that mean?" Young said.
Fick continued, saying, "Chief Judge Mulligan tried to fire Jack over him giving you his parking pass."
"I am aware of that," said McDermott, as prosecutors objected and the attorneys were called to a sidebar conference.
Testimony closed Tuesday just after former first deputy commissioner John Cremens, Tavares's predecessor, took the stand, also with an immunity agreement. Ed Driscoll, a regional supervisor in the probation department, is expected to take the stand after Cremens.