Patronage, no matter how blatant or unsavory, is not a crime. At least that’s what a federal appeals court ruled recently in overturning the convictions of former Probation commissioner Jack O’Brien and two of his colleagues, who doled out jobs at the agency to curry favor with lawmakers.

William Fick, one of the attorneys who represented O’Brien during his initial trial (which started three years ago today) and on his successful appeal, joined the Codcast to share his takeaway on the court judgments.

“I hope it’s a lesson to federal prosecuting authorities that they cannot be the arbiters of good government,” said Fick, an attorney at Fick & Marx in Boston. “Number 2, it’s a lesson that criminal laws are extremely blunt instruments to try to effect policy change and, when deployed, can often have devastating and really unfair impacts on people who ultimately committed no crime, as was the case here.”

Fick said patronage is a form of politics. It’s not a crime, he said, noting that no evidence was presented at trial suggesting that anyone personally profited. “The way hiring was done in the Probation Department was not new and was not unique,” he said.

He believes the whole prosecution of O’Brien and his colleagues was brought about as a result of a power struggle between O’Brien and the judicial branch over who would control the hiring of probation officers. Fick claims the newspaper stories about hiring at Probation as well as the federal prosecution of his client were both orchestrated by the judicial branch of government.

Indeed, he has a provocative term for what happened, saying the US attorney’s office became “weaponized” in the Trial Court’s struggle for hiring control at Probation.




The state’s highest-paid employee, former UMass basketball coach Derek Kellogg, survived two bad reviews before being fired in March. (CommonWealth)


Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia is ratcheting up his feud with the Fall River Office of Economic Development by beginning eviction proceedings of the privately funded group from its City Hall office for allegedly not paying back rent. (Herald News)


The House dragged the much-maligned measure to repeal Obamacare over the finish line with a wafer-thin margin with no Democratic support and 20 Republicans voting no. (New York Times) In a departure from maturity, Democrats sing “Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye” to GOP lawmakers after the vote, confidant the action would come back to haunt the majority party. (U.S. News & World Report) What could it mean for Massachusetts? (Greater Boston) An enormous hole in the state budget and the undermining of the state’s universal coverage law, say local officials. (Boston Globe) Joe Battenfeld says Gov. Charlie Baker needs to up his opposition to the bill beyond writing “wonky and nerdy” letters to congressional leaders. (Boston Herald)

Robert Kraft says he’s known President Trump for more than 20 years, and says he doesn’t always mean what he says. Kraft also says that, for him, loyalty and friendship trump politics. (Bloomberg)

Ajit Pai, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, offers his more laissez-faire view on regulating the internet and net neutrality. (NPR)


Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez, who served as state budget chief under Deval Patrick, says Gov. Charlie Baker has done a bad job managing the state’s fiscal problems. (Boston Globe)

Baker and Newton Mayor Setti Warren, another likely Democratic foe, made nice and offered friendly pokes at each other at a meeting of the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber of Commerce. (Boston Herald)


As expected, the Federal Reserve opted not to hike interest rates for a third time this year after a disappointing first quarter showed soft economic growth and stagnant consumer spending. (U.S. News & World Report)


The Brockton schools are facing a $16 million budget gap and are preparing to lay off nearly 350 workers, 189 of them teachers. (MassLive)

Allegations of widespread cheating in a popular Harvard computer science class are rocking the campus. (The Crimson, Boston Globe) .

US colleges and universities are trying to reassure foreign students the country is a welcoming place after many schools saw declines in the number of applicants from overseas since the election of President Trump. (Associated Press)

A UMass Amherst student is protesting the university’s ruling that she cannot carry the flag of Tibet, which her parents left as refugees, in next week’s Parade of Nations ceremony that is part of the school’s commencement celebration because Tibet is not recognized by the US as a sovereign nation. (Boston Globe)

A former Harvard post-doc researcher is suing the university, saying he’s been cut out of a royalty deal with Merck & Co. on patents based on research he says he contributed to. (Boston Globe)


UMass Medical Center says it and other area hospitals will be able to meet the demand for psychiatric beds, even after the center removes 13 of its own beds.


The MBTA sues LAZ, its former parking lot operator, seeking to recover millions of dollars the transit agency says was stolen by LAZ employees. The T says its contract with LAZ requires the firm to pay twice the stolen amount plus more in penalties and fees. (CommonWealth)

Uber is the target of a federal inquiry over its use of software to evade detection while its drivers operated in markets where they were barred. (New York Times)


A civil rights group has filed suit against Bristol Sheriff Thomas Hodgson for refusing to release public records regarding his participation in a program with federal officials to identify illegal immigrants. (Associated Press)

Boston police say they spoke with Orioles outfielder Adam Jones as part of their investigation of events at Fenway Park on Tuesday in which racial slurs were yelled at him. (Boston Herald) Kevin Cullen says the slice of local opinion questioning the veracity of Jones’s account — and that of a fan who reported another incident of race hate language at the following night’s game — feed directly into the hands of those across the country “who look at Boston and shake their heads.” (Boston Globe)

Five suspects were arrested on sex trafficking charges yesterday, charged with running operations that spanned across four Massachusetts communities. (Boston Herald)

Officials have tightened security measures at a new state detox center in Myles Standish Forest in Plymouth after nine patients who were civilly committed escaped from the minimum security facility. (Patriot Ledger)

Reports released on Aaron Hernandez’s prison suicide say he had no drugs in his system and that he had learned that convictions are vacated if an inmate dies while an appeal is still pending. (Boston Globe) The reports also indicate he gave no sign he was contemplating suicide in calls prior to taking his life. (Telegram & Gazette)


Fox News continues to take on water as a new gender discrimination suit is filed at the same time federal investigators ramp up their probe into payments by the company to settle sex discrimination and harassment suits. In addition, British regulators are examining Fox’s parent company’s suitability in light of the scandals to take over the satellite TV giant Sky. (New York Times)

One reply on “The Codcast: Probation, patronage, and power struggles”

  1. The Codcast “Probation, patronage, and power struggles” was interesting but its focus narrow. Massachusetts taxpayers should read the Report of the Independent Counsel dated November 9, 2010 that reached this conclusion: This Report, while substantial, is incomplete. Many avenues of obvious inquiry could not be fully explored given time and resource constraints. For example, Independent Counsel was mindful that this investigation was focused on the Probation Department, not other state agencies and not on the Legislature. Legislative conduct was not fully explored except as immediately relevant to Probation hiring. Hiring and promotion practices in other state agencies and departments was beyond the scope of the investigation except as specifically relevant to Commissioner O’Brien…This investigation, however, revealed a degree of abuse and systemic corruption in hiring and promotion that cannot be ignored, and which as implemented, became an obstacle to the very principles of hiring articulated in Trial Court policies. That extent of interference with merit hiring and promotion transformed a credible process into a patronage hiring machine. However well-oiled, that machine no longer serves the public interest.”

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