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.
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