Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Senate Republicans Plan to Offer Series of Probation Reforms for Thursday's Debate

The Senate Republican Caucus has filed a series of amendments designed to improve the management of the state’s trial court and to provide more transparency and accountability within the probation department.

The amendments will be debated in the Senate on Thursday as part of a court reorganization bill that was drafted in response to a scathing probation department report issued by independent counsel Paul Ware in November of 2010. That report detailed evidence of “systemic abuse and corruption” within the probation department under former commissioner John O’Brien, including a “pay-to-play” system that often gave job candidates with political connections an inside track over those with more experience and stronger qualifications.

“The bill that is before the Senate tomorrow includes essential reforms the Senate Republican Caucus has long championed, including repealing the probation commissioner’s unilateral hiring authority and establishing a merit-based system to ensure that only qualified court applicants are hired,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). “While the bill represents a good start, the Caucus has a number of amendments that we feel will make it even better and will go a long way towards restoring the public’s faith in our judicial system.”

The amendments – which are being co-sponsored by Senators Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) and Richard Ross (R-Wrentham) – would:

· allow for the transferability of funds within the trial court to ensure that the court’s seven departments and the probation commissioner’s office have adequate resources;

· require the chief justice of the trial court to provide the Legislature with a cost and budgetary analysis of the proposed reorganization’s impact prior to implementation;

· provide for an annual independent audit of the trial court by the State Auditor and Inspector General, beginning in 2013;

· require the advisory committee on personnel standards to use merit-based standards for hiring court personnel, and to post these standards on the trial court’s website;

· require applicants for any trial court position to be certified as meeting the merit-based considerations for employment prior to the consideration of any letters of recommendation submitted on behalf of the applicant;

· expand the membership of the proposed advisory board charged with offering recommendations on the management of the probation office to include an active member of the Massachusetts Bar and an experienced probation officer;

· allow for the removal of officers and employees based on merit-based standards;

· require the chief justice of the trial court and the court administrator to submit a report to the Legislature 90 days prior to the temporary closure or temporary relocation of any courthouse, detailing personnel transfers, reallocation of resources, the impact on other courthouses and other factors associated with such actions; and

· require that future hiring within the probation department be done in consultation with the first justice of the applicable court in which an applicant is to be placed.