Thursday, June 2, 2011

Fighting for Transparency in the Probation Department

Recently I have been appointed to serve on a six-member conference committee charged with drafting the final version of a comprehensive reform bill targeted at improving efficiency in the state’s trial courts and eliminating abuses and improprieties in the Probation Department.

Probation officials are critical to the public safety of our state and we need to ensure that the system in which these dedicated professionals operate is free from the taint of systemic inefficiencies and undue influences.

The Senate Republican Caucus have been working for reforms in the probation department over the past several years, and our efforts intensified following the public release on November 19, 2010 of the report of Independent Counsel Paul Ware. In his report to the Supreme Judicial Court, Ware documented extremely disturbing activities and circumstances in the Probation Department, including hiring and promotion practices unduly impacted by political influence.

The Senate’s version of the reform bill implements a transparent and accountable system for hiring and promoting probation and court personnel. I authored several provisions which were co-sponsored by my Republican Senate colleagues and approved by the full Senate for inclusion in the bill.

They include:

• Developing a plan to expand payment options of court fees to include credit cards,
• Requiring the standards used by the trial court system for hiring and promotion to be made publicly available,
• Requiring all applicants for any position within the trial court to meet the minimum merit-based standards for employment before any letter of recommendation on behalf of an applicant can be taken into consideration for employment,
• Expanding the membership of the advisory board to the commissioner of probation and the court administrator from seven to nine members with one member to have probation experience and one member with an active Massachusetts Bar membership, and
• Requiring the chief justice, court administrator and the civilian court administrator created in the bill to submit an impact report 90 days prior to any closure or relocation of a court house to both the clerk of the Senate and the House and the chairs of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

The conference committee is comprised of three Senators and three Representatives, and it will reconcile the two versions of reform legislation passed by the House and Senate. I am joined on the committee by Senators Cynthia Creem (D-Newton) and Brian Joyce (D-Milton), and Representatives Eugene O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea), Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill), and Dan Winslow (R-Norfolk).