By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Your must-read on the Probation Department case

As you may have heard, former state Probation Department commissioner John O’Brien and two underlings have been convicted in federal court of charges related to patronage.

In Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, Harvey Silverglate and his legal assistant Daniel Schneider criticize U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz and other officials for transforming behavior they don’t like — behavior that, to be sure, was grotesquely corrupt — into a federal crime, even though patronage is perfectly legal under state law. (No, neither Silverglate, Schneider nor I am impressed that this was done via a legal theory criminalizing the system O’Brien used to facilitate the patronage rather than the patronage itself.)

More broadly, Silverglate explained how it’s done in his 2009 book “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent,” which I wrote about for The Guardian. As for Ortiz, she recently won her third consecutive New England Muzzle Award, now hosted by

More: Even though I join Silverglate and Schneider in believing the legal case was dubious, the facts that were unearthed would make a jackal puke. Kudos to The Boston Globe for exposing this violation of the public trust.

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  1. WOW… YOU have indeed become a journalistic ‘homey’. Not to belabor the point in response to your partisan, lame re-doubt to THE CONVICTION (and indictment of the LEADERSHIP and funnel to same that is the Mass. State Legislature), I will leave my thoughts as a comment online to the ‘original’ coverage. Nice effort though (an ‘attaboy’) re: on that ‘muzzle-award’ bs; whatev.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Ken: Where do you get the idea that I endorse the behavior, which I call “grotesquely corrupt”? Patronage is legal.

      • YOU fail to PARSE the nuance! I am disappointed for the lack of voice in the reading, translating, and delivering the ‘news’. Your personal opinion and coverage is intellectual, intuitive, AND I look forward to it… as a BLOG of intuitive personal opinion and from the ‘Fourth Estate’ as it may, or may NOT exist today. Quoting Silverglate, your ‘Muzzle Award’, and the massage of the legality of ‘patronage’ is a cop-out. IMAGINE the body of discussion, theory, oddly-twisted-facts, made for TV photo-ops, etc. the JURY POOL were forced to endure! (Hey, it MAY be overturned upon APPEAL, though I doubt it) THEY were LAY-PEOPLE trying to make sense of our inculcated, incestuous, legislative-body; WHAT, of the Legislative ‘estate’? The ‘Executive’ SUITE? Who knows? Perhaps a group represented of ‘Suffolk-Downs’ runs the local government. We shall soon see; September (Casino) decision; November (vote) vox populi. Think about it.

  2. Mike Benedict

    Dan, no offense, but you do seem to rely so heavily on Harvey’s lines of thinking, sometimes it’s hard to tell where he leaves off and you begin.

  3. Rick Camillo

    I’m not a big fan of the federal government sticking their nose into state politics but the sleaze factor on how probation officers were hired had to be addressed by someone outside of the sleaze.
    Massachusetts politicians were not going to address the issue unless something like this prosecution took place..

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