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

Tag: John O’Brien

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.

An outrageous order of secrecy

Keep an eye on this one. Earlier this week, a clerk-magistrate in Suffolk Superior Court ruled that the details of criminal charges against former probation commissioner John O’Brien and Scott Campbell, who was a high-ranking aide to former state treasurer Tim Cahill, should be kept secret.

It was an outrage, done at the request of Campbell’s lawyer, and the office of Attorney General Martha Coakley has decided not to contest it. As Globe editor Marty Baron, whose paper is contesting the order, puts it:

If anything should be fully open to the public, it’s a court case involving allegations of malfeasance by a high-level public official. We feel an obligation to do our part to make sure the public gets the information it needs and deserves.

The Globe editorializes about the matter here.

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