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 WGBHNews.org.

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.

Storified Sal

We’re learning to use Storify today in my Reinventing the News class. Here is one I assembled on the news that former Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi will testify before a federal grand jury in Worcester.

[View the story “Sal DiMasi returns” on Storify]

Before the Globe, there was CommonWealth

The Boston Globe Spotlight series on the state Patronage Department — ah, I mean Probation Department — is public-interest journalism at its best.

Commissioner Jack O’Brien has been suspended. There’s a chance for genuine reform. And the absurd gubernatorial candidacy of hacked-up state treasurer Tim Cahill has been brought to a merciful end, even if he doesn’t know it yet.

But credit should also go to CommonWealth Magazine and its blog, CW Unbound, which has been beating the drums about the Probation Department for months. CommonWealth, published by the nonpartisan Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC), has put together a compilation of stories it’s posted on the Probation Department mess. (Disclosure: I used to be a regular contributor to CommonWealth, and I’m still listed on the masthead.)

On May 3, for example, CommonWealth reporter Jack Sullivan wrote about a court case involving Stephen Anzalone, who was challenging his rejection as a probation officer even though he would have been the seventh member of his family to draw a paycheck from the agency.

And on April 14, editor Bruce Mohl interviewed House Ways and Means Committee chairman Charles Murphy on why he opposed a plan by Gov. Deval Patrick to bring the out-of-control agency under the executive branch’s wing.

The Globe, as the region’s largest and most influential news organization, is doing what it does best: driving the agenda and forcing public officials to do what they should have done a long time ago. And CommonWealth, like other smaller players, is performing its role admirably as well: by keeping the story simmering until it was ready to come to a boil.