Charlestown District Court

Legislative Payback to Judges is Part of Long Standing Tradition

Rep. Mike Rush sponsored a budget amendment that was adopted into the House budget that directs Justice Robert Mulligan to move the offices of the Chief Justice for Administation and Management (CJAM) from prime downtown office space to a dingy 3rd floor office space at the Charlestown District Court. The amendment was inserted by Robert DeLeo in a closed door session, without public debate.

CJAM currently rents offices at Two Center Plaza, a large office building near the John Adams Courthouse, steps away from the State House and across the street from Boston City Hall. The prime office space is leased for $3 million per year.

The amendment directs the court to move into unused third floor offices at Charlestown District Court. Critics say this is political payback for the way Mulligan and the judiciary treated his father, James Rush, a retired probation officer.

An assessment by Mulligan’s office describes the new space as being “in a condition from poor to extremely hazardous”, with a leaky roof and windows, deteriorating masonry and a damaged floor, and estimates the cost of renovation at $18 million. If the renovations go through as budgeted, the State would not see a savings for at least 6 years. Given how government construction contracts go, it’s likely the renovation costs will be even higher. The renovation contract is yet another opportunity to give work to politically connected insiders.

Woe to Judges who Cross Legislative Leaders

There is a longstanding conflict between the judiciary and legislative branches. For years the legislature has used the judiciary as a source of patronage jobs. In Massachusetts the legislature has the ability to set judge’s salaries, to determine the size of their staff, and the location of their offices. This power is often used to make sure that judges are compliant when offering patronage jobs to political insiders and their families.

In 1981, then Senate President Billy Bulger famously slashed Housing Court Chief Justive George Daher’s budget and demoted him after he resisted Bulger’s demand for a job for the son of Governor’s Councilor Patrick J. Sonny McDonough – a candidate who was not even a high school graduate. Judge Daher was warned by another Judge, who was hoping to save some budget gains they had recently made:

”Don’t fuck with Billy Bulger on this one, okay?”

That Fall, a budget amendment folded Daher’s Housing Court into Boston Municipal Court, Daher was demoted to administrative judge and lost his support staff. Later that year Bulger joked at his annual St. Patrick’s Day roast that Judge Daher was now “holding court in a Winnebago.”

In 1995, former SJC chief justice Paul Liacos, who had crossed Bulger and other legislative leaders, discovered that a budget rider knocked out his use of a hideaway office at the district court near his Peabody home.

In recent years the legislature has tired of merely asking for patronage court jobs and has been giving itself the power to simply appoint judicial staff.

Last year, Senate Ways and Means chairman Mark Montigny inserted language that gave him a say on who is hired at the New Bedford District Court after getting in a dispute with the presiding justice.

In 2001, the legislature inserted a budget rider, again without debate, that strips judges of the power to decide on the hiring of probation officers, making it easier for the legislature to hand out patronage jobs. This year Governor Deval Patrick proposed placing the probation department under the Executive Office of Public Safety, a proposal which has so far been simply ignored by the legislature.

A study released in 2002 by the Pioneer Institute and written by Judge James Dolan, the former acting first justice of New Bedford District Court, found the Legislature created 416 unnecessary patronage jobs in the courts between 1998 and 2001 at a cost of $50 million.

Even as the legislature is cutting much needed funding for schools and universities, its program of patronage jobs continues unchecked. Until more incumbent legislators are retired, expect more funding for court patronage jobs and further cuts to education.