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Probation jobs reposted amid patronage hiring probes, Florence man to re-apply

An arbitrator ruled in September that the jobs, including one held by the former acting chief probation officer of Hampshire Superior Court, be re-posted after a Suffolk Superior Court judge found that corruption may have been involved in the hires. The case was brought by the National Association of Government Employees, the union representing 1,100 probation officers.

Candidates who had originally applied for the positions and are still employed by the Massachusetts Trial Court have been notified of the postings and have until Dec. 6 to reapply, according to the Office of the Commissioner of Probation. Some probation employees in the positions in question will have to reapply for those jobs.

The arbitration ruling came against the backdrop of wider state and federal probes into corrupt hiring practices that led to criminal indictments of top probation officials.

For the second time in seven years, Jason Harder, a probation officer at Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown, will throw his hat into the ring for a probation officer job at Hampshire Superior Court, he said this week.

Harder had been passed over in 2005 for one of two probation jobs at the Northampton court, posts that ultimately went to Christopher J. Hoffman and Maureen Adams.

“They did everything behind the scenes,” Harder said of the department’s past hiring practices. “They didn’t care what our contracts said.”

Harder and Hoffman had been working as probation officers in Hampden Superior Court and sought transfers to the Northampton court. Harder had more experience and seniority when Hoffman was appointed to the post and then rose quickly through the ranks to become acting chief probation officer in Hampshire Superior Court.

One of the other jobs went to Adams, who was among 70 people who applied for the openings. In a 79-page decision two months ago, arbitrator Tammy Brynie wrote, “I am not persuaded that the selection of the candidates for the probation officer position at the Hampshire Superior Court was based upon an honest assessment and comparison of their respective qualifications.”

Brynie’s decision drew upon earlier findings of Paul F. Ware Jr., a lawyer appointed by the state Supreme Judicial Court to investigate probation hiring practices, which found “systemic abuse and corruption” in hiring and promotions within the department.

As part of a federal corruption probe, Hoffman, of Hatfield, was removed from his job in October 2011 and arrested two months later on one charge each of intimidating and harassing a witness in an attempt to obstruct a federal investigation. Federal prosecutors say Hoffman made intimidating and threatening remarks to Adams, whom he supervised. A criminal complaint states that Hoffman knew Adams was going to be interviewed by the FBI and allegedly told her, “I’m going to tell everyone that you are a rat.”

He remains on unpaid leave and his case is heading to trial, the Gazette reported this week.

Without ‘taint’

The arbitration award stated that the new hiring process be conducted by people “who are tainted neither by the general promotion/hiring scandal at the Probation Department nor by the facts of each underlying case.”

In the case of Hoffman’s hiring, he had been sponsored by William H. Burke III, a retired deputy probation commissioner and family friend who is also from Hatfield. Burke is a former supervisor of district court probation officers in western Massachusetts and was indicted in March for his alleged role in helping establish a “rigged hiring system” that favored job applicants with ties to influential state legislators, according to federal prosecutors.

He pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of mail fraud and one count of racketeering conspiracy in U.S. District Court in Worcester — a case that’s ongoing.

Harder said he hoped the new hiring process will allow the Probation Department to choose the most qualified candidates for the jobs in question, which includes an assistant chief probation officer position in Springfield District Court. “I’m a little frustrated by it, but I understand the rationale for it,” he said of the whole process.

After next week’s application deadline, the trial court will select and interview candidates using new protocols for interviewing, including behavior-based interview questions, which were introduced earlier this year for hires and promotions, according to Coria Holland, a Probation Department spokeswoman.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.

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