By Andy Metzger
State House News Service
BOSTON — Patricia Mosca, a one-time Democratic candidate for Governor’s Council and former probation officer, contradicted the testimony of a previous witness during the ongoing probation trial before conceding she might have said she sought the probation job for its pension boost.
A Democratic State Committee member from Bourne testifying under an immunity order, Mosca said she had worked at the Department of Transitional Assistance for 36 years before taking a pay cut to become a probation officer at Plymouth District Court.
“I was really unhappy with my job, and I did it well. My director loved me. I could do it in my sleep,” said Mosca, testifying that work at the welfare department had increasingly become about “paper pushing” and she wanted to work directly with people, which was the reason she applied for a job at probation at the age of 56.
Former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien and two of his former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, are facing charges they rigged hiring in the department to shuttle jobs to politically connected applicants regardless of whether they were the most qualified candidates for the public safety jobs.
Francine Gannon, an aide to Senate President Therese Murray, previously testified with immunity that Mosca wanted the job so she could retire in the more lucrative Group 2 pension classification.
“She just was rambling about how she wanted to increase her pension. She figured this all out,” said Gannon.
Mosca disputed that, saying, “I’d rather do what I wanted to do than have the extra money,” though after prosecutor Fred Wyshak presented her with a series of documents, she conceded she “probably” did tell Gannon that.
“It appears that I did. Do I remember? No,” said Mosca in testimony that at times went on tangents, as Wyshak and Judge William Young attempted to focus her on the questions. Earlier, prosecutor Karin Bell stumped Melissa Melia, the daughter of a State Police detective working under Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe, about why she had kept in touch with Gannon and thanked her during her third and successful attempt at obtaining a probation job.
“What is it that Ms. Gannon did for you?” Bell asked.
“I’m not sure,” Melia said. Earlier, Melia answered a question from the jury about what “guidance” Gannon had provided her, responding that Gannon told her who to contact at the Probation Department, though she could not remember who that was.
Prosecutors were unable to extract much information about personnel policies from Thomas Brownell, a former lawmaker who was the presiding judge at Plymouth District Court when Melia and Mosca were hired in 2008.
“I’d think to myself, ‘Well, who’s that?'” Brownell testified about Melia and Mosca showing up to work at his court in Plymouth. Brownell, who retired in 2010, said, “That is during the time that I’m sort of going out the door.”
Preferring not to meddle in hiring decisions made by higher-ups, Brownell said he participated in second-round interviews for probation officer jobs, but considered them “robo-interviews” and believed they were largely a waste of time.
“I felt that it was not an expedient use of my time,” Brownell said.
“That’s the way the commissioner’s office scheduled it, is that fair to say?” Wyshak countered later.
The defense team has attempted to show that the hired candidates were qualified for the jobs, and the practice of taking politicians’ recommendations into account was a worthwhile and prevalent practice throughout the judiciary and state government.
Brownell said he trusted that his chief probation officers and others in the probation department were hiring the right candidates, while he had a “general assumption that if you wanted to be a court officer you needed someone to recommend you.”
Prosecutors are trying to prove that probation jobs were granted to politically backed candidates in exchange for “political currency” with little regard for whether the hire was the most qualified.
Melia, a 34-year-old Plymouth resident who worked at the Department of Social Services, now Department of Children and Families, when she was hired as a probation officer, said she did not know Murray, though Murray’s aide Gannon later helped guide her toward employment after O’Keefe wrote a letter on her behalf.
Defense attorney Christine DeMaso attempted to show that a promotion at DSS and new enrollment in a master’s degree program contributed to her successful third attempt to obtain a probation job, while Bell highlighted Melia’s contact with Murray’s office as the key to her success.
Mosca, who has not yet been cross-examined, said she had been looking for a new job for 10 years, and asked Murray for a reference, which was how she was introduced to Gannon.
“Right now I make $58,881, and it would cost considerably more if it was a Boston commute,” Mosca wrote in a December 2007 email to Gannon. “I would like to get the high end, at least $61,000, but to change into the Group 2 from the one I am in now would be a joy in itself, and I wouldn’t want the salary to be the only block.”
Mosca argued with Wyshak about whether moving from Group 1 to Group 2 would boost her pension. She answered a juror’s question about the pay differential, saying her salary as a probation officer was $52,000. Mosca also said she retired after about a year into the job as a probation officer.
According to the Open Checkbook site, Mosca makes a $45,000 annual pension. Mosca ran for the southeastern Massachusetts seat on the Governor’s Council in 2010, losing in the Democratic primary to Oliver Cipollini. She said she could not remember all the duties of the Governor’s Council, whose primary function is to provide advice and consent on the governor’s judicial nominations.
Oliver Cipollini failed in his 2010 bid for the office even though his brother Charles Cipollini, a Republican who won the seat that year, has previously said he was his brother’s campaign manager during that election.
“I am called the accidental councilor,” Charles Cipollini said in August 2012, shortly before his brother, a retired juvenile court clerk, beat him in that year’s election.
While Brownell said he had a very limited involvement in personnel matters, the Quincy resident said he played a larger role in the court’s capital needs, crediting Murray as a “driving force” behind building a new courthouse in town, and said “to my chagrin” she disapproved of the designs shown her, which were scrapped.
“She didn’t like the look of the plans. She said, ‘That’s not Plymouth,” recalled Brownell, the former House chairman of the Judiciary Committee who was appointed by Gov. Michael Dukakis to the bench and served with Murray on a committee to plan the new courthouse.