(State House News Service) — Former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien and his former deputy on Friday were temporarily spared from incarceration, pending appeal, three days before they were due to report to prison.
O’Brien and Elizabeth Tavares were convicted by a federal jury in July of running a clandestine patronage hiring ring within the department under the guise of a merit-based personnel policy. William Burke III, another former deputy, was convicted of conspiring in the scheme but was not sentenced to any prison time.
O’Brien and Tavares had been scheduled to report for prison on Monday, but a three-judge Appeals Court panel decided on Friday to allow them to remain free while their appeals are pending. O`Brien`s defense attorneys were alerted Friday evening.
“Based on material presented by the parties, the court is persuaded of a sufficient probability that the appeals present a ‘substantial question,'” read the order by Chief Justice Sandra Lynch and Justices William Kayatta, Jr. and David Barron.
The decision means O’Brien and Tavares do not need to serve their sentences unless their appeals are decided against them.
“We are very pleased that the Court of Appeals has granted Mr. O’Brien’s request for bail pending appeal. We will pursue the appeal vigorously and maintain that Mr. O’Brien committed no crime,” said O’Brien’s attorney William Fick in a statement. “Whatever one may think about the so-called ‘culture of patronage’ in state government, Mr. O’Brien worked honorably and tirelessly for decades to serve and protect the citizens of the Commonwealth.”
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz declined to comment.
Federal prosecutors convinced a jury that O’Brien organized a scheme to grant phony interviews to job-seekers while making hiring and promotion decisions based on whether an applicant was politically connected. O’Brien was also convicted of providing to House lawmakers illegal gratuities in the form of probation jobs.
Defense attorneys argued that state judges were well aware of the patronage practice, and said O’Brien weighed the opinions of respected state lawmakers in making hiring decisions and appointed qualified people to probation posts.
Judge William Young issued sentences below federal guidelines in November, explaining that patronage had previously been widely practiced within the state’s Judiciary. O’Brien received a sentence of one and a half year and Tavares received a sentence of three months.