Saturday, May 27, 2017

Slow Saturday Special: Suffolk Probate

Sorry it took so long to get to your case:

"Suffolk probate register is suspended" by Stephanie Ebbert Globe Staff  February 04, 2017

The suspension again throws light on an oft-overlooked office seen by many as a political anachronism headed by an elected official who makes nearly $135,000 a year. The Probate Court handles complicated legal and family matters like adoptions, divorces, paternity cases, and name changes.

Seems rather important to everyday people then.

Suffolk Register of Probate Felix D. Arroyo, who called the suspension “unwarranted” Friday night, was placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, said Jennifer Donahue, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Trial Courts. His annual salary of $134,692 is due to increase to $139,789 as a result of the pay increase for legislators and judicial employees that the Legislature passed on Thursday, overriding a veto by Governor Charlie Baker.

In a statement Friday night, a spokesman said, “Arroyo inherited an office that had a long and well-documented history of mismanagement and poor performance.

“Since taking office, he has committed himself to finding efficiencies, improving operations, and promoting diversity,’’ spokesman Patrick Keaney said.

The office under Arroyo’s management was described as disorganized and disorderly by one former employee who said that cases had built up and paperwork wasn’t filed....

The last registrar was Patricia Campatelli.



Arroyo says he faced sabotage as he diversified staff at Suffolk register of probate

Suffolk probate registry increased diversity under Arroyo

Suffolk Probate Court has ‘serious deficiencies’

The circumstances surrounding Arroyo’s ouster remain a mystery.

Suffolk Probate Court is a mess, but who caused it?

Court system says Arroyo presided over ‘dysfunctional chaos’

Arroyo skipped a meeting intended to brief him on the improvements being made to the office he was supposed to run.

"Severe dysfunction alleged in Suffolk Probate" by Andrew Ryan and Stephanie Ebbert Globe Staff  March 17, 2017

Arroyo had maintained that he was the victim of sabotage by entrenched white court employees who resented his efforts to diversify the staff. After he took office in early 2015, he hired several people with foreign language skills to serve the office frequented by non-English speakers.

A spokesman for Arroyo said dysfunction in the registry was caused by “the racist attitudes and intentional sabotage on the part of some of the staff,” which created a hostile work environment.

The office has long been plagued with managerial trouble that predates Arroyo, who has maintained that he inherited much of the dysfunction. The trial court conducted a lengthy investigation of allegations of a racially hostile work environment. Trial court officials would not allow material from that investigation to be made public.

“Félix is looking forward to getting back to work to reform this office,” Arroyo’s spokesman said, adding, “Throughout his career, Félix has never backed down from a fight for social, economic, and racial justice and he’s not about to start now.”

The court did release documents that showed a fundamental breakdown in basic management. Employees took breaks at all times of the day and left for lunch when they wanted, the documents allege. Staff were allowed to come in late or leave early. People did not answer phones. Supervisors had signs on their closed doors that read “Do not Disturb.”

Was any work being done at all?

The registry, which has just 33 employees, handles filings that include divorces, wills, child custody cases, and other family matters.

Even in such a small office, the assessment found, “there existed obvious divisions, factions favoritism, and hostility due to the employees not having proper training.”

Which led to “unhappy customers” who regularly waited for two hours.

The registry’s filing system had devolved into utter chaos by the time a temporary manager arrived Oct. 17, 2016. Fifty bins of files were scattered throughout the office. Another 60 bins of files were stacked on the floor, waiting to be put away. Other file bins were upside down, backward, or sideways. A subsequent “file room cleanout shined light on hundreds of cases that were misfiled,” including some that had been lost for years.

“The complete disarray and operational breakdown of the file room made basic registry functions unobtainable,” the assessment reads. “There was an average 20-30 cases missing on any given day.”

The report pointed in particular to the probate staff’s problems with processing paperwork and cashing checks. A divorce case that was filed in January 2016 was filed again in August; the paperwork had never been processed, the check never cashed.

Checks were found attached to petitions and complaints, all tucked into boxes of loose paperwork and unprocessed. “The file dates in the pleadings indicated that the vast amount of unprocessed checks were sitting around for months and in many instances for over a year,” the assessment found.

In little over two months, the temporary court manager brought in to run the office wrote that she alone processed checks worth over $241,000.

Arroyo’s spokesman defended his handling of the office’s finances. “The hidden files and misplaced checks are examples of the intentional sabotage carried out by some of the employees that Felix inherited or were placed in his office by the Trial Court,” he said.

The Trial Court suspended Arroyo Feb. 3, roughly two years into his term as register. He hired a lawyer and has argued that he inherited a dysfunctional office and that the court lacked the authority to suspend him as an elected official.

The office has long been plagued by mismanagement and scandal. In his 2014 election, Arroyo defeated Patricia Campatelli, who allegedly assaulted an employee after a holiday party. Campatelli never admitted any wrongdoing, arguing that she was a victim of unsubstantiated rumors.

An investigator found that Campatelli worked only 15 hours a week and spent much of it taking smoking breaks, playing scratch tickets, looking at East Boston real estate on the Internet, and doing puzzles.


The investigator determined that she had “created a fearful atmosphere “ in the office, retaliating against workers who questioned her long breaks and plotting to get rid of employees so she could hire her own people.

O'Brien and state probation was cleared of all that.

But the investigator could not sort out the facts behind Campatelli’s alleged Dec. 18, 2013, assault on an employee, noting that both had been drinking heavily at two bars before the incident. 


This was the office run by Register Felix D. Arroyo, who was suspended with pay in February and has been aggressively fighting for his job. The assessment was part of a trove of documents court officials released to the media this week....


I'm told “it was a place for employees to make work disappear.”

"Suffolk registry workers describe racial hostility, sexual harassment" by Andrew Ryan and Stephanie Ebbert Globe Staff  March 25, 2017

A Cape Verdean employee alleged that her co-workers called her a monkey. A white employee used a racial epithet to describe an African-American colleague. Another white worker loudly denounced new Spanish-speaking employees with a slur and complained they were “being hired to do our jobs” by their Latino boss.

Pervasive accusations of racial hostility and sexual harassment at the Suffolk Registry of Probate led one office worker to call last spring for an “immediate intervention” into the “deplorable and divisive” environment, according to an investigative report that had not previously been made public.

The investigation uncovered allegations that some longtime white court employees actively worked to “sabotage” the diversity efforts of the recently elected register, Felix D. Arroyo, who took office in January 2015. The allegations, if true, could help substantiate Arroyo’s claim that he has been the victim of a racially motivated campaign by an entrenched courthouse bureaucracy that resented his hiring of multilingual staff to serve a diverse public.

Now he knows how Trump feels.

The investigative report, written by a diversity officer in the court system, does not exonerate Arroyo, who was suspended in February for what Trial Court officials described as “disarray and dysfunction” at the long-troubled Suffolk probate office. An investigator discounted at least one of the sabotage allegations and depicted Arroyo as an absent or aloof manager who did little to protect his new hires from the open hostilities of entrenched employees.

So he hauled out the race card?

Arroyo’s spokesman, responding to questions for this story, rejected the suggestion that he was an apathetic boss and strongly defended his tenure.

Three court employees who spoke with the Globe on the condition of anonymity disputed the report’s characterization of Arroyo. The employees, who support the suspended register, said he championed and defended workers of color. Arroyo encouraged them to file discrimination and harassment complaints, they said, but he was otherwise hamstrung by a bureaucracy in which authority is concentrated in Trial Court administrators.

I'm left with the question of how this could happen in deep blue Ma$$achu$etts. I was always led to believe that was a Southern problem, and we are better than them up here. That's the impression I've gotten coming from the schools and media, and I've lived here my whole life so you can't gainsay me.

The newly released report sheds more light on the troubled operations at the Probate Court, where court officials have documented what they describe as a “procedural meltdown”: scores of missing files, hundreds of thousands of dollars in unprocessed checks, and an indifference to the needs of the public, whose cases in court were often delayed as a result.

Your government serving you! 

I'm glad they all got pay raises.

The latest report suggests that the problems in Suffolk probate extend far beyond alleged mismanagement by Arroyo. The documents described the office as a “hostile and discriminatory work environment” that has long had an inappropriate and racially charged climate. The documents say that tensions increased exponentially with the election in November 2014 of Arroyo, a Latino who is the first person of color to serve as register.

Employees described co-workers using profanity at the public counter and mistreating customers who came to the registry seeking help with their divorces, child custody cases, adoptions, or relatives’ wills. Employees complained about the “juvenile atmosphere” of the 33-person office with high-school-like cliques and staff who “often acted like children.”

The investigative report was part of a trove of documents released last week that detailed severe disorder in the probate office. Court officials asked the Globe and other media outlets not to publish letters marked “confidential,” which they said had been sent inadvertently.

The Globe is publishing material from the confidential report because it catalogs rancor and chaos inside a government office intended to help the public navigate the delicate legal intricacies of paternity, divorce, and adoption. The Globe is not publishing the names of specific employees.

The Trial Court suspended Arroyo with pay Feb. 3, roughly two years into his term as register.

Investigators were told that files often went “missing” on purpose....



He's going to fight for that pension though:

"For suspended probate register, case has high costs" by Stephanie Ebbert and Andrew Ryan Globe Staff  March 03, 2017

If he is able to complete his six-year term as Suffolk register of probate, Felix D. Arroyo stands to more than double his pension — to roughly $70,000 a year for life, a Globe analysis found.

That's why the state budget is in such rough shape. You have thousands upon thousands of guys like this who have feathered or had feathered their nests for them.

If he is removed from his elected position, his pension would revert to about $30,000, state data show. That’s how much is at stake for the embattled register, who was placed on administrative leave with pay Feb. 3 after the Massachusetts Trial Court identified “serious deficiencies” in his office. An investigation is ongoing.

Arroyo is vociferously fighting his suspension, launching a campaign and a legal defense fund to reclaim his job, which pays $139,789 a year. He was suspended after two years of his six-year term.

So the problems were before him, but he wasn't really doing anything to clean them up. He was just riding the wave.

Arroyo would be eligible to significantly augment his pension based on his new salary — but only if he stayed on the job for at least five years, according to retirement officials. Arroyo was credited for a total of 14 years of service in various government jobs.

Awww, poor f**k!

Under state pension law, employees are permitted to return to public life and to collect a higher pension based upon a higher salary. But if they do that, they have to pay back to the state what they have already received in pension checks, and they must remain in their new post at least five years.

Arroyo would have to pay back $104,000 he already received in pension payments, according to data from the Massachusetts Retirement Board that were obtained through a public records request. An official said he had already begun repaying.

A former Boston city councilor who lost reelection in 2007, Arroyo had retired in November 2011 after working almost exactly three years for the state Department of Transitional Assistance, making $92,000, records show. Arroyo had earned a pension of about $30,000, records show.

Now 68, Arroyo would be eligible to retire with 50 percent of his salary if he finishes his six-year term as register, a Globe analysis of pension data found. That means Arroyo could receive a $70,000 annual pension for life.

Globe is really concerned about his well-being.

An Arroyo spokesman, Patrick Keaney, declined to comment on Arroyo’s pension, referring questions to the retirement board. Arroyo hired an attorney, Walter B. Prince, to contest his suspension, and his sons and spokesman spearheaded a fund-raising campaign for his legal defense. That effort raised $10,709 last month, according to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, with $5,000 already being paid to the attorney. No payments show up for Keaney or Doug Rubin, a top political consultant who has said he is helping Arroyo pro bono.

Why does he need a legal defense? 

All of a sudden he race charges are starting to stink of $elf $ervice.

Arroyo’s defenders have also launched a political offensive, suggesting he is being run out of elective office by an unfair process and demanding transparency. At the same time, however, they have not been willing to release the letter Arroyo received when he was suspended — a letter that outlines the reasons for his suspension.

That's what you do when you have committed a crime. You cover it up and go on the attack. How Nixonian of them!

In a fund-raising e-mail sent Sunday, Keaney pledged that the suspension letter from Massachusetts Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence would be released — but only after the state provided Arroyo’s lawyer related documents he had requested.

“The only thing preventing us from responding to the suspension letter, and releasing it to the public, is Spence’s unwillingness to provide Felix’s legal team with the documents we have asked for,” Keaney wrote on Sunday.

It turns out that the documents had been sitting on his lawyer’s desk since Friday.

So the lawyer is either incompetent or a liar?!!!!!

The general counsel for the Massachusetts Trial Court hand-delivered the requested documents to Prince’s office late Friday, said court spokeswoman Jennifer Donahue.

Did anyone SIGN for them?

The lawyer apparently did not open the documents until after the weekend — during which time Arroyo’s team continued a drumbeat of criticism, publicly demanding details on why he was suspended and advancing the argument in several news accounts that Spence was misleading the public.

OMG! They were accusing the other side of the conduct of which they were in fact guilty. How Israeli of them!

“Sixteen days have passed since we made the request and Spence still has not provided them to Felix’s legal team,” Keaney, the Arroyo spokesman, wrote in the fund-raising e-mail.

Keaney again refused to release Arroyo’s letter of suspension on Thursday — six days after his lawyer got the documents he’d been demanding.

What does that tell you?

Now, he says, he will release it only after Arroyo’s lawyer reviews the documents he received and drafts a response.

“We received the documents we were waiting for, and we’re drafting our response. As we told our supporters and the public at large, as soon as our response is complete, we will release it, along with the suspension letter written by Harry Spence,” Keaney said.


Still waiting for it. Damn that U.S.P.S.

Look whom else got caught up in the scandal:

"More questions emerge on probate court personnel" by Andrew Ryan Globe Staff  April 12, 2017

Help for the long-troubled Suffolk Probate office came from Worcester County, where a probate court employee named Leslie Girardi had worked for a decade.

A top state probate administrator sent Girardi to help Suffolk Register Felix D. Arroyo get his dysfunctional office on track in September 2015. But Girardi had a history.

She had been put on paid leave in Worcester in May of that year, according to a document obtained by the Globe. Two people with knowledge of the situation said she had used threats and vulgar language, and that officials had pushed to have her fired.

By early 2017, Arroyo would be suspended from his job. Girardi would be accused in an investigative report of belittling her Suffolk co-workers, shouting obscenities within earshot of the public, and using a racial slur to refer to an African-American case manager.

The probate administrator, Linda M. Medonis, has been nominated by Governor Charlie Baker for a judgeship. Top court officials defended and praised Medonis on the eve of her scheduled nomination hearing Wednesday before the Governor’s Council, where the scrutiny will include her tenure running statewide operations of the Probate and Family Court Department.

(Blog editor just shakes head. Who knows who is on that bench?)

The bouncing of Girardi from probate registry to probate registry — she is now an office manager in the Bristol registry — illustrates that the problems in the state’s probate system extend far beyond Suffolk County.

The episode also sheds some light on the career of the governor’s judicial nominee.

Documents show that one employee told investigators that Girardi stood at the public counter and used “the f-bomb” and, in earshot of the public, used crude language to belittle a co-worker. Another employee accused Girardi of conspiring with longtime Suffolk employees to undermine Arroyo, an allegation a court investigator discounted.

Another employee said Girardi “outwardly agreed” when a longtime white employee in Suffolk complained and used an ethnic slur and said Arroyo was hiring Hispanic employees to “do our jobs!” Girardi responded, according to the report, “They’re all being hired by him [Register Arroyo] because they’re Spanish.”

Girardi was out on maternity leave as court administrators investigated the accusations of racism and hostility....

So they haven't got her side of the story yet?


"Judicial nominee withdraws hours before confirmation hearing" by Andrew Ryan Globe Staff  April 12, 2017

Judicial nominee Linda M. Medonis abruptly withdrew her nomination hours before a confirmation hearing Wednesday after a report detailed her role in transferring a probate employee from court to court despite repeated accusations of vulgarity and racial hostility.

The end of Medonis’s current judicial prospects marked the latest fallout from the continuing controversy over the suspension of embattled Suffolk Register Felix D. Arroyo....


And the wait times just get longer.