Dueling depositions shine light on probation politics

These depositions were taken as part of a lawsuit filed by two women accusing James J. Rush, former chief probation officer in West Roxbury District Court, of discrimination on the basis of race and sex.

Then-speaker of the Massachusetts House Thomas M. Finneran recommended Rush for the chief’s job at the request of his son, Michael F. Rush, a state representative.

Excerpts from the deposition of the Hon. Kathleen Elizabeth Coffey

A. When I was informed that Jim Rush was Commissioner O'Brien's choice for the position of chief, I had a conversation with him about my concerns concerning his ability to be a good chief, and my concern at that time had nothing to do with his treatment of women. My real concern had to do with his work ethic and his lack of innovation, and I also had a concern that he did not have a strong belief or recognition of the importance of community supervision. In the many conversations that I had had with Mr. Rush, he held firm to the belief that probation officers should be in their offices behind the desk and probationers should be seen within the confines of the probation office, and this was in conflict to the whole focus and tenor and energy of Jack O'Brien's department. I have the utmost respect for Commissioner O'Brien, and he has done a phenomenal job in terms of taking the probation department in a whole new direction, and I had an appreciation of the responsibilities of the job and the talent and work that would be necessary in order to fulfill the mission of the probation department. I had real reservations about Mr. Rush, and I spoke to Commissioner O'Brien about those reservations.

I was later informed either by -- I think it might have been by either Liz Tavarez or Mark McHale that a position would be created of first assistant's position to assist Mr. Rush, in essence to act as a support system for him, recognizing the demands and the responsibilities of being chief. West Roxbury is one of the busiest courts in Suffolk County. And the probation office does a terrific job, but it's a very demanding clientele that we serve. So that is my understanding of how that -- how and why that position was created.

Q. You brought up the issue of Representative Rush this morning, and you talked about his overriding presence at West Roxbury. I was wondering if you could explain what you mean by that.

A. Mr. Rush is on the House Ways and Means Committee. Right now the trial court, and in particular the probation department, faces the real threat of budget cuts. There's been talk of furloughs within the trial court, of layoffs, and there is a fear and concern among employees that they run the risk of losing their jobs if the legislature doesn't fund the trial court budget and in particular the probation department.

The probation department has a separate line item than the trial court, and Jack O'Brien has exclusive control over that line item. It's not transferable to Chief Justice Mulligan.

Accordingly, it's my understanding that a lot of employees believe that loyalty and allegiance to the legislature, and in particular to Mr. Rush, ensures job safety and protection.

Excerpts from the deposition of Michael Francis Rush

Q. [Attorney reads Rush excerpts from Coffey's deposition] ..."It was a tense, and continues to be a tense, situation for a variety of reasons. One of them, of course, is this lawsuit, and the other is the overriding presence of Representative Mike Rush and his perceived influence within the probation department." Do you see that?

A. Yeah. That's a lie.

Q. Well, my question to you is whether you believe that you have influence within the probation department.

A. Unequivocally, absolutely not.

Q. You made a number of references to Judge Coffey's treatment of your father. I will give you an opportunity to summarize the way she treated him that you feel was wrong.

A. My father had never been treated so poorly by any member, any employee of the West Roxbury District Court, as he was treated by Judge Coffey. And he would relay that to my mother, myself, other family members. She belittled him. She screamed at him. He felt that -- he felt she didn't like him. And nobody in that court had ever treated him as poorly at Judge Coffey in 43 years. She yelled at him in front of all the probation officers. She would come down, tell him to move his car. She would come down in her robes, try to boss him around. He had never been treated that way.

More documents

Investigation into reports of discrimination
Investigation report
Draft report of a probe into alleged discrimination.
Probation office of Massachusetts -- lawsuits
Probation chief held in contempt
Documents relating to a legal fight where John J. O'Brien was held in contempt.
Depositions in Rush lawsuit
Lawsuit depositions
Depositions given in a suit that alleged discrimination.