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Trial Court offers to reinstate Arroyo, seeks control over hiring

Yawu Miller | 8/24/2017, 6 a.m.
Suffolk County Register of Probate Felix D. Arroyo can return to the Registry in October, Massachusetts Trial Court officials said ...
Felix D. Arroyo Courtesy of Felix A. Arroyo

Suffolk County Register of Probate Felix D. Arroyo can return to the Registry in October, Massachusetts Trial Court officials said last week, if he agrees to let them supervise the process of hiring deputy administrators.

The Trial Court has limited hiring for these management-level jobs to current employees. While the Court will allow Arroyo to participate in the hiring process, the positions will be filled before Arroyo returns to office. Arroyo’s spokesman, Patrick Keaney, called the Trial Court’s move “heavy-handed” and said it would limit Arroyo’s attempts to bring diversity to an office many say has been plagued with racist and discriminatory behavior.

“Their desire to limit applicants for a key position only to insiders is consistent with the cronyism that Register Arroyo had to confront during his tenure,” Keaney wrote in a message emailed to supporters. “Not only are these jobs already posted, but they will be closed before Register Arroyo returns to his duly elected position. Furthermore, it will necessarily limit the number of women and people of color who can apply, because of the Trial Court’s well-documented lack of diversity.”

Arroyo, who was elected Register of Probate in the November 2014 election, was suspended with pay in February by then-Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence. Spence alleged that Arroyo mismanaged the Register’s office, citing problems including a backlog of paperwork, long lines and unprocessed checks. Arroyo and his lawyer, however, have said that he inherited a troubled department and that long-term employees sabotaged his efforts to improve it. Two trial court employees who spoke to the Banner in April corroborated Arroyo’s accusation, stating, for instance, that some employees appeared to intentionally hide checks and remove paperwork from the office before it was processed.

An attorney and several staff who in July spoke to the Banner on the condition of anonymity said the Probate Court has long been plagued by case backlogs, as well as discriminatory behavior toward the largely immigrant population that uses the court.

The Trial Court hired a former judge to conduct an independent review of the office under Arroyo’s administration. While that report is said to be completed, the Trial Court has not yet made its findings public.

More recently, the Banner reported the Department of Justice launched an investigation into allegations of discrimination in Registrar of Probate office. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice in June released results of an investigation that alleged a “toxic racially-charged hostile environment that fosters identity-based harassment.” The report also found that few people of color are employed in Trial Court workforce.

Since 2012, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has received 72 complaints against the Trial Court.

Arroyo has not yet said whether he will return to his office under the conditions outlined by the Trial Court.

“Register Arroyo will remain steadfast in his desire to root out institutional racism and cronyism at the Registry of Probate,” Keaney said in his email message. “He is looking forward to cooperating fully in the Department of Justice’s civil rights investigation into racism and harassment at the Trial Court.”