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Arroyo suspension an undemocratic procedure

Melvin B. Miller | 3/8/2017, 10:44 a.m.
Felix Arroyo, the first person of color elected to be register of the Suffolk Probate Court has been suspended from ...
“Man, if you can suspend somebody even though they’ve been elected, we ought to do that to Trump.” Photo by Dan Drew

To hold public office as the result of a democratic election is normally considered to be sacrosanct. But maybe that is not the situation in Massachusetts. In 2014, Carlos T. Henriquez, who was a duly-elected representative from the 5th Suffolk District, was expelled from office after being found guilty of a misdemeanor that was totally unrelated to his governmental duties. Now Felix Arroyo, the first person of color elected to be register of the Suffolk Probate Court, has been suspended from office, pending an investigation of the dysfunctional operation of the office.

Both official actions are highly unusual. Henriquez had a personal altercation with a woman who had been an intimate friend and she charged him with assault. Some assert that her claim was questionable, but the judge found against Henriquez. Although there are no rules of the general court which permit them to do so, the state representatives voted to oust Henriquez. Many observers believe that this decision was a gesture to win the political support of ardent feminists.

Arroyo has not yet, like Henriquez, been officially expelled from elective office. So far he has been suspended with pay pending an investigation. However, there has been no official explanation of the reason for such an extreme action. Citizens have been left to wonder what the official complaint might be.

Ordinarily, the Register of Probate does not attract much political attention. The office serves the public and the courts in matters involving divorces, adoptions, paternity cases and name changes. The work requires the meticulous maintenance of documents and files as well as the accurate recording of fees paid by those seeking judicial resolution of delicate personal matters. Mismanagement of the office would be frustrating to the public and the courts.

According to reports, decay in the efficiency of the office had begun under the prior register, Patricia Campatelli. Her inappropriate conduct induced a number of candidates to oppose her re-election in 2014. In addition to Arroyo, her opponents included Richard J. Joyce, a probation officer; two attorneys, David T. Keenan and Martin J. Keogh; and East Boston community activist John Sepulveda. The Boston Globe published an editorial on Sep. 6, 2014 in opposition to Campatelli’s candidacy.

Arroyo tallied 53 percent of the vote in Boston, compared with only 12 percent for Campatelli. This victory was attributed to Arroyo’s name recognition as well as his sound reputation. The conduct of the court system in summarily removing Arroyo from office has sullied his reputation.

Management of the registry has not been as easy as Arroyo’s political victory. His ascendancy marked a significant ethnic shift in Boston politics. The ethnic tribes are very serious about defending their turf against the growing black and Latino population. According to Arroyo, some employees were insulting to non-white residents seeking assistance, especially those who had not mastered English. Other staff had intentionally sabotaged smooth operations.

If this is true, the solution is not to suspend Arroyo and create the illusion that those opposed to racial progress have won. There is an effort to diminish the black and Latino vote in a number of states. Massachusetts should oppose any policy that creates an aura of victory for those who oppose a valid election. So far the state does not have a good record on that score, first with Henriquez and now with Arroyo.