Court clerk under fire, trades jabs with opponent

April 13, 2012
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Already under investigation for alleged campaign violations and blasted by a recent TV news report for leaving the office during the work day, Clerk of Criminal Courts and JP resident Maura Hennigan told the Gazette that politics are behind the budding scandals.

She and one would-be opponent in this fall’s election, Robert Dello Russo, traded hard jabs in Gazette interviews. Dello Russo lost a campaign for the seat to Hennigan in 2006, and until January, worked in her Suffolk County Superior Court office as an assistant clerk.

“Let me just put it this way,” Hennigan said when asked about the origin of the allegations against her. “Unfortunately, when I came into office…there was a divided office, and I was hopeful we would work together, but unfortunately, some just didn’t want to do it.”

Dello Russo told the Gazette that he did not see Hennigan engaged in any wrongdoing and does not know where the complaints came from. In part, he claimed, that is because Hennigan booked him to handle multiple court trials while some other staffers did not work at all.

Hennigan denied that claim, while suggesting that Dello Russo was not a model employee.

“He certainly had issues of things he did here that were not appropriate,” Hennigan said of Dello Russo, adding that she is checking with human resources officials about how much detail she can reveal.

Hennigan and Dello Russo both traded complaints that the other was unqualified for a court job.

“I don’t know what to think,” Dello Russo said of an allegation, under investigation by the state, that Hennigan had court workers mail campaign fund-raiser letters for her last fall. “Obviously, it’s wrong if it’s true.”

Hennigan said she is legally required not to speak about that investigation, but is eager to do so. She said she expects the case to be resolved within about two weeks.

“Believe me, nobody wants to talk about this more than me,” she said. “It’s like somebody has your hands tied behind your back and they’re punching you.”

More Hennigan heat came last week, when WBZ-TV aired a report that showed the clerk walking around Jamaica Pond and other locations, allegedly when court was in session, and while staffers claimed Hennigan was in a “meeting.” There is no evidence that Hennigan was out of the office without permission or that any official investigation is involved.

“It was very distasteful to watch that, to be honest with you,” Dello Russo said, noting that the clerk’s job is to manage the courts. He said he personally never saw Hennigan out of the office inappropriately.

“I’m there 90 percent of the time,” Hennigan said, adding that she suspects an unfriendly source was tipping off the TV reporter when Hennigan left the office legitimately.

She noted that part of the report showed her at Egleston Square’s BNN-TV, where she hosts a TV show as part of her job. Other footage, she said, was taken on the presidential primary election day—which elected officials typically take off for campaigning—and when she was out for a doctor’s appointment and a cousin’s funeral.

“I’m not married. I don’t have kids. My job is my life,” Hennigan said, adding that she rarely takes vacation.

Dello Russo said that the high-profile scrutiny of Hennigan is not his main concern.

“The only issue I had with Maura was, some people weren’t working and I was going session to session,” managing multiple trials, he said. Assistant clerks keep records and manage the evidence in criminal trials. “It seems some people were able not to work at certain times,” he said.

“I don’t think…she knows what the clerks of court do,” Dello Russo added. He said Hennigan does not know how to manage a trial herself during short-staffed times and only appears in court “to get her face on the camera.”

Hennigan said that her job was created to administer the courts, not to manage trials. She added that when Dello Russo started working there 12 years ago, “He did not have the qualifications to be an assistant [clerk]. But [former House] Speaker [Salvatore] DiMasi made an arrangement” to get him the job in a patronage appointment.

Dello Russo noted that several employees left or transferred under Hennigan, implying they did not like her management. But Hennigan claimed that Dello Russo impacted staffing levels through a move of his own.

“Bobby Dello Russo went to Sal DiMasi and had my salary cut and others’ cut,” she said. She said that the court continues to be impacted by budget cuts and the state hiring freeze.

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