THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Joan Vennochi

A season of scandal, and everyone turns to Coakley

By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / May 30, 2010

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WHY IS Attorney General Martha Coakley turning into everyone’s favorite Inspector Clouseau?

Governor Deval Patrick and Charlie Baker, his GOP rival, both called for Coakley to investigate the patronage-ridden Probation Department that was headed by its now-suspended chief, John J. O’Brien.

Senate President Therese Murray also wants Coakley to chair a task force to study whether long-term control of the department should be returned to the judiciary or moved to the executive branch.

Before that Beacon Hill scandal broke, the board of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center asked her to look into its own scandal — whether it appropriately handled a “lapse of judgment’’ involving Beth Israel’s CEO, Paul Levy, and his close female friend.

While Coakley doesn’t mind the vote of confidence, calling for an investigation by the attorney general is an easy way to pass the buck, while spending taxpayer bucks. It’s also a good way to bury controversy.

Last October, Coakley launched an investigation into thousands of e-mails deleted by Michael Kineavy, a top aide to Mayor Thomas Menino. Menino is now comfortably into his fifth term. Michael Flaherty, the mayoral challenger who questioned whether the e-mail deletions violated state public records law, is still waiting for the AG’s finding.

Back at Beth Israel, Levy can only hope for the same leisurely pace from the state’s top legal eagles.

In recent press interviews, Levy announced that over the years, three hospital board chairs warned him about the distraction of his longtime close relationship with a female employee whom he recruited for a job that reported directly to him. He ignored their advice, for reasons he said he can’t explain. For reasons they haven’t explained, board members did nothing until an anonymous letter created a crisis management situation and a spurt of unseemly headlines about Levy. When the board finally called for an investigation, it was done by a lawyer who is also a hospital trustee.

Do board members really need the state’s top law enforcement official to point out the obvious about this situation? But since they asked, Coakley’s office should do a thorough job of reviewing, under oath, who knew what when.

Coakley is also the go-to person following the Globe Spotlight Team report on the web of patronage in the Probation Department.

Both Patrick and Baker immediately called for the AG to investigate the matter. The enthusiasm for Coakley’s involvement seemed at least partially motivated by a desire to look super-responsive in an election year.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Judicial Court quickly tapped Paul F. Ware Jr., a senior Boston trial counsel with broad experience investigating alleged public corruption. After Ware finishes his investigation, there could be a prosecutorial role for the AG. But right now, there seems little need for a second, separate Coakley review.

Murray’s proposal to involve Coakley as chair of a study commission on the Probation Department also covers multiple political bases.

The Senate president and AG are friends and political allies. Murray was the honorary finance chair for Coakley’s failed US Senate bid.

Putting Coakley in charge of Probation Department reform helps the AG regain credibility after her bruising loss to Republican Scott Brown. And it puts a Murray ally in a key spot when it is decided which government branch gets to control the probation department.

Coakley’s review of Boston City Hall e-mails — done at the request of Secretary of State William Galvin — was announced in the midst of the Democratic primary campaign for US Senate. There was speculation at the time that she would do nothing to hurt Menino, since that could hurt her when it came to getting support from his political machine.

Some political insiders also believe the AG’s investigation worked another way. It kept Menino from backing US Representative Michael Capuano in the primary, out of concern that offending Coakley might influence the speed and depth of her inquiry.

People turn to the attorney general for an independent investigation that is free from political considerations.

But nothing involving politicians is free from political considerations. Everyone asking Coakley to get involved knows that, too.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com.

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