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Governor to fire safety, prison chiefs

Aide describes changes as part of wide overhaul

Governor Mitt Romney, in a major shakeup, moved yesterday to replace the state correction and public safety commissioners amid allegations of mismanagement, including intense criticism of correction officials after the prison killing of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan.

 

The senior-level housecleaning will result in the departure of Correction Commissioner Michael T. Maloney, who is taking medical leave for chronic back problems, but will not return.

The decision to remove Maloney was made as a Romney-appointed panel prepares to release its report on the department's handling of the incarceration of Geoghan, who was killed by another prisoner in August while in a protective custody unit at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley. Romney is also dismissing Public Safety Commissioner Joseph S. Lalli, whose agency is being investigated by federal and state authorities for widespread irregularities in the licensing of public safety professionals, from nuclear plant operators to plumbers. Lalli will depart Dec. 31.

Romney will also replace Stephen J. McGrail, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, which is responsible for coordinating the state's response to disasters and terrorist attacks.

In addition, senior administration aides said, Romney has reestablished a commission to oversee the state medical examiner's office, which has been reeling from news reports about botched autopsies and other irregularities. The commission will recommend a new medical examiner to replace Dr. Richard J. Evans.

A senior Romney aide, while acknowledging that the agencies had been hit by controversies, said that the moves were aimed at allowing public safety Secretary Edward A. Flynn to put his own team in place. Flynn -- whose office oversees 18 agencies, including the correction department, medical examiner's office, and public safety licensing -- declined through a spokeswoman to discuss the reasons for the dismissals yesterday.

"There have been some challenges in the public safety area, but the governor has great confidence in Secretary Flynn to make the changes that are needed," said the aide, who asked not to be identified. "This should not reflect on the integrity of the people involved, but rather is an effort to bring [Flynn's] own team in place to manage the critical public safety function of state government."

Maloney, Lalli, McGrail, and Evans could not be reached late yesterday.

In the months after Geoghan, a convicted pedophile, was killed and after legislators grilled department officials about prison policies, Flynn declined to publicly endorse Maloney's leadership.

The frail and diminutive 68-year-old defrocked priest was transferred to the maximum-security unit in April, despite having no record of violent behavior in more than a year at MCI-Concord, a medium-security prison.

His transfer to the Shirley facility occurred over the objection of the prisoner classification board that reviewed his record.

Asked in a Globe interview in late October whether he believed Maloney could implement broad changes in correction policy, Flynn said, "That remains to be seen."

He said he would be looking closely at how Maloney ran the department during his five years as commissioner. "I think that is a process still playing out and I don't want to make a commitment, one way or another, too soon," Flynn said.

Maloney's department was the focus of further scrutiny after a child rapist escaped Oct. 13 from the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater. The inmate had recently been transferred from a locked facility to a transition house on the grounds of the treatment center. The Romney administration has also signaled that it will seek to reverse more than a decade of get-tough policies in the state's prisons and shift to a system that emphasizes more rehabilitation and parole.

Flynn named Deputy Commissioner Kathleen M. Dennehy as acting correction commissioner until a successor can be named to Maloney.

Maloney's spokesman, Justin Latini, would not provide details on how long a medical leave Maloney will take or when he will cease being paid as a state employee. While on medical leave, Maloney receives full salary and benefits.

"There is no time frame on this," Latini said. "He went out on medical leave; that is all I can tell you."

Flynn has had several discussions with Romney about making staff changes in the last several weeks.

During that time, the Department of Public Safety has become the focus of widening state and federal investigations. The department, which regulates professions that affect the safety of the public, faces allegations that dozens and perhaps hundreds of professional licenses were handed out to individuals who lacked the proper credentials or training.

Lalli was appointed public safety commissioner by former Governor Paul Cellucci in 2000. The department's chief of inspections, Thomas L. Rogers, is now on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of the state and federal inquiries into the licensing irregularities.

According to state transportation officials, the Massachusetts investigation, headed by Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly and the State Police, has been intensifying recently, and several witnesses from the Local 7 Ironworkers union and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority were called before a grand jury in Boston on Nov. 21. Reilly's office has declined to comment, as have officials with the Ironworkers and the Turnpike Authority.

Flynn, interviewed before Thursday, said his office is continuing to review thousands of state professional licenses to verify they are legitimate, "starting with the most important licenses and working [our] way down." Flynn said his office is actively cooperating with the attorney general's office. "This is certainly not going to slip off the table," he said. "It has our full attention."

An acting commissioner has not yet been named to replace Lalli.

Evans has come under intense scrutiny since word leaked in October that Reilly had launched a criminal investigation of the handling by the medical examiner's office of an autopsy in 2002 to determine whether the wrong set of eyeballs was sent to an outside medical expert for tests.

The case involved a 3-month-old baby who died under unexplained circumstances. Investigators wanted the eyes tested for signs of trauma, which could indicate shaken baby syndrome. A spokesman for the attorney general's office said yesterday that the office is still investigating.

Days after news reports of that case, a prominent pathologist told the Globe that the medical examiner's office lost the heart of a Quincy man who died in 2000. As a result, his family had to bury him without it.

At the State House, two Senate committees are scheduled to hold a hearing today on the medical examiner's office and the State Police crime laboratory. Flynn, several prosecutors, and representatives from the state crime laboratory are called to testify. Allegations of the organs gone missing in the medical examiner's office are expected to be discussed. Regarding the emergency agency, a statement released by Flynn's staff said that he wanted the agency, which traditionally leads the state's response to disasters, to oversee homeland security planning for Massachusetts and that he wanted to install a director who can take on that role.

Stephen A. Kurkjian of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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