BAY STATE BANNER
April 5, 2017
Surrounded by supporters and accompanied by his attorney on the steps of the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse, Suffolk County Register of Probate Felix D. Arroyo defended his record and vowed to fight his suspension from office.
Arroyo was suspended by Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence after an investigation of the office found that claimants’ files often went missing and checks totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars went unprocessed, leading to delays in many cases in the court.
Arroyo, who had spent nearly three hours answering questions as part of the Trial Court’s investigation into his administration of the Probate Court, told reporters that he inherited a dysfunctional office with long-term employees who resented his efforts to reform the court and undermined his administration.
“Some of the staff that I inherited or who were later placed in my office by trial court administrators intentionally sabotaged my efforts to reform this office,” he said.
Two trial court employees contacted by the Banner in February corroborated Arroyo’s allegation of sabotage, noting that paperwork was often removed from the office before it processed and that some employees appeared to intentionally hide checks, stuffing them in drawers of unused desks.
An investigative report on the Probate Court released to the media in March alleged widespread racist and sexist behavior among employees in the trial court, allegations Arroyo and his supporters repeated during Monday’s press conference. Arroyo doubled the number of people of color on staff at the Registry, bringing in workers who spoke Spanish, Haitian Creole and Cape Verdean Creole, he said, to better serve those who come before the court, 90 percent of whom represent themselves without an attorney.
Arroyo said his office is functioning with just 60 percent of the staff it had ten years ago. Officials in the Trial Court denied his requests to fill the four executive positions that formerly assisted in the administration of the court. But the administrator the Trial Court brought in to replace Arroyo, Terri Klug Cafazzo, has been given more resources, Arroyo said.
“Each denial came with their claim that they did not have the resources,” Arroyo said. “Yet suspiciously, when their handpicked replacement of me was placed in the Registry the trial court administrators found the resources to give her a significant pay raise, an executive team of her choosing, fill vacancies and outsource some of the work.”
Under the advice of his attorney, Arroyo would not answer questions from reporters. When asked what steps Arroyo took to improve the Registry beyond hiring people of color, attorney Walter Prince said Arroyo was undermined by long-term staff.
“He, along with others, tried to implement new systems, tried to reduce the number of people standing in line — there are a number of things he attempted to do, and there are a number of things the staff did to see to it that those things were not productive,” Prince said.
Prince outlined some of the problems he says Arroyo attempted to fix.
“It has been mismanaged for years. Files have been misplaced, files have been unopened and in disarray for years, long before Register Arroyo got here,” he said. “But yet, they’re trying to put it on his shoulders. Uh-uh. No.”
Prince said he did not know how long the Trial Court’s investigation would last.
Among those who turned out to support Arroyo were state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, SEIU 32 BJ Executive Vice President Roxana Rivera, former NAACP Boston Branch President Michael Curry, Chelsea At-Large City Councilor Damari Vidot, John B. Cruz and Daniel Cruz of Cruz Companies, and private equity investor and former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez.
Gomez said Arroyo’s suspension is out of keeping with Massachusetts’ progressive reputation.
“If we let this happen to Felix Arroyo, imagine what could happen to someone who doesn’t have his name or reputation,” he said.
“Questioning his integrity is questioning his heart,” Sanchez said of Arroyo. “And I believe Felix has put his heart into everything that he does for the benefit of everybody in this city, regardless of race or ethnicity.”