By Andrew Ryan
APRIL 12, 2017
Judicial nominee Linda M. Medonis abruptly withdrew her nomination hours before a confirmation hearing Wednesday after a report detailed her role in transferring a probate employee from court to court despite repeated accusations of vulgarity and racial hostility.
The end of Medonis’s current judicial prospects marked the latest fallout from the continuing controversy over the suspension of embattled Suffolk Register Felix D. Arroyo.
Governor Charlie Baker’s office issued a statement shortly before Medonis, a top administrator in the troubled Probate and Family Court since 2013, was scheduled to face questions in a confirmation hearing before the Governor’s Council.
“Since learning of controversial personnel matters, Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Polito have granted Linda Medonis’ request to withdraw her nomination,” Lizzy Guyton, Baker’s communications director, said in a statement. “The administration thanks attorney Medonis for her willingness to serve as a justice on the court.”
The Globe reported Wednesday that Medonis had been involved in sending probate employee Leslie Girardi to help fix the scandal-plagued Suffolk office despite a push to have Girardi fired for her behavior in Worcester.
Girardi has been accused of making crude threats and referring to an African-American case worker with a racial slur.
Instead of helping in Suffolk, Girardi allegedly “exacerbated the racial divide among staff,” according to a May 2016 complaint filed by a court worker.
Court administrators have since transferred Girardi to the Bristol probate office, where she is an office manager. Girardi has not responded to Globe requests for comment.
Medonis’s withdrawal Wednesday was first reported by State House News Service.
Probate and Family Court Chief Justice Angela M. Ordoñez told court staff in an e-mail obtained by the Globe she was “very sad as I know that Linda would have been an excellent judge.”
“The controversy created by someone with an agenda took on a life of its own. This has a terrible impact on our court as well as future nominees,” Ordoñez wrote in the e-mail, which criticized the Globe story about Medonis as incomplete. “I know that today’s article reflected poorly on the court system and on me and for that I am sorry.”
Medonis’s withdrawal was greeted by cheers from supporters of Arroyo, who had come to the State House to oppose Medonis’s nomination. Arroyo was suspended from his post Feb. 3 for what administrators have described as a “procedural meltdown” that “created chaos.” Arroyo and his supporters have maintained he was a victim of racism and sabotage by Girardi and other longtime court employees.
In a press conference outside the governor’s office, Arroyo called for Medonis to resign as deputy court administrator of the Probate and Family Court.
“She actively protected racists who work at the Trial Court at the expense of those like myself who are the object of their hatred,” said Arroyo, who read from a prepared statement and would not take questions. “For the very same reasons that she is not fit to be a judge and to sit on the bench here in Massachusetts, she is also not fit to continue to serve as a deputy court administrator for the Trial Court.”
Criticism of Medonis was echoed by others at the press conference, including state Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, who called for Arroyo’s reinstatement and blamed court administrators for transferring Girardi from office to office.
“There are registrars across the Commonwealth — Register Arroyo and also [Register Stephanie K. Fattman] in Worcester — that experienced the wrath of this individual,” Dorcena Forry said.
The Trial Court’s top administrator, Harry Spence, defended Medonis and said her withdrawal as a judicial nominee was unfortunate.
“We continue to support Linda in her role as deputy court administrator,” Spence said. “As deputy court administrator, Linda has built excellent relations with the various groups needed to run the operations of a Trial Court Department.”
Spence turned blame on Arroyo.
“It was the obligation of the elected register to manage the registry,” Spence said. “If racist or inappropriate comments were made while the register was responsible for management of the office, it was his obligation to address those issues. He did not do so.”
Arroyo’s spokesman, Patrick Keaney, disputed Spence’s assertion.
Arroyo was “repulsed by and deeply concerned” by the racial slurs and sabotage,and had asked for an independent investigation, his spokesman wrote in an e-mail.
Trial court administrators told Arroyo, according to his spokesman, he could not discipline staff until the court completed an internal investigation.
Court administrators waited two months after the probe was complete to share results with Arroyo, according to his spokesman. By then, Girardi had already been transferred to Bristol, where Arroyo did not have the authority to discipline her.
Keaney said the assertion Arroyo was “in any way responsible for the overt racism, discrimination, and intentional sabotage . . . is indicative of the institutional racism that exists in the registry.”
Despite the insistence of Arroyo’s spokesman, Spence said in a statement Arroyo had never requested an investigation.
And Spence said “Arroyo excused Leslie Girardi’s behavior, and said that she didn’t mean any harm” when he was interviewed by investigators.
Arroyo’s spokesman denied that Arroyo accepted her behavior.
A court investigator concluded in a letter to court administrators that Girardi was “inappropriate to serve as a manager in the registry.” The investigator described a “credible but reluctant” witness who heard Girardi use a racial slur to describe an African-American case manager.
Court administrators said they disciplined Girardi for her behavior, demoting her from temporary assistant register back to office manager, and transferring her to Bristol Probate.