Suffolk probate registry increased diversity under Arroyo

Andrew Ryan
FEBRUARY 23, 2017

Racial and ethnic diversity has nearly doubled at the Suffolk County probate office in the two years since Felix D. Arroyo became register, according to demographic information released by the state court system.

The increase in black and Latino workers seems to bolster Arroyo’s claim that he pushed for a more multicultural staff before he was suspended earlier this month pending an investigation into the operation of the long-troubled probate office. Arroyo has alleged that his drive to diversify the workforce was met with resistance and sabotage from entrenched staffers.

The data show 15 of 33 probate register employees — 45 percent — were people of color as of Feb. 13. That represented a significant increase in diversity since Arroyo took office. At the end of June 2014, nine of the 34 employees — 26 percent — were black or Latino, according to the data.

“Felix inherited an office with a history of cronyism,” Arroyo’s attorney, Walter B. Prince, said in a statement. “He ended this practice by filling vacancies with a qualified, diverse staff that added second-language capabilities. His efforts were met with resistance and intentional sabotage by those who benefited from the practices of the past.”

The court provided data stretching back to July 2007, when only nine of the registry’s 49 employees — 18 percent — were black or Latino. While the size of the staff shrank, the number of employees of color remained relatively constant until Arroyo took office.

The Globe also requested information about the number of multilingual employees, but court officials said they do not track those skills.

In a statement, the head of the trial court said great strides had been made toward diversifying the workforce, including steady growth in diversity at the Suffolk registry since 2010. Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence said management has supported Arroyo’s efforts to diversify the registry.

On Feb. 3, Arroyo was placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of “an inquiry into the operation of the Suffolk Registry of Probate during his tenure,” said Jennifer Donahue, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Trial Courts. The investigation will be led by Anthony Nesi, a retired probate and family court judge.

The Globe reported earlier this month that the Trial Court launched the probe several months after an internal shake-up ousted Arroyo’s first assistant. In October, a manager from the Essex court system was brought in to oversee management of the office.

The Probate Court handles adoptions, divorces, paternity cases, wills, and other legal family matters. As register, Arroyo’s annual salary was recently increased by the Legislature to nearly $140,000.

In 2014, Arroyo ran for the office and unseated Patricia Campatelli, whose brief tenure brought unflattering attention to the register’s office. Campatelli was accused of punching a subordinate after a party, prompting her suspension and an investigation in which employees said she often worked only 15 hours a week.

Arroyo had just started the third year of his six-year term as register of probate when he was placed on leave. He has used his suspension as fodder to raise money to pay for his lawyer. Arroyo’s campaign has vowed in fund-raising e-mails that every dollar donated “will be used to mount the community and legal campaign we need to right this wrong.”

Arroyo had made repeated calls for court officials to open the inquiry to the public. His lawyer repeated that demand last week, calling for a transparent investigation.

Court officials have resisted those demands, saying they will not release records even if Arroyo waives his right to keep personnel matters confidential.

“We are looking to have a fair and impartial assessment by a former judge into the operations of the Suffolk Registry of Probate,” Donahue, the Trial Courts spokeswoman, said. “It will be conducted in a balanced way and not influenced by outside pressures. If Mr. Arroyo wishes to provide documents, he is certainly free to do so.”