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I-Team: Court Officials Calling For Review Of Essex County Clerk Of Courts

By Karen Anderson, WBZ-TV

SALEM (CBS) — Court officials are calling for a review the work habits of the Essex County Clerk of Courts following an I-Team investigation.

This week the I-Team exposed the work hours of Essex County Court Clerk Tom Driscoll

Our investigation found he showed up for work only one third of the time court was in session.

Today Joan Kenney, the spokesperson for the Supreme Judicial Court, released this statement: “The media report concerning the Essex Superior Court Clerk’s work hours contains serious allegations, which warrant a review by the Trial Court. Appropriate action will be taken, if necessary.”

State law states: “A Clerk Magistrate shall devote the entire time during normal court hours to the duties of his or her office, but may, according to established procedures, participate during that time in law-related educational and public service activities. An elected Clerk Magistrate may participate during ordinary court hours in activities reasonably related to his or her duties as an elected Clerk Magistrate.”

The I-Team’s cameras caught Driscoll starting a typical work day relaxing at Dunkin’ Donuts in Swampscott with friends while the courthouse he runs in Salem is open for business.

We also captured the clerk on video coaching youth lacrosse and at home taking in his trash barrels — all during regular court hours.

One court employee, who asked to remain anonymous, told the I-Team: “Every time he collects a paycheck, he should be arrested for grand larceny.”

“This is somebody that if he puts in two four-hour work days in a week, he’s killed himself that week as far as he’s concerned,” the court employee said.

We watched Driscoll on 15 work days in May and June. On six days he wasn’t at work at all. On six more he put in half days.

Out of the 120 hours court was open, he was there only 40.5 hours — just one-third of the time.

Pam Wilmot, who heads Common Cause of Massachusetts calls the behavior unacceptable.

“We need to have full time work for full time pay.”

In an interview with the I-Team, Driscoll defended his work habits.

“I’m here,” he said. “I’m one of the most accessible clerks around.”

Driscoll claimed we watched him during the one time of year — the spring — when he takes time off to coach lacrosse and raise money for research into the eye disease afflicting his two sons.

“They’re losing their eyesight, and they’re very proficient lacrosse players,” he said. “My wife and I have promised we won’t back away from that and we quite frankly don’t miss one of their games.”

We asked him about his long breaks at Dunkin’ Donuts.

“I meet with a group of gentlemen very often in the morning,” Driscoll said. “They’re a very strong support group of mine.”

The clerk of courts in Essex County is not alone in his suspect work habits.

The I-Team has exposed other public officials with similar jobs who also rarely make it into the office.

“The office is not just what you see here, it is my entire district,” said Northern Worcester County Register of Deeds Kathleen Reynolds Daigneault, attempting to explain why the I-Team found her at her office, on average, only three hours a day.

Our cameras also caught the clerk of criminal courts in Suffolk County, Maura Hennigan, out walking her dog and heading to a local TV studio on court time, as well as Suffolk County’s top civil clerk, Michael Donovan, teaching a college class while court was in session.

Wilmot, of Common Cause, said there’s a clear pattern in what we found.

She said each of these officials are elected and therefore accountable only to the voters. The problem is, most voters have no idea who they are or what they do, Wilmot said.

“The Legislature should absolutely change the law,” she said.

Wilmot wants lawmakers to make clerks, registers of deeds and other similar positions appointed, not elected.

The goal is to make them more accountable for their job performance and, hopefully, force them to show up for work.

Driscoll was first elected clerk in Essex County in 2000 and was reelected to a third, six-year term, last year.

For more information on the statutes regarding clerks:


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