SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 24, 2014

Former court clerk seeks payout

Made to resign after continuation of case, Desmond wants $500K

BY JULIE MANGANIS
STAFF WRITER

---- — IPSWICH — The former assistant clerk magistrate of Ipswich District Court, who admitted lying to police who were investigating assaults on two cab drivers and a disabled man, is now demanding the state pay her more than $500,000.

Alison Story Desmond, 56, of Newburyport, has already been approved for a $40,429 annual pension despite her admission to sufficient facts last September in the witness intimidation case, which was continued without a finding for a year. One condition of that continuation was that she resign.

But in a lawsuit filed last week in Newburyport Superior Court, she is demanding that the state Trial Court pay her the $84,870 per year salary she did not receive for the nearly two years she was on an unpaid suspension while the charge was pending. She also wants all of her unused sick, personal and vacation time. And she is asking a judge to triple the amount because she did not receive the money immediately after her resignation, which, she contends, violates the state’s wage law.

That would come to $509,082.

The Trial Court has informed Desmond in an email that she is entitled only to her unused vacation time.

While she was on suspension, Desmond received unemployment compensation — over the objection of the Trial Court, according to court records.

Desmond and a second Trial Court employee, David Vitale, were charged by Newburyport police following incidents in September 2011.

Desmond, a member of the Elks Club, had been there at a gambling night with Vitale; Vitale’s nephew, Ryan Nimblett; and a third man, Robert Barron. Later, they went back to her condo. From there, the men left together in a cab but got involved in a confrontation with the driver and then with a second cab driver who stopped to help.

Desmond and Vitale, a court officer from Methuen, had worked together at the Newburyport District Court. Vitale, however, told police that night that he’d never been to Newburyport before and that he didn’t know the other two men.

According to police, the younger men, Nimblett and Barron, then attacked a disabled man who was on a late-night walk, demanding a cellphone he did not have and then throwing him through the windshield of a parked car. They fled; only Barron was later caught.

After police identified Desmond through the Elks Club sign-in sheet, she claimed not to know the men, then later claimed that she had only just met them. She gave the names of the younger men as “Mel” and “Bob.”

Later, during another interview with police in the presence of her boss, Ipswich District Court Clerk Magistrate Kathryn Morris Early, she denied making the false statements to the officer, leading Early to vouch for her, until she was shown additional evidence by police.

After charges were filed in December 2011, Early suspended Desmond without pay, following the Trial Court’s policy concerning employees charged with a crime.

While her acts were not directly related to her work, there was some question at the time of her admission in September about whether she would lose her pension because, as a sworn magistrate — one of the most powerful positions in any court — she is required to uphold the law at all times.

Clerk magistrates and assistant clerk magistrates have nearly all of the powers of a judge, except for sentencing, and are responsible for determining probable cause for criminal complaints, issuing arrest and search warrants and setting bail, among other duties.

John “Jackie” Bulger, a former clerk magistrate in Boston, lost his pension after a conviction for obstruction of justice and perjury in connection with the search for his then-fugitive brother James “Whitey” Bulger. The Supreme Judicial Court in that case held that Jackie Bulger’s crimes “struck at the heart of the clerk-magistrate role.”

Jon Carlisle, a spokesman for the Office of the State Treasurer, confirmed that Desmond is receiving her pension because the case was continued without a finding, which his agency does not consider a conviction and, therefore, not a basis for denying retirement benefits.

During the hearing last Sept. 11 in Peabody District Court, a judge asked Desmond if the allegations were true.

“I will admit that they’re essentially true,” Desmond responded.

In her lawsuit, Desmond, who remains on probation until September, contends that because her case was continued without a finding, she should have been reinstated to her position before her resignation and awarded back pay, along with credit for unused vacation, sick and personal time.

Desmond, who is representing herself in the lawsuit, did not respond to an email message from The Salem News seeking comment.

Vitale, the court officer who was also facing charges stemming from the confrontation with the cab drivers, pleaded guilty in his case and was put on probation. He died on Dec. 31.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.