DECEMBER 2000 PRINT EDITION
Possible To Tamper With
News has photographic evidence that hearing tapes could have been edited at
Middlesex Probate Court as Zed McLarnon and his attorney claim.
though copies of the tapes are made in Springfield, there is equipment in the
Cambridge courthouse that could also be used to edit the tapes. It sits in a
small room above the clerk's office, right next to where the master tapes are
stored in boxes.
MassNews proved that tapes can easily be edited on a day that the tape coordinator is out of the office, because MassNews found the door ajar to the tape office on November 8 when the coordinator was out sick the whole day.
We made two separate trips to the Middlesex Probate Court in Cambridge on November 7 and 8. One of our objectives was to learn if it is possible for McLarnon's seemingly wild claim to be true. Could his opponents with inside connections have edited key information from his hearing tapes?
charges it had to be somebody intimately familiar and connected to his case,
with friendly connections to court personnel, to have consistently edited tapes
of his court hearings to erase key sections that were detrimental to his
opponents or to judges.
Tapes Can Be Changed
November 7, MassNews learned from a court employee, who wishes to remain
anonymous, how tapes are handled in Middlesex Probate Court.
master cassettes are 90 minutes long, 45 minutes per side. They are "4-
track," because there are multiple microphones in the courtroom. They can
only be played on a 4-track player.
clerk in a courtroom controls the recording. He notes on a log sheet the index
number from the counter on the machine at the beginning and at the end of the
hearing. He also notes the corresponding docket number, case name, and other
few days, George Briggs, the tape coordinator, collects the tapes and log sheets
from the courtrooms and brings them to a small office above the court clerk's
office that says "Dining Room" on the door.
then puts the master tapes into boxes that can hold thirty tapes. The boxes all
sit stacked on two tables on both sides of the room.
office is accessible to court employees by going upstairs from the clerk's
office or down a corridor adjoining a public hallway on the second floor. Both
the corridor and stairs are marked with a sign saying, Authorized Employees
Only, but are otherwise not secure.
a person orders a copy of his hearing, Briggs finds the proper tape and puts it
into a 4-track player to verify that the index number corresponds correctly to
the requested hearing. Then he sends the master to Springfield for a copy of the
hearing to be made.
sends back the master along with a regular 2-track tape of the requested
hearing. Briggs then puts the master tape back in the storage box and mails the
copy of the hearing to the person who requested it.
equipment, as shown in the accompanying photo, includes a special player with
two playback decks feeding into a regular cassette recorder - everything that is
necessary to create an edited tape.
explain the presence of the equipment, the court employee said hearing tapes are
sometimes made unofficially for people who need one in a hurry. That explanation
only helps to confirm that "unofficial"
tapes can be produced on the premises. It also does not explain the presence of
the dual 4-track player which is only necessary for duplicating a master tape.
dual player makes it possible to mark or "cue" the first tape at the
desired point in the hearing you want to edit. You can then cue the second tape
at the desired point you want the hearing to continue. When section
"X" is played onto the separate cassette recorder followed by section
"Y," the result is a new tape with section "Z" edited out.
Section "Z" has been excised from the hearing.
is precisely one of the methods detailed in Atty. Hession's report that could
have produced the tampered results McLarnon encountered.
machine on the table is capable of producing edited copies of a hearing to be
sent to the requester.
addition, there appears to be no sign-in procedure and no controls regulating
who enters and leaves the office. On November 8, MassNews returned to the
Courthouse to photograph the door and any locks that may be present. MassNews
walked up to the door after being waved on by a clerk and found it unlocked and
partly ajar with the lights out. George Briggs, the tape coordinator who works
in the office, was out sick the whole day according to Meghan Gallagher in the
Register of Probate's Office.
proves that it is possible on a day that the coordinator is not in, for anybody
to access the office.
is still possible that others, such as the chief clerk, have access to the room.
Chief Clerk Arthur Havey goes to judges' offices to retrieve sensitive files
when nobody is there, MassNews observed on November 7. It is not likely that a
clerk who handles tapes in the courtroom and sensitive files in locked judge's
offices cannot enter the tape storage area should a friend or colleague want
access to a tape.
court stenographers has created an easy way to distort what was said in a
system which invites corruption appears to be a convenient way for judges, or
friends of the court who need a favor, to have a clerk easily excise sensitive
information, leaving the victim almost powerless to prove what was said. The
clerk need only "forget" to docket an order or motion, or remove a
document from the court file to coordinate with the edits. This is precisely
what happened to McLarnon, according to his attorney. If a judge says something
illegal, she can instruct the clerk to edit it out afterward.
only recourse for the victim is to gather witness affidavits which rely on
memory that could be faulty, especially if the victim is not immediately aware
that the tampering has occurred. Not everybody has witnesses present at a
recommends that all men order a copy of their tapes to be sure that nothing is
missing from them. He also recommends they be sure their docket is accurate and
complete and their file contains no surprises. He believes the law about the
recording of hearings should be changed.
Refused To Provide Copies
maintains it was obvious at the hearing that Judge McGovern had been drinking.
He says he was threatened with jail three times by the judge.
of the changes that were made in the tapes after a hearing before Judge McGovern
are related in the report compiled by Atty. Hession:
The first time McLarnon was threatened with jail, he says, was after the judge
asked opposing counsel, Nancy Borofski, if McLarnon was the one she had told her
about the other night. The judge bolted out of her chair in a rage, got into his
face and screamed, "You're going to jail, Mister!" McLarnon said the
judge's breath reeked of hard alcohol. He said he is willing to take a lie
detector test. He wonders what meeting occurred with the judge and opposing
counsel at night and what the other lawyer said about him to cause such a
reaction from the judge. Atty. Borofsky refused to answer any questions for
The second occurrence, he says, of the judge threatening McLarnon occurred over
the fact that his lawyer, Sonya Pence, did not show up for the hearing. The
truth was that his lawyer had abandoned his case and was later sued successfully
for malpractice. The portion of the tape that was redacted, according to Atty.
Hession's report, says the judge yelled several times, "You're going to
jail, Mister! You're going to jail!" The report says that someone later
redacted that statement and added another sentence in order to protect the
judge: "Okay if you did [tell your lawyer not to come], then, we're gonna
go forward with the hearing." The report states that the added sentence
came from another hearing or the judge recorded it specifically to drop in at
The third threat of jail from the judge, according to the report, was after
McLarnon told the judge that Register Lambert had suppressed a vital psychiatric
evaluation, that David Douglas' social worker friends filed fraudulent reports
against him and that Judge Highgas issued restraining orders against him when
there was no history of abuse. McGovern told him he was going to jail if he
couldn't prove those allegations right then.
n The tapes that still exist show that McLarnon argued to the judge that his accuser, David Douglas, was associated with the court. The judge replied that he had no connection with the court. McLarnon said, "Oh please." The judge replied, "Sir, I get to say that, not you." After that, the rest of the exchange is missing from the tape. The missing portion according to Atty. Hession's report is as follows:
you know you can go to jail for saying that?"
judge ordered on August 2, 2000, that the tapes be impounded but she denied
Atty. Hession's request for copies of the tapes. Regarding the request for
copies, the judge ruled, "Denied. The Court affirms the integrity of the
electronic recordings in this matter, absent human error."
says nobody ever investigated the matter and wonders how McGovern could affirm
the integrity of the tapes. He told MassNews, "What proof does she have?
McGovern never contacted any of the eyewitnesses in the courtroom or the
engineers who have confirmed to me that the tapes were edited."
tapes that were destroyed included three of the master tapes with the most
edits. On a document in the court file, the judge underlined a portion of the
law governing recordings of court proceedings in an effort to justify the
destruction. She highlighted that the law says after three years, the tapes can
be destroyed. However, she did not note that the law says that this should not
be done as long as any matter is pending or subject to appeal.
Atty. Hession is petitioning the Supreme Court for help in this matter.