Clerk magistrates in hack heaven at $155,084 a year for life

Do you ever hear a name mentioned in the news, and your first thought is, “I didn’t know he was still alive!”

Do you ever hear a name mentioned in the news, and your first thought is, “I didn’t know he was still alive!”

And then you hear that not only is this person still alive, he’s still on a payroll somewhere, and you say, “You gotta be bleepin’ me? How old is he?”

I had one of those moments the other day. The name that triggered me was Sal Paterna.

He was — and still is — the clerk magistrate of the Dedham District Court. He’s the one who heard the case of hack ex-state police Capt. James Coughlin, charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor.

That’s right, Sal Paterna, 82 years young.

There’s an old saying at the State House about lifelong payroll patriots like Sal Paterna:

Forgotten but not gone.

But here’s one thing you should never forget — 155,084. That’s what clerk magistrates get paid annually.

If you’re a state judge in Massachusetts, the mandatory retirement age is 70. Okay, a lot of these sleazy judges are not only collecting a fat pension, plus a second kiss in the mail if they were prosecutors, many of them are getting paid (or were before the Panic) as “recall” judges.

But if you’re a clerk magistrate, you never, ever have to retire. Just ask Sal Paterna, age 82.

Or ask his counterpart in Quincy, Arthur Tobin, DOB 5-22-30. In other words, he’s 91 years old and still getting paid.

Does the name Frank Sargent ring a bell? The year he became governor, I was still in high school. That would be 1969.

His assistant chief secretary — patronage guy — was one Joe Faretra. Sarge appointed his pal as clerk magistrate in East Boston in 1974.

Faretra will turn 80 next March. Like most clerks, you seldom hear his name mentioned, unless a sticky-fingered state judge gets caught lifting a $5,000 watch at a Logan security gate (no problem!) or the son of a governor is lugged for allegedly groping a woman on a flight (sounds like a broom job for the feds!).

When Faretra got the job, a guy named Henry Shultz had already been clerk magistrate at the Newton District Court for three years. He was working for the Governor’s Council when Sarge nominated him at the age of 31.

Shultz is still in Newton, serving with the likes of extinguished, I mean distinguished Judge Mary Beth Heffernan, and the indicted (but still getting paid) Shelley Joseph.

Shultz turns 81 next Friday.

Their patron, Frank Sargent, has been dead these 23 years. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the good a man does is oft interred with his bones, but their clerk magistrates live on.

Why should they retire, though? If you “work” in a Massachusetts courthouse, you’ve been more or less been retired since March of last year. Even before the Panic, most of these hackeramas had next to no caseloads.

Have you ever driven by a suburban courthouse in the afternoon — not just Fridays, I mean any afternoon — and noticed how few cars are in the parking lot?

It’s not because all the layabouts have Charlie cards.

This longevity in the ultimate no-heavy-lifting job is not a new phenomenon. The clerk magistrate in South Boston was a guy named Flaherty. He lasted 58 years on the payroll after being appointed by Gov. Maurice Tobin in 1945. Flaherty finally expired at age 94 in 2005, and was replaced by a woman whose maiden name was … Flaherty.

Worcester District Court Clerk Thomas Noonan didn’t step down until he turned 88.

In Framingham, an ex-state rep named Tony Colonna had the job for 37 years. At age 85, he was accused of assaulting, first, a female assistant, then a family member (with a knife). He died shortly thereafter, but never retired.

Then there is the clerk magistrate in Lowell, William Lisano. Who says the job doesn’t keep you young? At the tender age of 74, Lisano was arrested and charged with assaulting his wife in Burlington. Of course he beat the rap and, yes, he’s still on the job, at 80 years young.

The only clerk magistrate I can recall ever actually being separated from a state paycheck was Jailbird Jackie Bulger of the old Boston Juvenile Court. But that was more about being a Bulger than being a hack.

Clerkships have always been a good dumping ground for bust-out state legislators (and their relatives, like Bulger, whose Bureau of Prisons number is 23986-038).

Ex-Rep. Ed Teague is still hacking around Falmouth at age 71. Bill Nagle got his job in Ware as a consolation prize after losing a House leadership race. He’s a mere 70.

The clerks just tried to ram another pay raise through in the new state budget, but they were rebuffed in the state Senate. (Don’t they all miss Jackie’s big brother Billy?)

Maybe I’ve missed a few of the old-timers, but if you have any questions about which clerks are heading for the checkout counter, just ask Lt. Gov. Karyn “Pay to Play” Polito.

She’s a real hack, and you know it because most of her coat holders understand that it’s better to score a clerkship than a judgeship, any damn day of the week. I could list all of her hack pals she’s interred in those $155,084-a-year clerkships, and not just in her home turf in Worcester County either.

But why bother? They’re all forgotten, but not gone.

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