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Hearing will be rescheduled on bid for acquittal or new trial for ex-probation chief, 2 others

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BOSTON — A federal judge on Wednesday postponed a hearing on requests from former Massachusetts probation commissioner John O'Brien and two deputies to throw out their convictions in a job-rigging case or grant them a new trial.

The hearing, which had been scheduled for Wednesday, was canceled because the judge was unable to attend. The court said the proceeding would be rescheduled for a later date.

O'Brien was convicted in July of racketeering and mail fraud in a case that focused attention on the patronage culture in state government. Elizabeth Tavares also was convicted of racketeering and mail fraud, and a third defendant, William Burke, was found guilty of racketeering conspiracy.

Prosecutors say O'Brien orchestrated a scheme to ensure that highly-coveted jobs in the probation department went to candidates sponsored by powerful state legislators, often at the expense of more qualified candidates.

Defense attorneys want U.S. District Court Judge William Young, who presided over the jury trial, to issue a judgment of acquittal or set aside the convictions and order a new trial.

In court filings, the defense has contended that the jury received faulty instructions from the judge prior to deliberations and that evidence presented during the trial was insufficient to warrant the guilty verdicts.

In response, the U.S. Attorney's Office urged Young not to alter the convictions. Prosecutors said the defendants were making "the same old and tired arguments" offered up during the trial.

Barring a ruling in their favor, O'Brien, Tavares and Burke face sentencing Nov. 12.

No legislators were ever charged in the case.

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