7-31-2012 Roxbury, Mass. Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, Secretary of Public Safety Mary Beth Heffernan and Governor Deval Patrick speaking about the crime bill during a visit to the Youth Options University in Roxbury. Globe photo by Bill Brett
Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis, Secretary of Public Safety Mary Elizabeth Heffernan, and Governor Deval Patrick at a July news conference
Bill Brett/Globe Staff

Governor Deval Patrick announced today he was nominating outgoing Public Safety Secretary Mary Elizabeth Heffernan as a district court judge.

Patrick announced in mid-December that Heffernan and several other Cabinet members were stepping down. Officials said it was a natural moment to make changes as Patrick entered the final two years of his second term.

Heffernan, who has helmed the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security since 2010, had recently been in the news. She acknowledged serious flaws in the hiring of the state’s highway safety director despite the fact that Sheila Burgess’s driving record included crashes, speeding violations, and other infractions. Burgess resigned after the Globe broke the news about her record in November.

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At a State House press conference this afternoon, Patrick called the Burgess incident “an embarrassment, no doubt about it, ... I’ve said that, any number of different ways. But she did a great job in her role.”

He also noted her record as a prosecutor, her father’s work as a judge, and her own long-term ambition to become a judge.

“She has, I think, really just the right touch for the district court, which is a neighborhood court; it’s very people-oriented. It’s about problem-solving.”

Heffernan has been an attorney in Massachusetts for more than 20 years. She formerly served as undersecretary for criminal justice. Her career has also included stints as a legislative aide, a clerk to a state appeals court judge, a Middlesex County prosecutor, and as an attorney for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the governor’s office said.

A resident of West Roxbury, she is a graduate of Framingham State College and holds graduate degrees in public administration and law from Suffolk University.

Patrick also nominated attorney Michael J. McCarthy to a district court judgeship. A private practitioner since 1989, he had previously served as city solicitor in Pittsfield and as a prosecutor in Berkshire County and Portland, Maine. A resident of Pittsfield, he is a graduate of Assumption College and University of Maine Law School, the governor’s office said.