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US judge in DUI case won't return to bench

Resignation delayed by his second thoughts

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Jonathan Saltzman
Globe Staff / May 31, 2008

US Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Somma, who resigned after his arrest on a drunken driving charge in February and then tried to rescind it, will not be coming back to work, federal court officials said yesterday.

The US Courts for the First Circuit released a one-paragraph statement saying that the Court of Appeals and Somma "have agreed that he will not resume service on the United States Bankruptcy Court for Massachusetts but is leaving to pursue other endeavors. The court appreciates the service that Judge Somma has rendered."

Somma, whose arrest in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 6 made headlines because he was wearing a dress, was originally supposed to leave by April 1. But the resignation was delayed until May 15 after he expressed second thoughts in a letter to Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly posted online April 1 and after more than 200 bankruptcy lawyers signed a letter urging the court to let him return.

Over the past two weeks, the circuit executive's office and Somma's lawyer have been silent about whether he was still employed as a judge.

Asked about the terms of the agreement disclosed by her office yesterday afternoon, Susan Goldberg, deputy circuit executive, said there was no confidentiality provision but that it was the court's practice to "not discuss what are essentially personnel matters."

She did say, however, that the court had not promised to make a payment to Somma or arrange another federal position. Although some legal observers had speculated that Somma might file a lawsuit if not allowed to return to work, Goldberg added, "I am not expecting a lawsuit."

She said Somma's office has been cleared out. He has been on paid leave from his $158,000-a-year job since around Feb. 15, when he called Gary H. Wente, circuit executive for Courts for the First Circuit, from the Caribbean and told him he planned to resign.

Somma's lawyer, Robert B. Carpenter, said he could not comment on the agreement but "we may have our own statement to come out next week." He declined to elaborate.

The statement saddened Paul D. Moore, a Boston bankruptcy lawyer who helped circulate a letter signed by more than 200 lawyers in support of Somma in the weeks immediately after the judge's arrest. Several lawyers interviewed by the Globe in recent weeks publicly praised Somma as a jurist, calling him fair and thoughtful.

"I'm disappointed, but if that's something that he thought was in his best interests, I wish him well, as does everyone else," Moore said.

On Feb. 13, Somma pleaded no contest in Manchester to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of driving while intoxicated and agreed to pay $600 in fines and penalties in connection with a car accident there a week earlier. He had rear-ended a pickup truck at a traffic light, prompting officers to question him and charge him with drunken driving.

His plea caused a media uproar, not because of the criminal charge, but because, as his lawyer later confirmed, he was wearing a woman's dress and appeared to have makeup on.

But in his letter to Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, Somma wrote that an outpouring of support from judges, lawyers, and others had led him to conclude, "contrary to my initial belief, that the media frenzy occasioned by this episode would not be an impediment to my continued service as a judge."

The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit appointed Somma to a 14-year renewable term in 2004. The appeals court will soon appoint a committee to begin selecting a new judge, Goldberg said.

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com.

A deputy circuit executive said the office of Judge Robert Somma (left) has been cleared out. He has been on paid leave.

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