After Daniel Tavares Jr. was arrested in the slayings of a newlywed couple in Washington state, the judge who freed the convicted killer on personal recognizance in two prison guard assaults was excoriated in the press and became a hot topic on the presidential campaign trail.
Judge Kathe Tuttman refused to discuss the case, prompting the state's two highest judges to issue an unusual public defense of Tuttman.
Now the state's highest court has named an advisory committee to consider possible revisions to the judicial conduct code that restricts public comment by judges.
Superior Court Judge E. Susan Garsh, who chairs the new committee, said the group was established by the Supreme Judicial Court because of what appears to be a "genuine confusion" among judges about what they are permitted to do under the current judicial rules.
That confusion surfaced after Tuttman was sharply criticized and other judges expressed varying opinions on what they are allowed to do in such cases.
"One of the things this committee is going to do is to try to make sure the rule gives clear guidance," Garsh said yesterday.
The rule, which was last revised in 2003, prohibits judges from making public comments about pending or impending proceedings.
It does not prohibit them from making public statements in the course of their official duties or from explaining procedures of the court "for public information."
Tuttman issued no public comments after her decision to free Tavares became a national news story in November, when Tavares was charged in the shootings of Beverly and Brian Mauck in Graham, Wash.
In June, Tavares completed a 16-year sentence for manslaughter for killing his mother, but prosecutors tried to keep him in prison while he awaited trial in an alleged assault on two prison guards.
In July, Tuttman freed Tavares on personal recognizance, and he fled to Washington.
The case became an issue in the Republican presidential campaign. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who appointed Tuttman to the bench, called for her resignation after Tavares was arrested in the Maucks' killings.
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani cited Tuttman's appointment as an example of Romney's poor record on crime.
After a public outcry over Tuttman's ruling, the state's two top judges issued a statement defending Tuttman, saying her ruling was based on the state's bail law, which requires judges to only consider whether a suspect is a flight risk.
Garsh said the committee - which is made up of eight judges, two lawyers and a Harvard law professor - has been asked to submit a report on any recommended revisions to the SJC within three months.