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Political Intelligence

Patrick’s nominees not getting an easy pass

Charles Cippolini, pictured standing during a Governor’s Council meeting in February, was one of four councilors who raised questions in January about the nomination of Heather Bradley. Charles Cippolini, pictured standing during a Governor’s Council meeting in February, was one of four councilors who raised questions in January about the nomination of Heather Bradley. (John Tlumacki/ Globe Staff)
By Glen Johnson
Globe Staff / July 17, 2011

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There seems to be a warning light flashing over Governor Deval Patrick’s judicial nominations.

The Democrat has had to scramble in recent months to win approval of judges and clerk-magistrates deemed more political than prudent.

This month, Patrick had to maneuver so Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray could cast a tiebreaking confirmation vote for the second time this year.

That hardly seems like consensus-building. Or the optimal use of a CEO’s time.

To date, public attention has focused on the Governor’s Council, the ancient body charged with approving judicial nominations. The Legislature is holding out the threat of a constitutional amendment to eliminate it.

Some councilors have done themselves no favor, posing open-ended or off-point questions, including whether one Supreme Judicial Court nominee supported the late Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

But that kind of query obscures what sound like legitimate questions from councilors about the quality of some of the governor’s recent nominees and the integrity of his vetting process.

A year ago, a nominee for a judgeship on the Middlesex Probate and Family Court withdrew after omitting, from a mandatory accounting of his political donations, contributions he had made to two politicians who had been arrested.

Two councilors, Democrats Marilyn Devaney and Mary-Ellen Manning, were the first to raise questions.

Less than a month later, a nominee to serve as a Department of Industrial Accidents judge withdrew after Manning asked about his state residency and found he lived in New Hampshire.

In January, Patrick nominated Heather Bradley, the wife of state Representative Garrett Bradley, a Democrat from Hingham, to serve as a judge on the Plymouth District Court.

This time, four councilors raised questions: Devaney, Manning, and two new members, Charles Cipollini and Jennie Caissie.

They noted the representative’s past contributions to Patrick, Murray, and even one last year to a member of the Governor’s Council, Kelly Timilty.

Heather Bradley was confirmed by a 5 to 4 vote - with Timilty refusing to recuse herself - after Patrick was asked to temporarily preside over the meeting so the lieutenant governor could break a council tie for the first time in over four years.

Earlier this month, Peter Coyne, a 10-year assistant clerk-magistrate in the Suffolk County Juvenile Court and brother of prominent Beacon Hill lobbyist William Coyne, won elevation to a Juvenile Court judgeship.

He, too, faced questions about his brother’s extensive political contributions, as well as his own $250 donation to Murray. The 5 to 3 vote nearly required another tiebreaker by the lieutenant governor.

The same day, the council split on the nomination of state Representative Christopher Speranzo, a Democrat from Pittsfield. Patrick picked the 38-year-old for a lifetime job as clerk-magistrate of the Pittsfield District Court.

Manning complained about Speranzo seeking reelection last fall without disclosing his judicial application. Caissie questioned whether someone so young had the necessary qualifications for such an enduring appointment.

Patrick again had to be called into the meeting so Murray could vote for their nominee. Speranzo was approved, 5 to 4.

Some council observers blame the close votes on the recent elections of Cipollini and Caissie. Both are Republicans, and they have shown a tendency to vote with Manning and Devaney, depicted as wayward Democrats.

Mark Reilly, the governor’s chief legal counsel, says all nominees during the Patrick administration have gone through the same vetting process, and their quality has been consistent.

“All it takes, when you’re talking eight votes, all it takes is two votes and you’ve gone from a nice, comfortable six votes [in favor] to a 4-4 tie,’’ Reilly said.

Manning accuses Patrick of politicizing the process.

In that, the councilor sees great danger.

“There’s no greater day the government will have in your life than the day you step into a courtroom seeking justice for yourself and your family,’’ said Manning, an attorney. “It is essential to a proper administration of government that the people feel confident the people on the bench are legit and the system’s on the level.’’

Glen Johnson is lead blogger for Political Intelligence, available online at www.boston.com /politics. He can be reached at johnson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.