3rd Massachusetts justice in 1 week announces retirement
BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court justice Fernande Duffly said Wednesday she would retire in July, making her the third member of the state’s highest court in the past week to announce plans to leave the bench and providing Gov. Charlie Baker a rare chance to shape the court’s long-term future.
Duffly, 66, is four years shy of the state’s mandatory retirement age for judges. She said in a statement that she was moving up her retirement date to devote more time to help her husband recover from recent surgery.
The announcement leaves Baker with three vacancies to fill on the seven-member court in the upcoming months.
Justices Francis Spina and Robert Cordy both announced plans last week to retire this summer.
Two other justices, Geraldine Hines and Margot Botsford, will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 next year, meaning that Baker will have the opportunity to nominate five members of the court during his first term as governor.
Founded in 1692, the SJC is considered the oldest continuously sitting appellate court in the Western Hemisphere.
Baker named a 12-member commission on Wednesday to recruit and screen applicants for the upcoming vacancies. The panel, he said, would include the court’s former chief justice, Roderick Ireland, the governor’s chief legal counsel Lon Povich and other prominent attorneys.
“This is really a unique and I’d say unprecedented opportunity for Gov. Baker to put his indelible mark on our third branch,” said Martin Healy, chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association. “Even if he decides to serve only one term, he’ll have people making decisions which can set policy for the state for decades to come.”
Duffly was named to the SJC by then-Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick in 2011 after serving on the state appeals court since 2000 and earlier as a probate and family court judge.
Born in Indonesia, Duffly is the first Asian-American to serve on the state’s highest court.
“My years on the bench confirm for me that broad and diverse perspectives make an enormous contribution to the decision making process,” Duffly said.
In a brief interview Wednesday, Baker acknowledged the magnitude of the opportunity to shape the court and said he expected no shortage of qualified candidates to come forward.
“There are a lot of people who will be tempted by this,” said Baker, a moderate Republican who previously declared he had no “litmus test” for nominees and would seek jurists with the proper temperament, intellect and legal skills for the job.
Baker’s nominations must be confirmed by the Governor’s Council, an eight-member elected body. Councilors in the past have expressed a preference for justices with experience in the state’s trial courts.
“Every court, juvenile, probate, land court, everything goes up to that one court,” said councilor Robert Jubinville. “So unless you know about what is going on down below, you’re going to make decisions without knowing what is happening down there.”
The council will be thorough in reviewing nominees, Jubinville predicted, noting the lengthy tenures they could serve depending on their ages.
There have been previous examples of rapid turnover on the court.
Beginning in Oct. 1999, four new justices joined the court in a 16-month period. In 1981, three new justices joined the court in 10 months, said, Jennifer Donahue, a spokeswoman for the SJC.
Chief Justice Ralph Gants praised Duffly as a dedicated and thoughtful justice who brought “a keen insight into the challenges faced by immigrants, women, and persons of color.”
Duffly was a past president of the National Association of Women Judges, and currently serves on the Harvard University Board of Overseers.
Associated Press writer Denise Lavoie contributed to this report.