PITTSFIELD — Jeff Morneau and Mary Hurley may see eye-to-eye on several issues, but their varied experiences separates the two candidates for the 8th District Governor's Council seat.
The two Springfield-area candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination in the Sept. 8 state primary. The winner essentially becomes the newest councilor as the political race lacks a Republican or third-party candidate in the Nov. 8 general election.
Morneau or Hurley will succeed Michael Albano, who is stepping down after two terms dating back to 2012 to run for the Hampden County Sheriff's position.
The Governor's Council is an eight-person panel with the 8th District representing Berkshire, Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties and one town in Worcester County. The council meets weekly to advise and act on warrants for the state treasury, pardons and commutations.
The more high-profile duties included voting on gubernatorial appointments such as judges, clerk-magistrates, public administrators, members of the Parole Board, Appellate Tax Board, Industrial Accident Board and Industrial Accident Reviewing Board, notaries, and justices of the peace, according to the state's website.
In individual interviews with The Eagle, both council hopefuls focused on the need to fill vacant district court judgeship positions in Western Massachusetts, several open for years, including the 10-year vacancy in the Southern Berkshire District Court.
"I don't think it's a lack of talent, rather a lack of talent applying," said Morneau, a Holyoke attorney. "We need to get them filled and filled quickly with the best people."
A district court justice in Chicopee for nearly 20 years, Hurley usually worked alone, much to her chagrin. "Don't tell me we have a shortage of judges — I've lived it," she said.
Both Democratic hopefuls believe a judicial candidate not only must know the law but understand the community they will serve, show compassion and rule each case on its merits.
However, what the two bring to the council table in terms of legal experience varies.
Morneau belongs to a law firm that deals in employment, labor group and consumer litigation. Hurley noted he's never tried a criminal case.
Hurley was a former Springfield city councilor and two-term mayor of the city before becoming a district court judge in 1995. She retired almost two years ago.
Morneau considers his opponent a career politician, something the council doesn't need. He vows to eradicate the council's image that he says has hindered the process of filling vacant seats on the district court benches.
"The council has become contentious, with a little bit of political grandstanding," he said. "I see this as a professional position."
Hurley says she's anything but political, citing her track record as mayor and saying she did what was in the best interest of the city, especially during its rough times of 1989 to 1993, her four years in office.
She too wants the council to be firm but fair in vetting judicial nominees from the governor.
"The Governor's Council should ask candidates pointed questions ... but shouldn't rise to the level of an inquisition," said the former justice.
Both candidates pointed to the council's demeanor in recent years, especially in the winter of 2012-13 when it failed — twice — to confirm Pittsfield attorney Michael McCarthy as the successor to Judge James McElroy to head the Southern Berkshire District Court.
Being retired, the 65 year-old Hurley expects to devote more time to being on the Governor's Council, even holding office hours.
As president of the Hampden County Bar Association, Morneau has worked closely with the leadership of the other three Western Massachusetts bar associations to improve the judicial nomination and approval process, something he will continue if elected to the council.
"I don't want to see the hard work I have put in and other bar leaders' hard work ... get set back 10 years," said the 45-year-old husband and father of two children.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.