State House News Service
BOSTON >> Judge C. Jeffrey Kinder, who has overseen 192 trials in the Superior Court and handled fallout from tampering with drug evidence, appears steps away from confirmation to the Appeals Court.
Kinder, a Wilbraham resident and regional administrative justice for Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties, presided over the 2014 trials of the three men convicted in the 2011 slayings of three Pittsfield men.
In his appearance before the eight-member elected council this week, Kinder said he opposes the death penalty, supports gay marriage and he believes it is "critical" for trial judges to have trial experience.
"I think he's an outstanding candidate," said Councilor Joseph Ferreira, the former chief of police in Somerset, who cited Kinder's experience overseeing trials, as a federal prosecutor, criminal defense attorney and in civil litigation. Ferreira said it is important for the Appeals Court to have judges with a range of expertise.
In his statement to councilors, whose vote he would need to secure to gain confirmation, Kinder gave a concise summation of his legal career, which began as city attorney in Aurora, Colo. Kinder was a state and federal prosecutor in Colorado, and became an assistant U.S. Attorney in Springfield in 1989, where he rose to chief assistant in 1994.
According to a public resume, from 1999 until he became a Superior Court judge in 2006, Kinder was a partner at the Northampton firm Fierst, Pucci and Kinder, now Fierst, Kane & Bloomberg.
Councilor Robert Jubinville quizzed Kinder about decisions he made in relation to Sonja Farak, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to tampering with evidence at the Massachusetts State Crime Laboratory in Amherst.
Jubinville, a Milton defense attorney, asked how the public could ever trust drug labs operated by the government and asked why Kinder hadn't tossed out more convictions connected to Farak.
"I think they can have faith in our efforts to correct the wrongs that have occurred," said Kinder, who said he was assigned to cases connected to Farak. He said, "I think they should have faith in the fact that it's been uncovered."
Under Jubinville's questioning, Kinder said he did not think the "War on Drugs" has been successful, he understands heroin addiction to be a disease of the brain, and he acknowledged that he had sentenced to jail a probationer who had relapsed multiple times and not complied with his conditions of probation.
"You see that's my problem with the court system. It's designed to punish," said Jubinville, a former state police detective. Jubinville said, "Do you think you and I if we left here today could go to certain parts of Boston and buy heroin?"
"Probably," Kinder said. "We might have to change our clothes."
Jubinville and Councilor Terrence Kennedy disagreed that the men would need to change out of their suits.
Kennedy said he would vote for Kinder and Councilor Eileen Duff told the News Service that Kinder was "very thoughtful" in his answers.
Councilor Marilyn Devaney, who said she was the only current councilor there during Kinder's prior appearance — as she said Councilor Chris Iannella had been on vacation — accused Kinder of violating campaign finance law.
Devaney, a Watertown Democrat, questioned Kinder about two donations totaling $150 he acknowledged making in 2005 to Governor's Councilor Peter Vickery and Aaron Wilson, who had challenged Vickery, which Kinder said were made before he applied for a judgeship.
Devaney told Kinder she had asked for documentation of the checks during the 2006 confirmation process and asked why he hadn't provided them then.
"I don't recall you asking me that question, councilor," said Kinder, who said he could provide the documentation for Vickery but not Wilson.
"I remember it very well," Devaney said. "Because if I was going to vote on your qualifications I would have because you're qualified, but honesty is the most important quality I look for in a judge."
Kinder was backed by Supreme Judicial Court Justice Francis Spina and Appeals Court Chief Justice Scott Kafker, who attended the hearing but did not testify.
"He's always searching for the truth and the fair thing to do. He puts your feet to the fire," said Springfield attorney Michael Jennings, who said there was never question that Kinder was withholding evidence as a prosecutor.
Jeffrey Mourneau, the president of the Hampden County Bar Association, said he knows Kinder to be an able golfer and tennis player and he had heard Jennings is a talented skier.
Kinder said he has written 183 decisions on a motion to suppress evidence and in 49 of those he allowed all or some of the motion.