BOSTON >> 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 last week to announce plans to leave the bench.
Duffly, 66, is four years shy of the state's mandatory retirement age for judges. She said in a statement Wednesday that she was moving up her retirement date to devote more time to help her husband recover from recent surgery.
The announcement leaves Republican Gov. Charlie Baker with three vacancies to fill on the seven-member court in the upcoming months.
Justices Francis Spina and Robert Cordy both separately announced plans last week to retire and leave the bench this summer.
Two other justices, Geraldine Hines and Margot Botsford, will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2017, meaning that Baker will have the opportunity to nominate five members of the court during his first term as governor.
"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 appointed 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.
Baker will have a "deep pool" of judicial and legal talent to select from to fill the vacancies, Healy said, adding that the governor may seek candidates who are not as close to the end of their careers and could serve longer tenures on the high court.
Baker, a moderate Republican, said last week that he had no "litmus test" for judicial appointments and would seek jurists who brought "appropriate temperament" and "intellectual rigor" to the bench.
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.
SJC Chief Justice Ralph Gants praised Duffly as a dedicated and thoughtful justice.
"Informed by her own unique life experience, she has brought to her judicial work a keen insight into the challenges faced by immigrants, women, and persons of color," Gants said.
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.