BOSTON — An experienced civil attorney, but one without any criminal law background, Joseph Leighton was confirmed on Wednesday by a divided Governor's Council to a seat on the Massachusetts Superior Court bench.
Leighton, who was Gov. Charlie Baker's nominee to succeed Associate Justice Diane Kottmyer, has been a partner at the Boston law firm Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edleman & Dicker since 2002, and has practiced almost exclusively in front of the Superior Court handling a variety of insurance cases.
The Governor's Council voted 5-3 to confirm Leighton, with Councilors Marilyn Devaney, Eileen Duff and Robert Jubinville voting against. During his confirmation hearing, many councilors raised concerns over Leighton's lack of criminal law experience.
In a formal statement filed for the record by Devaney explaining her vote, the Watertown Democrat said "the bar should not be lowered" to confirm a Superior Court justice whose resume is confined to civil insurance cases.
"I have a responsibility to vote for the most qualified, experienced person with the correct demeanor and temperament to be awarded lifetime position as a Superior Court judge," Devaney wrote. "Unfortunately Attorney Leighton does not meet the standards for a Superior Judge."
The governor's office highlighted Leighton's legal experience defending product manufacturers, distributors and retailers, as well as property owners, contractors and professionals.
Other councilors who voiced their own issues during his confirmation hearing with Leighton's lack of criminal law experience, including Councilors Jennie Caissie and Terrence Kennedy, ultimately voted in favor.
Superior Court Judge Maynard Kirpalani told the council at Leighton's hearing that he also lacked criminal law experience before becoming a judge, but received training on the bench. Other supporters testified to his character and trial skill.
Devaney also expressed her concern about Leighton's lack of experience with substance abuse cases. Leighton has said that he does not believe incarceration is the correct approach to addiction.