Baker says Supreme Court picks have 'the smarts, the skills'

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BOSTON >> Announcing his three Supreme Judicial Court nominees on Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Baker said the moment marked a unique opportunity for a first-term governor to begin establishing his legacy.

Baker named Superior Court judges Kimberly Budd, Frank Gaziano and David Lowy as his picks to fill three upcoming vacancies on the state's highest court as sitting justices get ready to retire. Two more Supreme Judicial Court judges will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 during Baker's first term, guaranteeing him a chance to appoint at least five of the court's seven judges.

"Presented with a unique opportunity to shape the commonwealth's highest court in his first term, Governor Baker has made an impressive opening statement with the nomination of three highly regarded Superior Court judges," Massachusetts Bar Association chief legal counsel and chief operating officer Martin Healy said in a statement. "While each brings his or her own strengths, all the nominees are trial-tested judges who have proven their mettle in court — both from the bench and in their previous legal practices."

Budd, Gaziano and Lowy were screened by a 12-member Supreme Judicial Court Nominating Commission the governor appointed in February. They were selected from a pool of 40 to 50 applicants, Baker said.

Within the span of about a week earlier this year, three SJC justices — Robert Cordy, Fernande Duffly and Francis Spina — announced their intentions to retire before the court begins a new session in the fall. Duffly is scheduled to finish on July 12 and both Spina and Cordy are set to step down Aug. 12.

During a press conference attended by the nominees and their families, the current SJC judges and members of the nominating commission, Baker wished the retiring judges well and said they had "served faithfully" on the bench.

Combined, Baker's three nominees have nearly a century of legal experience, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said. Each are graduates of Massachusetts law schools — Budd from Harvard, Gaziano from Suffolk and Lowy from Boston University.

Previously deputy legal counsel in the administration of Gov. William Weld and Lt. Gov. Paul Cellucci, Lowy was nominated to the Superior Court by Gov. Paul Cellucci in 2001. He also worked as an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County. He is a Marblehead resident.

Gaziano, a Scituate resident, was appointed to the bench in 2004 by Gov. Mitt Romney. He served 10 years as a deputy first assistant district attorney in Plymouth County and also served on an Organized Crime Strike Force while working as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's office in Boston.

A Gov. Deval Patrick appointee, Budd has served on the Superior Court bench since 2009 and is currently responsible for overseeing the management and administration of criminal business in Middlesex County. Her career includes stints at Harvard Business School and as an assistant U.S. attorney. She lives in Newton.

Baker said that all three judges had "the smarts, the skills and the fortitude" necessary to serve on the SJC.

"We appreciate, we really appreciate that this is a unique opportunity and will be one of the key opportunities for us to establish a legacy here in Massachusetts," he said.

Baker later said he wants his administration's legacy on the SJC to be "a court that continues to live up to the ideals of the original mission, which is a court that people believe makes its decisions based on the rule of law, gives everybody the hearing they deserve and treats everybody with the level of respect and decency that the law demands."

The governor's office, in press materials and on social media, referred to the announcement of three justices as "historic and unprecedented." But when it became clear earlier this year that Baker would have three vacancies to fill this year with at least two more by the end of his term, the court said that level of turnover is not without precedent.

In the span of seven months between 2010 and 2011, two new justices were appointed and one was elevated to chief justice. In a 16-month span from 1999 to 2001, four new justices were appointed to the court and one was promoted to chief justice, according to information provided by the court. Baker will appoint at least five justices to the SJC in a span of roughly 20 months.

Asked what he would look for in his next two judicial nominees, Baker said, "Super high-quality people."

The next two appointments will be "people who are going to bring the same kind of track record, experience, intellectual horsepower and commitment to the court that these three people represent and that the folks who currently serve on it represent," Baker said.

Before taking seats on the SJC bench, Lowy, Gaziano and Budd must have their nominations confirmed by the Governor's Council. The council meets Wednesday and could set a hearing schedule then.

Governor's Councilor Michael Albano said he is looking forward to holding confirmation hearings for each of the nominees so he can get a better sense of their judicial philosophies.

"The governor indicated that he would be looking for regional diversity and there is no one there from western Mass., so I'm a little disappointed in that regard," said Albano, who is from Longmeadow. "But he will have two more nominations coming and I'm confident western Mass. will be represented then."

Colin A. Young contributed reporting.


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