Governor's Council concerned over judicial nominees from prosecutorial fields


BOSTON >> After half of its members voiced concerns about the number of prosecutors nominated for judgeships, the Governor's Council on Wednesday unanimously confirmed the nomination of prosecutor Patrick Sabbs to the Springfield District Court.

Sabbs runs the Western Massachusetts Regional Office of the attorney general's office and previously served for 18 years as a prosecutor in Hampden County, which includes Springfield.

Four members of the eight-person elected Governor's Council expressed concern that the Baker administration would disproportionately nominate prosecutors to judgeships over defense attorneys.

Councilors Robert Jubinville, Marilyn Pettito Devaney, Terrence Kennedy and Christopher Iannella all expressed concern about an overabundance of prosecutorial experience among those receiving nominations or on their way to the bench.

"I hear from people in the court system are concerned with the number of prosecutors that have been involved in the system so far and are being vetted - rumors are they're being vetted," Jubinville said. "I don't want to be called an arm of the prosecutor's office."

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who chairs meetings of the council, said the administration has cast a wide net for potential judges.

"There is a level of recruitment that's needed through you, through our office and others across our state so there's geographic diversity, diversity on every level, and we encourage people to apply," said Polito.

Kennedy estimated he received 20 calls from people who "weren't given interviews in the last two weeks that are really highly qualified criminal defense lawyers."

Members of the council - where Kennedy, Iannella and Jubinville are among the private practice attorneys who serve as members - have raised concerns about the number of prosecutors nominated for judgeships in prior administrations.

"Once a prosecutor, always a prosecutor," said Iannella.

Councilor Jennie Caissie, the lone Republican member of the council and a private practice attorney who has also served as a special prosecutor, defended career prosecutors, saying their time representing the government prepares them to oversee criminal cases.

"They become the judges that really get it. They know when a victim is really laying it on real thick. They know when the Commonwealth doesn't have a strong case because they've been there; they've lived it," said Caissie, who said 80 percent of district court cases are criminal. She said, "It's a great training ground."

Before becoming a prosecutor, Sabbs worked for 12 years as a director and producer for WWLP-22 News in Chicopee.


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