Judge nominee Michael McCarthy rejected for District Court post


PITTSFIELD -- For the second time in less than six months, the Massachusetts Governor's Council has failed to approve the nomination of Pittsfield attorney Michael J. McCarthy to a judicial post in Southern Berkshire District Court.

Despite the arguments of this region's representative and support from colleagues, the council during an afternoon meeting in Boston voted 5-3 against McCarthy's appointment to fill the vacant judgeship.

Reaction among Berkshires officials was swift and harsh.

"I could not be more disappointed," said state Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield. "This was essentially a couple of Boston politicians figuring they know better about the judicial system in Berkshire County, and that they know more about the integrity and professionalism of Michael McCarthy. I don't think this reflects well on the Governor's Council."

Downing added that, in the meantime, the Southern Berkshire judgeship remains vacant, putting an extended strain on the justice system in this area. "I don't know what it will take to fill this position. I don't know what the Governor's Council is looking for."

The District Court position would fill a vacancy created with the retirement of Judge James B. McElroy. Judge Fredric D. Rutberg of the Central Berkshire District Court is serving as acting judge for Southern Berkshire District Court until the vacancy is filled.

McCarthy, who was nominated to the position by Gov. Deval Patrick, also failed to win approval in September when the council vote was 3-3. Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray was out of the country on a trade mission to Europe at the time and thus unable to cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of the governor's nominee.

"It is terribly disappointing for me, and for the county," McCarthy said. "But I am heartened by the great outpouring of support."

Currently an attorney with George, DeGregorio, Massimiano & McCarthy in Pittsfield, McCarthy also has served as city solicitor in Pittsfield for two years and has served as an assistant district attorney in Berkshire County.

He said colleagues and others from the area, as well as some council members, "spoke eloquently on my behalf" during a council hearing on his nomination.

State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, assailed what she termed "the antiquated process of a broken system," referring to Governor's Council reviews of judicial appointments.

"Mike McCarthy is a very good man and an outstanding jurist," she said, "and he had gone through a comprehensive vetting and interview process before being nominated by the governor. This was a disservice to Berkshire County and a disservice to Mr. McCarthy."

Farley-Bouvier said she found the possible political machinations "very confusing," but said they seem to indicate "a bias toward Berkshire County."

The nomination process for justices includes a review by the statewide Judicial Nominating Commission, a nonpartisan, 21-member committee of volunteer appointees. They are charged with providing from three to six names of applicants for the governor to review in making his nomination for each judicial vacancy.

State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, who represents the area where the court is located, said McCarthy is a friend and a well-respected lawyer who became ensnared in a still-murky political situation.

"I am very disappointed," Pignatelli said. "They are always looking for quality people to sit on the bench, and in the 25 years I have known Mike McCarthy, there have been none better."

Pignatelli added, "In my opinion, in the last couple of years, the council has become very political."

The eight-member council, which reviews and confirms gubernatorial nominations for the court among other duties, gained four new members following the November election. Murray is an ex officio member.

One of the new members is Michael Albano, a former Springfield mayor who represents Western Massachusetts District 8 on the council. Albano strongly supported McCarthy in comments prior to and during the meeting. He said he heard nothing but praise for the attorney during a recent visit to the Berkshires.

Albano tried Wednesday to have the council postpone its vote so that more input could be received from Berkshire County residents who have worked with McCarthy or otherwise know him.

But according to officials present at the meeting, Murray reluctantly opposed postponing the vote, saying it could set a bad precedent for future council meetings. Murray could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Among those who voiced support or wrote some 30 letters of support to the council were state Supreme Judicial Court Justice Francis X. Spina, Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ford, all seven members of the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers practicing in the county; city Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, Probate and Family Court Judge Richard A. Simons, District Court Judge Paul M. Vrebel, and a number of other local attorneys, court personnel, business and community leaders from the Berkshires and Western Massachusetts.

"Michael McCarthy was a qualified candidate with a tremendous amount of support throughout Western Massachusetts, and we are disappointed by today's vote," said Patrick spokeswoman Bonnie McGilpin, who released a statement on behalf of the governor.

It was not immediately known when another nomination might be forwarded to the council.

To reach Jim Therrien:
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