Springfield District Court nominee questioned on guns

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BOSTON >> Judicial views on firearms are likely to become an issue as Gov. Charlie Baker seeks to fill at least three seats on the state's highest court, a member of a judicial nominee review panel said Wednesday.

Jennie Caissie, the lone Republican on the eight-member elected Governor's Council that vets judicial nominees, found harmony with the gun views of Michele Ouimet-Rooke, the nominee for a Springfield District Court judgeship.

The daughter of a Springfield firefighter and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Ouimet-Rooke told councilors at her nomination hearing Wednesday that she respected guns growing up and is an "enormous supporter of the Second Amendment" — which gives Americans the right to bear arms.

"Law-abiding citizens who own guns legally, they're not shooting up the local Dairy Mart," Ouimet-Rooke, 52, said during questioning by Caissie.

"I couldn't agree with you more," Caissie responded.

The Oxford Republican indicated she would make gun rights an issue as the council prepares to vet and vote on nominees for at least three soon-to-be vacated seats on the Supreme Judicial Court.

"I know we're going to hear a lot more about it. We've got three, maybe four SJC picks coming up. It's a question that I know I ask nominees," Caissie said. She said, "Our SJC seems to engage in a legal game of Twister, if you will, to find ways not to respect law-abiding citizens' Second Amendment rights."

Ouimet-Rooke was nominated Jan. 27 to replace Judge Gregory Williams, a former assistant attorney general appointed to the Springfield court in 1999.

A former Hampden County prosecutor who rose to chief prosecutor in the Chicopee District Court before joining the practice of Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury and Murphy, Ouimet-Rooke did not follow a straight path into the legal profession.

Ouimet-Rooke told the council she had studied to be a physical education teacher and, among other jobs, had cleaned barns at the Forest Park Zoo. Working as a victim witness advocate, first in district court and then in superior court, convinced Ouimet-Rooke to go to law school. Studying nights while working and raising a toddler, Ouimet-Rooke graduated from Western New England College with a law degree in 1999.

Ouimet-Rooke is also the former spouse of Springfield City Councilor Timothy Rooke, a fact Councilor Michael Albano, the former Springfield mayor, disclosed at the start of Wednesday's meeting. Albano disclosed his past political and professional relationship with the councilor.

After the interview, Albano predicted the vote to confirm Rooke would be 7 to 1 "if not unanimous."

Rooke, a Democrat, backed Baker in the 2014 gubernatorial election with an endorsement touted by Baker's campaign as demonstrative of the governor's cross-party appeal. Rooke told the News Service during the campaign that the Swampscott Republican "represented Main Street Massachusetts."

Ouimet-Rooke said she handled a variety of cases representing plaintiffs and defendants in both civil and criminal cases at the Springfield firm.

Springfield Judge Patricia Poehler praised Ouimet-Rooke as thoroughly prepared, knowledgeable about the law and possessing a calm temperament.

"She's always exhibited common sense," said attorney Philllip Callan, Jr., a member of Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury and Murphy.

Attorney Rebecca Bouchard said Ouimet-Rooke is "very quick on her feet" and had been generous with her time when Bouchard was learning the law. Bouchard predicted Ouimet-Rooke would "show patience for a newer lawyer" as a judge.

Patrick McCabe, co-chairman of the Fatherhood Coalition, said he had spoken to Ouimet-Rooke and was satisfied with her explanation of how judges should handle restraining orders — a legal tool that McCabe says is abused for leverage in parental disputes. McCabe said he was "very happy" to learn that Ouimet-Rooke used discretion as a prosecutor when handling restraining order violations.


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