WOBURN - The Mass. Governor's Council this week wholeheartedly threw its support behind City Council President Michael Anderson's nomination to the Mass. Probate and Family Court, as every member of the eight-person body indicated they endorse his judicial candidacy.
Following an approximate 2.5-hour question-and-answer session on Wednesday, Governor's Council member Marilyn Petitto Devaney praised Anderson for displaying the legal attitudes and professional accouterments that are desperately needed by those serving on the state's court benches.
She later promised to personally advocate for favorable action on Governor Charles Baker's nomination of the Woburn lawyer for an associate justice vacancy on Mass. Probate and Family Court during a Governor's Council meeting scheduled for next Wednesday.
"Next week, when Lt. Governor [Karyn Polito] opens the assembly, I will nominate you and we will vote," pledged Devaney, who presided over the hearing at the statehouse on Wednesday. "I will be very pleased to nominate you and I wish you good luck…I wish we could clone you."
Devaney's sentiments were hardly unique.
"The applicant and I had quite a lengthy conversation about his application and his philosophy. I"m satisfied that his qualifications and understanding of the difficulties that occur in that court will serve him well…I think we need more people like him," remarked council member Mary Hurley, a retired district court judge.
"You have an incredibly great demeanor, and I absolutely look forward to voting for you next week," later said Governor's Council member Terrence Kennedy, who resides in Lynnfield.
Should the eight-member Governor's Council sanction Anderson's appointment, Anderson will replace Family and Probate Court Judge Randy Kaplan. The City Council president has already advised his colleagues that per the state's rules of judicial conduct, should his nomination be confirmed, he will immediately step down as Ward 4 alderman.
Though the duration of Wednesday's hearing would seem to indicate that there was disagreement about the Frances Street resident's qualifications or legal philosophy, in fact much of the discussion instead revolved around much broader criticisms of the Probate and Family Court as it currently functions.
Ironically, instead of those exchanges occurring between the confirming body and judicial nominee, the majority of that banter transpired as Reading resident and family law attorney Eugene Nigro appeared testified on behalf of Anderson as a character witness.
Nigro, who at-times sparred with governor's council members about court-mandated conciliation and mediation during divorce proceedings and the minutiae around determining alimony payments, tried of several occasions with limited success to divert the attention back onto nominee.
Though being drawn into that hour-plus long discourse over courtroom proceedings, the character witness, who first met Anderson as a legal adversary during a family court matter, nonetheless fulfilled his role as a champion for the nominee's appointment.
"Michael deserves every accolade given," said Nigro. "My personal familiarity with Michael over the years has been as an adversary. We are not social friends in any way…He is an experienced, practical, compassionate, insightful, fair and balanced nominee."
"The amount of dignity and professionalism to this man cannot be overstated," the former Reading Zoning Board of Appeals member added. "He has a wonderful attitude. His demeanor is even-tempered, and he is rarely distracted by the venom and vitriol that commonly characterizes probate court work."
At one point losing his composure while remembering his late parents and the values they instilled in him and his siblings, Anderson during his own testimony assured Governor's Council members that he won't betray their confidence in his candidacy.
According to Anderson, with a grandfather who served as a district court judge and a grandmother who started Boston's first all-women law firm, he was constantly reminded as a child about the legal system's higher aims to make equitable justice available for all citizens.
"The importance of the law, which is a concept, has been drilled into me since the day I was born. It's practically in my DNA," said Anderson, who added that when he and his siblings went off to college, his mother obtained her own legal degree by going to school nights. "I'm here to assure you that if you appoint me, I will consistently apply the law to everyone who comes before me in an equitable and fair manner."
"Most people who have an interaction with the court system will have it with the Family and Probate Court. They ought to have a positive experience…It is after all, part of their government. It's unacceptable for people to come out of a courtroom and feel like they got [short-changed] or didn't get heard," he continued.
According to Devaney, the only governor's council member to question the judicial nominee at length during yesterday's hearing, she was heartened to see that Anderson had run his own family law practice for the past 20 years. The state official, who had clearly spent some time reviewing some of the City Council president's case histories, was also quick to point out that unlike many other judicial nominees, Anderson's nomination was based purely on his legal skill set — as opposed to having a deep circle of powerful political contacts.
"I'm very impressed with you," said Devaney, who added that during her tenure on the governor's council, Anderson is one of the few candidates to ever be personally endorsed by the retiring judge he would replace. "I don't always let people know how I feel about a nominee before I vote. But I have to tell you, I voted in favor of Judge Kaplan and have great respect for her."
"I"m absolutely astounded you have no political contributions," later added the Waltham resident, whose district includes Woburn. "That tells me something: That you got here the old-fashioned way by your experience and qualifications."
In late June, Baker announced he had chosen Anderson for the judicial vacancy after his application had been vetted by the state's 21-person Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC). Anderson was also personally interviewed by Bob Ross, the governor's Chief Legal Counsel, before his resume and application was forwarded to Baker and Polito for consideration.
Per the state Constitution, the eight-member Governor's Council acts as a check to the chief executive's power by retaining the final say over judicial appointments, as well as assignments on the Mass. Parole Board, Appellate Tax board, and Industrial Accident Board.