Probation Center Stage At SJC Chief's Confirmation Hearing

By Sarah Birnbaum

Dec. 2, 2010

BOSTON — The Governor's Council is making its final considerations on State Supreme Court Chief Justice Nominee Roderick Ireland after Ireland fielded questions during a confirmation hearing Wednesday.

The Governor’s Council spent less time questioning Ireland’s record than criticizing the court system and its management of the troubled Probation Department. Ireland told the Council that he disagrees with Governor Patrick’s plans to combine the Probation Department with the Parole Department and bring both under the control of the governor’s office.  Ireland said that the agency should remain under the judicial branch.

During his confirmation hearing, Ireland said the Probation Dept. should stay under the oversight of the judiciary. (Sarah Birnbaum for WGBH)

Moving on to other matters of policy, Ireland said that he would encourage the judiciary to mentor young people, in the hope of bringing down the high school dropout rate.  He would also use his influence to see that child custody cases get resolved as quickly as possible.

Long before Ireland spoke, outgoing Chief Justice Margaret Marshall opened up hours of witness testimony on her potential predecessor, saying that Ireland would be an excellent choice to take her place at the helm of the court.  She would know, she said, because the two sat right next to each other on the bench for years.

"I heard him question counsel.  And he has a way of asking some of the toughest questions in a way that elicits the best response from counsel because they're not attacking questions, they're not mean based questions, they're questions of searching inquiry," Marshall said.

She also praised Ireland’s intelligence and even temperament. "He wants to listen.  He wants to know what counsel thinks," Marshall said.

But critics, like Brian Camenker of the Parents Rights Coalition, said Ireland lets politics interfere in his decisions.  Camenker pointed to the Goodrich case, when Ireland was part of the 4-3 majority that voted to make Massachusetts the first state to legalize gay marriage. 

"To the pro-family community, Judge Ireland is practically our worst nightmare," Camenker said.

Many on Beacon Hill believe that Ireland is a shoo-in for chief justice. The Springfield native Columbia law school and spend 13 years on the Boston Juvenile Court before moving to the State Appeals Court. He is the first African American in his current position as an associate justice on the state Supreme Court.

But after the hearing, a visibly exhausted Ireland said that he's not taking anything for granted. "I'm going to keep my fingers and toes crossed, and my wife's going to have her fingers and toes crossed, and we're just going to have to let them take their time and reach their decision in their own way," Ireland said.

The Governor’s Council will meet next week to vote on Ireland's confirmation.  He would replace Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, who is retiring to spend more time with her ailing husband.

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