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Commentary :: Human Rights
It Takes More than Campaign Cash to Make a Judge
17 Dec 2013
The Council, in my view, deserves credit - not condemnation - for insisting that the Patrick administration up its game and select qualified nominees.
Robert Jubinville.jpg
Attorney Robert Jubinville represents District 2 on the Governor’s Council.
It has been reported that the Governor’s Council refused to confirm Joseph Berman's nomination to the Superior Court because of his leadership role in an organization that was slow to acknowledge and denounce the Armenian Genocide. But that is not the reason I won't be giving Gov. Deval Patrick my advice and consent for Mr. Berman’s nomination.

I have tried to understand the larger picture of Mr. Berman. I have studied his resume and application to become a judge, talked to him personally, listened to his many admirers and detractors, and witnessed his own performance during the Council’s public hearing. And cumulatively, I am convinced that Mr. Berman is not qualified to sit on the Superior Court.

For me, there are three problems with this nomination. He is haunted by a negative public perception because he has contributed so much money to Democratic campaigns. He states that he has no criminal trial experience in Superior Court. And he admits not knowing a thing about addiction, which is one of the largest issues he would have dealt with as a Superior Court judge.

First, it should be noted that the Governor’s Council is not the first government body to raise questions about Berman’s qualifications. He previously went before the Judicial Nominating Commission and was never recommended for nomination.

Since then, Mr. Berman has increased his Democratic campaign donations to over $100,000. His confirmation by the Governor’s Council would leave the public perception, fairly or unfairly, that his large donations purchased him a judgeship. Worse, this negative perception would diminish his credibility as a judge and demean our court system.

At the confirmation hearing in November, when Mr. Berman was questioned by a councilor about whether he asked anyone to lobby councilors on his behalf, he denied that he had. He was less than candid. When he was questioned further by another councilor, he finally admitted to asking a prominent political official to pressure me to vote in his favor. What should we read into this about Mr. Berman’s integrity?

Further, Mr. Berman admitted he had no criminal experience in the Superior Court and relatively none in any other court. Yet he has applied to be a Superior Court judge, someone entrusted with ruling on the most serious of all crimes including murder, rape and sophisticated drug rings.

Some people have indicated that we should allow Mr. Berman to learn while he is on the job. A judge’s bench is akin to an operating room for doctors. Who in their right mind would allow a doctor in training to perform their surgery? Judges make life-altering decisions. The fact that Mr. Berman could need on-the-job training confirms he is not ready to be a Superior Court judge.

Mr. Berman also said that he has no knowledge of addiction. He said he knows nothing about the heroin epidemic plaguing the commonwealth because none of his relatives have had to struggle with it. While I find him very lucky, I also find it unbelievable that a man of 52 years has never been exposed to the prevalence of this disease. In my experience, it is imperative that judges have a balanced, compassionate perspective on this crucial issue. The overwhelming majority of criminal cases that appear on court dockets are the result of abuse and dependence on street drugs, club drugs, prescription drugs and alcohol.

When I pressed Mr. Berman on his lack of knowledge, he responded with a flippant “Mr. Jubinville, I am not a doctor.” His answer demonstrates that he does not believe it is the job of a judge to find ways to help those addicted. And let me assure you, judges who think similarly are not part of the solution. They are part of the problem. Their judgment is typically to commit to our already overcrowded prison systems at a tremendous cost to the taxpayers, rather than to explore treatment and reduce recidivism.

Lastly, Mr. Berman was arrogant in private to councilors before his hearing and was equally arrogant at his public hearing. This is a problem that citizens and lawyers encounter with far too much frequency in courtrooms today. In my experience, awarding a person with a job that guarantees them an income until they reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 does not abate this character flaw. It only makes it worse.

In the past, the Governor’s Council has been criticized for being too eager to endorse the governor’s judicial choices. But now that this Council has established itself as an independent body instead of a gubernatorial rubber stamp, it is facing withering criticism. The Council, in my view, deserves credit - not condemnation - for insisting that the Patrick administration up its game and select qualified nominees.

Robert Jubinville of Milton, MA is a member of the Governor’s Council
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