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Gov.’s Council approves Duffly for Mass. SJC

Glen Johnson

Appeals Court Associate Justice Fernande “Nan” Duffly survived a close vote last week to win approval as the first Asian American member of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Newly elected Governor’s Councilor Jennie Caissie, a Republican from Oxford, broke the suspense by declaring she would support Duffly, who had been nominated by Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat.

The nine-member panel ended up voting 4-3, with Councilor Mary-Ellen Manning, a Salem Democrat, recusing herself and Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, a Democrat like his running mate, not participating because there wasn’t a tie to be broken.

“I was feeling political pressure from both sides, for sure,” Caissie said afterward. “Did it impact me? No. At the end of the day, my professional integrity is more important than party politics.”

Patrick later said he was “thrilled.” Duffly, a 61-year-old native of Indonesia, had no immediate comment. There also was no immediate date set for her swearing-in.

But when it happens, Duffly will become the fourth appointee to the state’s highest court by Patrick, a liberal who has sought justices he said both understand the law as well as its application in everyday life. She also will continue Patrick’s effort to break racial and ethnic precedents in high-ranking positions.

Duffly will replace Roderick Ireland, whom Patrick elevated from associate justice to the court’s first black chief justice.

Nonetheless, Duffly’s fate was far from certain.

During a six-hour confirmation hearing last week, she faced stern questioning from Councilors Thomas Merrigan of Greenfield and Christopher Iannella of Boston, both Democrats. Merrigan accused her of being an activist appellate judge, substituting her judgment for that of the trial court.

The councilor also said Duffly made a “frighteningly wrongly decided decision” in a case later overturned by the court she is about to join.

And Iannella, a divorced father, said she had unnecessarily removed children from their fathers in divorce cases.

They joined Councilor Charles Cipollini, a Republican from Fall River, in voting against Duffly’s nomination. Cipollini also criticized her supposed activism.

Yet after the hearing, Merrigan — himself a former judge — called Duffly “a well-intentioned, well-credentialed, thoughtful, intelligent judge.”

He added: “Sometimes people question the validity of the function of the Governor’s Council. I think there has to be checks and balances on the decision-making by the governor to make these lifetime appointments.”

Councilor Terrence Kennedy, a Democrat from Lynnfield, publicly proclaimed last week that he would vote for Duffly. And in the end, he was joined by Caissie and Councilors Kelly Timilty of Boston and Marilyn Petitto Devaney of Watertown, both Democrats.

Caissie said before casting her vote that probate and family cases defy easy analysis because they are based on the specific facts of each case.

“When you read the facts in the cases, she applied the law in each one of those cases,” Caissie said.

The councilor added: “She’s a law-and-order judge. She puts public safety and victims’ rights first. She testified to that, her questionnaire said that, and she has represented to us, and from what I can see from her record, she’s going to apply the law and not make the law. And I don’t think we can ask for any more than that.”

Associated Press