Council Confirms Wolohojian, Healey’s Second High Court Pick

Council Confirms Wolohojian, Healey's Second High Court Pick

Jacobs Opposes Guv’s Selection Of “Insider Nominee”

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 28, 2024…..The Governor’s Council on Wednesday confirmed Supreme Judicial Court nominee Gabrielle Wolohojian, approving Gov. Maura Healey’s second appointee to the state’s highest court.

The council voted 6-1 to confirm the nomination, with Councilor Tara Jacobs casting the lone vote of dissent.

An Appeals Court jurist of 16 years and former partner at the firm now known as WilmerHale, Wolohojian’s nomination has drawn public scrutiny because of her past personal relationship with the governor. Healey and the judge shared a home in Charlestown for several years.

Members of the Governor’s Council, an elected panel with final approval power over judgeships, heaped praise on Wolohojian’s professional track record at a public interview on Feb. 21 and largely avoided delving into the personal past between Healey and Wolohojian.

“A good judge listens. A good judge is fair. A good judge is prepared. And I learned that when you walk away from a good judge’s courtroom, your confidence in the justice system is renewed, even if you lost your cause on that particular day,” Wolohojian said at her pre-confirmation hearing last week.

Two unexpected resignations from the SJC have handed Healey a couple of seats on the high court, and she has now filled both just 14 months into her four-year term.

The seven-member court featured only former Gov. Charlie Baker’s appointees when Healey took over, and most SJC justices serve out their terms until reaching the mandatory judicial retirement age of 70. That would have left Healey without any slots to fill during her term that runs until January 2027.

Elspeth Cypher, the eldest member of the SJC bench Baker left behind, would not have reached the mandatory retirement threshold until February 2029. But Cypher resigned in January and was replaced by Justice Elizabeth Dewar, a former top lieutenant to Healey in the attorney general’s office.

Cypher’s announcement that she planned to leave the bench came as a surprise last June, when she was 64 years old. She moved on to teaching, and is listed on the Boston College Law School website this spring as a “distinguished visiting professor” teaching cybercrime and digital evidence.

Wolohojian is now set to fill the vacancy left earlier this month by Justice David Lowy, 64. Lowy moved on to work as general counsel to the University of Massachusetts system.

At 63 years old, Wolohojian is eligible to serve on the bench until Dec. 16, 2030. Dewar is eligible to serve until 2050.

Both are court candidates whom Healey knew well, and for an extended period. In defense of her latest nomination, Healey has pointed to the SJC Judicial Nominating Commission’s screening process and their “unanimous” recommendation of the Appeals Court judge, though Healey did not answer a question about whether the SJC-JNC recommended multiple candidates including Wolohojian.

The councilor who represents Wolohojian’s district, Councilor Marilyn Petitto Devaney, said she had “never seen such media attention” for a court candidate.

“I guess what I want to say is that I welcome the media,” Devaney said at Wednesday’s session, as three television cameras rolled and a half-dozen news reporters sat along the wall.

Councilor Paul DePalo also noticed a high level of public attention aimed at the latest nominee.

The Worcester Democrat said that, in some areas, “the public discourse jumped right over this nominee’s impeccable unquestioned experience, her qualifications, her pedigree, her temperament, her reputation earned over a decade on the Appeals Court” — and “jumped right to a salacious storyline designed to raise alarms.”

“I don’t want the government concerning itself with a woman’s past — emphasis on ‘past’ — relationship choices,” DePalo told his colleagues. “And I’d ask, when do we stop policing a woman’s body? When, how many years back do we have to go, to stop policing women? And to those who tell me that a relationship that ended years ago should be disqualifying for this position, I would ask them — should I advise my smart, confident, and maybe one day ambitious daughters to never date an ambitious person, because years later, it might disqualify them from a position they have worked their whole lives to deserve?”

On the day Healey nominated Wolohojian, Massachusetts Republican Party Chair Amy Carnevale called on the governor to withdraw her nomination while making no mention of the nominee’s legal career.

“It is highly inappropriate for the Governor to nominate to Massachusetts’ highest court an individual with whom she had a long-term romantic relationship in the past,” Carnevale said. “This nomination clearly demonstrates a lack of accountability inherent in one-party rule. We urge the Governor to immediately withdraw her nominee and, if not withdrawn, we urge the Governor’s Council to reject this nominee.”

Jacobs, a first-term member from Western Massachusetts, listed a number of “concerns that have continued to trouble me,” and said she “struggled with a sense that the process itself was lacking” in terms of “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Jacobs also seemed to take aim at the Nominating Commission, saying the selection process involved “a very small and insular, like-minded group” that was “lacking diversity of thought” and lacking in adequate statewide regional representation.

“You couldn’t have a more insider nominee. And so I have concerns about that in terms of how it might dissuade people from applying who are not inside a network like that,” she added.

Governors and councilors sometimes refer to the JNC’s “blind” screening process, although resumes often contain identifying information.  For example, Wolohojian worked as an associate independent counsel on the Whitewater Investigation, holds a D.Phil. degree from Oxford University in England, and clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Rya Zobel, a combination of qualifications that are unlikely to be shared with a large number of colleagues in the Massachusetts legal world.

Plans had not yet been made for Wolohojian’s swearing-in as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the governor’s press secretary, Karissa Hand.

“I’m grateful to the Governor’s Council for thoroughly vetting and confirming Justice Wolohojian, and congratulate her on this well deserved accomplishment. She will be an excellent SJC Justice,” Healey said in a statement to the News Service.

While Dewar and Wolohojian have broken up the so-called Baker Court, three of Baker’s picks — SJC Justices Frank Gaziano, Scott Kafker, and Dalila Argaez Wendlandt — were spotted in the audience at Wolohojian’s pre-confirmation hearing last week sitting amongst around 100 supporters including other judges and court staff.

Wednesday morning, Gaziano was back at the State House with Justice Serge Georges to visit the Council and speak in support of SJC Clerk Francis Kenneally, a nominee to the District Court bench. Councilors turned their attention Wednesday afternoon to interviewing District Court candidate Courtney Linnehan, a Middlesex County prosecutor who planned to invoke support from District Attorney Marian Ryan and Superior Court Judge Laurence Pierce.

Also Wednesday, the council consented to two new District Court judges, confirming attorneys Leo Fama II and Marjorie Tynes; and approved attorney Thomas Hunt‘s new term as a Bristol County public administrator.

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