Former Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker may have left office in January 2023, but his legacy will live on throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and one need look no further than the Massachusetts bench to see it, says Paul Dacier, former chair of the JNC, former BBA President, and current Executive Vice President and General Counsel at Indigo Agriculture, Inc.
Baker, who served two terms as Governor, is responsible for nominating roughly 60% of all sitting judge appointments in the Commonwealth. Additionally, all seven members of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court are Baker appointees, including Chief Justice Kimberly Budd.
“These judges now sitting on all the courts do not leave office when the Governor leaves office; they stay through age 70, and their tenure and time on the bench is long lasting and goes well beyond the governor’s term in office,” Dacier said. “So, for Governor Baker, his legacy lives on in regards to those that he has put on the bench.”
Though Baker was responsible for more than half the current bench, Dacier says he doesn’t believe there is such thing as a “Baker Judge.” Instead, he says, Baker and the Judicial Nominating Commission worked to ensure the best judges—free of any partisanship or politicization—found their way onto the bench.
“Governor Baker wanted to ensure that there was a vibrant branch of government in the judiciary,” Dacier noted. “He wanted to ensure that everyone felt and understood that there was confidence in the judiciary. He was very mindful of the importance of the judicial branch and the effect that judicial rulings can have on all of us in Massachusetts, and he wanted to ensure everyone understood that it was a fair and apolitical process with fair and apolitical judges.”
Dacier believes this apolitical process is critical for the Commonwealth—and one he believes should be replicated by other states, especially in these current, highly politicized times. He praised Baker for giving him and the Commission the latitude to do what they believed was right, without overreaching into the process.
“I talked to the Governor at the beginning in 2015 about the judicial review and nomination process, and what the Governor indicated to me was: Do what you think is right with the Commission, send me the very best candidates, and make sure that you don’t let anything else influence your decision-making process.”
That simply isn’t the case in some other states—an issue that Dacier believes can and should be addressed. He described the Judicial Nominating Commission as “necessary,” highlighting that it strives to ensure there is a bench that is representative of society from a legal point of view. The Executive Order creating the Commission “was followed religiously, scrupulously,” Dacier remarked, and he believes it should be held up as an example to other states.
“In many other states—in fact, the vast majority of states—there is a political process for putting judges on the bench through the election process,” Dacier said. “That’s not the way it should be. Many states will tell you that they are nonpartisan; [but in reality] they are partisan.” Such a political process for determining the state judiciary, Dacier said, has opened the door to outside political interests and created a system plagued by vitriol.
Though the process for appointing judges in Massachusetts is exemplary, it still has certain deficiencies; while the male-to-female ratio on the bench is currently an impressive 53% to 47%, just 21% is comprised of non-white individuals. This lack of representation, Dacier noted, is “an enormous problem,” not just on the bench, but in the entire legal community. Though he noted issues relating to diversity within the legal profession “can’t change overnight,” he also was quick to point out that it’s an issue he’s been grappling with since his time as President of the BBA.
“The question of, ‘How do we ensure that we have those applicants to be considered and then the resulting nominations that are representative of the community?’ is one we worked very hard on,” he said. “We spent a large amount of time soliciting bar associations and others about supporting and being part of government through the judicial branch and applying and being considered for the bench.”
Dacier also encouraged anyone working in the legal field—regardless of their background—to keep an open mind about applying for a position on the bench. He emphasized that no person—so long as they have the required 10 years in practice—is shut out of the process. “It is a fair process to be considered for the bench,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a solo practitioner, or a specialist on a particular area of law, or you’re in the biggest law firm in Massachusetts. All will be considered.”
Though Baker is no longer in office, Dacier believes the fair and honest process that he and the Commission followed during his two terms will continue in the “good hands” of Governor Maura Healey, a former Attorney General who took office in January.
“I have the highest regard for Governor Maura Haley, and I’m sure that she and her legal counsel will ensure that the process of integrity and the application review and nomination process will be maintained,” he said.