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Globe editorial

Courting irrelevance

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June 6, 2008

THE PATRICK administration provoked a showdown with the Governor's Council this week over a judicial nomination to the Middlesex County Probate and Family Court. Both on procedure and the merits, the administration has the stronger case. The council has a single important constitutional function - confirming judicial nominations - but the recent antics of some of its members undermine its already tattered credibility.

Maureen H. Monks is a well-regarded Cambridge attorney, a recipient of a Massachusetts Bar Association "access to justice" award for her volunteer work with battered women's groups and the indigent. She is a past board chairman of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and a passionate advocate for gay rights and women's rights who has carved out a specialty in the evolving complexities of family law.

Patrick nominated Monks for an associate justice position in April, and her application was vetted by the governor's Judicial Nominating Committee, the Joint Bar Committee of the Massachusetts Bar Association, and Patrick's own chief legal counsel before she was interviewed by the council on May 21. At the interview Monks was asked about her law practice, called the Women's Law Collaborative, including whether her advocacy would prevent her from being a neutral arbiter on the bench (a legitimate question), and whether she had represented enough men in her career (not so legitimate).

On May 28, seven of the eight councilors met to vote on Monks's nomination. The vote was 5 to 2 for approval. Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, who chairs the council, adjourned the meeting. But then Councilor Mary Ellen Manning, Democrat of Peabody, arrived late and added a "no" vote to the council's written register. Such a move is irregular enough, but then Councilor Marilyn Devaney, Democrat of Watertown, returned to the council chambers to switch her vote from "yes" to "no." In an interview, Manning denied she asked Devaney to change her vote, though she did say other councilors went to find Devaney to give her Manning's statement opposing Monks.

After several tense days deciding whether to reassemble the council and have Murray vote to break what was expected to be a tie, Patrick's office said on Tuesday that the 5-2 vote was duly held and it considered Monks's nomination approved. Devaney's effort to reopen the nomination on Wednesday was ruled out of order.

The Governor's Council has been a thorn in the side - or just a sideshow - since at least the 1970s, when Michael Dukakis tried to eliminate it. This latest performance nearly derailed a distinguished legal career.

Correction: An editorial yesterday misnamed an organization that vetted the judicial nomination of Maureen Monks. It is the Joint Bar Committee.

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