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Jurist Botsford seen as SJC pick

Would be Patrick's 1st nominee to court

MARGOT G. BOTSFORD Appointed to bench in 1989 MARGOT G. BOTSFORD Appointed to bench in 1989

Governor Deval Patrick will nominate Suffolk Superior Court Judge Margot G. Botsford today to fill a vacant seat on the Supreme Judicial Court, turning to an experienced and highly respected jurist and former prosecutor for his first nomination to the high court, according to two sources with knowledge of the selection.

The sources told the Globe yesterday that Patrick will announce Botsford's nomination at a State House press conference this morning. Her name will be forwarded to the Governor's Council for confirmation. Her appointment, to fill the vacancy left by Justice Martha B. Sosman's death in March, would make her the third woman on the seven-member court.

Botsford, 60, has frequently been a finalist for an SJC seat and has strong connections with the liberal Democratic establishment. Governor Michael S. Dukakis appointed her to the bench in 1989. Her husband, S. Stephen Rosenfeld, served as both chief of staff and legal counsel to Dukakis and has been a campaign contributor to Patrick. The couple live in Jamaica Plain.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Botsford worked as a prosecutor in the offices of Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti and Middlesex District Attorney Scott Harshbarger, both liberal Democrats.

But legal observers said her judicial rulings give little indication of her personal political leanings. In fact, when Republican governors William F. Weld and Paul Cellucci filled a series of SJC openings in the 1990s, Botsford frequently made the list of finalists.

Patrick chose her over five contenders, most of them judges. The names of the other finalists could not be confirmed.

Botsford's age was a consideration in Patrick's decision; the mandatory retirement age is 70 for judges, which would allow her only 10 years on the court, according to the sources who confirmed her nomination. But Patrick was apparently drawn not only to her intellectual grasp of legal issues, but also her ability to build consensus. Reports in legal circles describe an often-divided SJC, most notably in its controversial 4-to-3 decision in 2003 declaring same-sex marriage legal in Massachusetts.

The sources said Botsford is expected to reflect Patrick's liberal positions on controversial social issues such as abortion, the death penalty, and gay marriage, as well as on civil liberties. Much of her work on the bench in recent years has involved handling the court's business sessions, which focus on corporate and business cases.

Botsford, a New York native who received a law degree from Northeastern University in 1973, has a reputation as a legal scholar during her nearly two decades presiding over a host of civil and criminal trials. Members of the legal community said her colleagues marvel at her work ethic, which often has her working late into the night on complicated cases.

"She is universally regarded by lawyers and litigants for her knowledge of the law, her wise discretion in applying the law, her unwavering fairness, and her unimpeachable character," said Josh Wall, first assistant Suffolk district attorney. "By all measurements, she is at the top of the judiciary."

"She is A-plus," said Michael S. Greco, a Boston lawyer who recently stepped down as president of the American Bar Association. "There is no doubt in my mind that she has the intellectual firepower to handle some of the state's most complex cases."

He said yesterday that Botsford has a reputation for fairness that, along with her work ethic and grasp of legal issues, has earned her colleagues' respect. "She embodies all the attributes and qualities of an outstanding judge," said Greco, a partner in the law firm K & L Gates.

Botsford has handled a number of high-profile cases, including a 2003 ruling that cleared the way for construction of a controversial runway at Logan International Airport. It opened in December.

But her decision with potentially the broadest impact was when, in a 350-page report issued in 2004, she sided with some of the state's poorest school districts in a landmark lawsuit challenging the way the Commonwealth finances its 1,900 public schools. The case involved 78 days of trial and 114 witnesses. She reviewed more than 1,000 documents.

The SJC, in a 5-to-2 decision in February 2005, overturned her decision. But the justices praised her work. Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall described Botsford's report as " a model of precision, comprehensiveness, and meticulous attention to detail."

Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com.

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