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Choice of Gants stirs little controversy, legal observers say

Supreme Judicial Court designee Ralph Gants has a reputation as a hard-working legal scholar. Supreme Judicial Court designee Ralph Gants has a reputation as a hard-working legal scholar. (Bill Greene/Globe Staff)
By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / December 2, 2008
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Governor Deval Patrick yesterday nominated Superior Court Judge Ralph D. Gants to become a justice in the state's highest court, an appointment that legal observers said probably would draw little controversy or significantly alter the ideology of the Supreme Judicial Court.

"I don't think it really changes the makeup of the court dramatically," said David L. Yas, editor and publisher of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. "He doesn't really wear his ideology on his sleeve. He's known more as a scholar."

Gants, 54, of Lexington, graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and he has been a Superior Court judge for more than 10 years. If confirmed by the Governor's Council, he would replace John Greaney, who retired yesterday after nearly 20 years on the Supreme Judicial Court.

Gants's nomination to the high court was Patrick's second since taking office and could be his last, unless he wins reelection in 2010. If the other justices remain on the court until the mandatory retirement age of 70, the next seat won't open until 2012.

"I have no doubt that Judge Gants will bring to the Supreme Judicial Court the same intellectual horsepower, analytic rigor, reverence for justice, and compassion that has marked his career on the Superior Court," Patrick said yesterday at a press conference.

A voracious reader, Gants has been spotted poring over court documents while riding the Red Line home at 10 p.m.

"He is frightfully smart and frightfully hard-working," said Harvey Silverglate, one of Boston's best-known civil rights lawyers.

But some of Gants's rulings have been controversial, including a case in Lowell when he allowed a man who had been convicted four times on drunken-driving charges to get behind the wheel for medical appointments. That stance was blasted by then-Lowell police superintendent Edward Davis, who is now Boston's police commissioner.

"I haven't agreed with him on all of his decisions over the years - and there may be some record of that - but I have no reason to doubt that he'll be a fine Supreme Court justice," Davis said yesterday.

"It's the goal of every judge to aspire to become a part of the Supreme Judicial Court," Gants said yesterday at a press conference. "Just like kids dream to be second basemen for the Red Sox, most judges dream about being on the SJC."

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.

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