An important behind-the-scenes role for the Joint Bar Committee on Judicial Appointments

Issue October 2007 By Jennifer Rosinski

The Joint Bar Committee on Judicial Appointments is one of the last layers of review in the judicial nominating process and works to ensure that candidates for the tenure positions are both qualified and competent.

An independent and nonpartisan entity, the committee evaluated Justice Margot G. Botsford before Gov. Deval Patrick appointed her to the Supreme Judicial Court on Aug. 31.

The committee reviews, evaluates, votes and reports on the qualifications of individuals under consideration for all judicial appointments – including clerk-magistrates – to all courts of the commonwealth. Its votes, which range from “well qualified” to” insufficient information to evaluate,” remain confidential.

“We’re trying to ensure only qualified, competent judges are selected. It’s a role committee members take very seriously,” said MBA General Counsel Martin W. Healy, who serves as the committee’s executive secretary.

“Ultimately, it benefits the public. These are public appointments with life tenure,” Healy said. “It tries to remove the politics from judicial selection.”

The committee considers several aspects of an individual before it takes a vote and submits a report to the governor and/or the Governor’s Council, which must approve and appoint the candidate. “There’s a host of factors we key in on,” Healy said.

Among the qualities considered are integrity, reputation, knowledge and ability in the field of law, professional experience, judicial temperament, financial responsibility and commitment to public service.

The committee does this by reviewing a candidate’s resume, interviewing judges, attorneys and others who can speak about the nominee, and it may review the legal writings of the candidate.
Made up of two dozen attorneys from across the state, the JBC currently includes three members each of the Massachusetts and Boston bar associations. Members also include representatives from 13 county and six specialty bars. Each is appointed to a three-year term.

The committee began its formal role in 1961, and in years prior, served as an informal reviewer of judicial nominees.