Baker names three judges as picks for state’s top court

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BOSTON – Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday named three Superior Court judges with extensive prosecutorial backgrounds as his picks for seats on the Supreme Judicial Court, seeking to elevate experienced jurists in a rare opportunity for a governor to shape the court so early in his first term.

Baker, in a news release Tuesday, said he will nominate Superior Court Judges David Lowy, Kimberly Budd and Frank Gaziano. The nominees will have to go through a confirmation process before the Governor’s Council prior to taking their seats on the top court.

Budd, the daughter of former U.S. Attorney Wayne Budd from Springfield, left a job at Harvard Business School in 2009 for seat on the Superior Court. She was nominated by former Gov. Deval Patrick to succeed Ralph Gants when Gants was elevated to the SJC.

Budd is a graduate of Georgetown University and Harvard Law School, and worked as a former assistant U.S. attorney in Boston before going to work for Harvard.

A former assistant district attorney in Essex County who also worked in the gang unit in the Suffolk County DA’s office, Lowy worked with Baker in the administration of former Republican Gov. William Weld as deputy legal counsel before Weld put him on the district court bench in 1997. His wife, Virginia Buckingham, also worked for Weld as chief of staff and campaign manager for Weld’s 1996 U.S. Senate race against John Kerry before becoming head of the Massachusetts Port Authority. The late Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci elevated Lowy to the Superior Court in 2001.

Gaziano, appointed to the bench in 2004 by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, spent 12 years as a state and federal prosecutor, including 10 years as an assistant district attorney in Plymouth County and two years in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston.

“They’re all brilliant,” said Governor’s Councilor Terrence Kennedy, who said he has practiced in front of all three judges.

Within the span of about a week earlier this year, three SJC justices – Robert Cordy, Fernande Duffly and Francis Spina – announced their intentions to retire before the court begins a new session in the fall. Duffly is scheduled to finish on July 12 and both Spina and Cordy are set to step down Aug. 12.

Once Baker formally nominates his picks, the Governor’s Council will have to schedule confirmation hearings for each one. The council meets Wednesday and could establish a hearing schedule then.

Because two more SJC judges – Justices Margot Botsford and Geraldine Hines – will reach the mandatory judicial retirement age of 70 before the end of his term, Baker, a Republican, is assured the opportunity to nominate five justices to the seven-justice high court in a single term, helping to shape the court and its judicial philosophy.

With a new session of the court expected to begin in September, getting the three new justices confirmed to the bench and ready to hear cases is a priority for Baker, the Governor’s Council and the SJC’s top judge.

“We don’t have the luxury of having a rebuilding year at the court,” SJC Chief Justice Ralph Gants told the News Service in February.

Budd, Gaziano and Lowy – if they are confirmed by the Governor’s Council – will have to become used to writing SJC-caliber opinions, giving and taking feedback from the other justices, and doing all of that in a collegial, respectful way, Gants said at the time, before knowing who the nominees would be.

“Bringing in three new justices obviously will change the court. I am committed – and I know the governor and his legal counsel are committed – to maintaining the excellence of the court and I am committed to maintaining the culture of the court,” he said.

Baker’s appointment of three seasoned Superior Court judges may help ease the transition to the SJC bench, but Gants also said there is “absolutely” some concern about an institutional knowledge brain drain as seasoned jurists depart from the bench.

“We are losing probably about 40 years of institutional experience when you combine the time of Justice Spina, Justice Cordy and Justice Duffly,” Gants said. “You lose a little bit of that, but we do have a staff that’s been here a long time and they help us in regard to maintaining the institutional memory of the court.”

Written by Matt Murphy and Colin A. Young