What Dukakis couldn’t accomplish through legislative avenues he did with symbolic gestures and through a sweeping restructuring of the judicial-appointment process. Soon after his election, he tried a technique straight out of Office Space, moving councilors from the more luxurious third-floor governor’s chambers to a pen on the far-less-glamorous first floor (he still allowed them to hold weekly meetings in the Corner Office, as they continue to do today). More damning, with guidance from famed Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, Dukakis established the current system in which 21 JNC advisors — following a confidential application and review process — recommend three to six candidates for open judgeships to the governor, who in turn forwards one to the council for a gratuitous rubber stamp.
(In defense of this process, Foley says: “If a person doesn’t look good, they won’t reach the Governor’s Council in the first place. We provide an important function, which is to be an extra layer of scrutiny.”)
Since the Duke, governors have tolerated the council. The consensus among many close onlookers is that, while appointments are pretty much finalized beforehand, governors actually favor the institution because it avails scapegoats if their appointees fumble. In November 2007, after former governor Mitt Romney’s presidential bid was hindered by reports that Superior Court Judge Kathe Tuttman freed a convicted murderer who killed again, he blamed the system. “From a governor’s point of view, this makes perfect sense,” Amherst attorney Peter Vickery recently told Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. “Look at what a governor can say when a judge’s behavior makes news: ‘All I did was nominate them, and I only nominated them because the [JNC] recommended them.’ Let’s pass this buck right around.”
Circle of stupidity
Despite the Governor’s Council regularly getting more flack than praise, its members seem to enjoy success in the ballot box. The 2008 primary races for two-year Governor’s Council seats were relatively action packed, as six out of the eight incumbents actually faced contests in their districts. (Former Orange District Court judge and Greenfield attorney Thomas Merrigan faced only an opponent in the general election, and Foley got a free ride the whole way). Each of the councilors was expected to — and did — win, by decisive margins. Signs, though, that some of the councilors are relatively weaker than they have been in the past seemed to inspire an unusual amount of ink, including several stories in the Boston Globe.
Devaney’s three-way primary with Watertown firefighter Thomas Walsh and retired medical-malpractice insurance manager John J. Doyle Jr. — the father-in-law of one of her foes on the Watertown Town Council, on which she also serves — attracted the most attention, primarily due to her sudden scandal-sheet value. That followed after she was publicly accused in April of assaulting a Sally Beauty Supply store clerk. Though charges against her were dismissed in early August, she was subsequently scrutinized by reporters and lambasted by opponents.
Running for her eighth consecutive term, Timilty faced Milton criminal-defense attorney and former State Police detective Robert Jubinville in her district, which stretches across five counties, from Boston to Bridgewater to Framingham to Attleboro. One lesson that Jubinville learned on the trail: because the Governor’s Council districts are enormous — the size of five State Senate districts combined — it becomes nearly impossible to campaign effectively, a big advantage to incumbents. “I was at events all day, every Saturday and Sunday, and I marched in every parade, and I never saw [Timilty] out there,” says Jubinville, who, after spending more than $100,000 out-of-pocket, barely received more than half the number of votes cast for his opponent.