AG aide wins 5-3 vote for judgeship

AG aide wins 5-3 vote for judgeship

Opponents question experience, help on assault weapon ban

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

First Assistant Attorney General Christopher Barry-Smith received confirmation Wednesday for a Superior Court judgeship despite strong opposition from gun rights advocates.

The Gun Owners Action League protested Barry-Smith’s judicial nomination because of his role in the office of Attorney General Maura Healey, who this summer announced an enforcement action against copycat assault rifles that she maintains are banned under state law.

First Assistant Attorney General Christopher Barry-Smith appeared before Councilors last Wednesday for a second round of questioning. [File Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS/Nov. 9]

The eight-member elected Governor’s Council voted 5-3 to confirm Barry-Smith. Councilors Christopher Iannella, Jennie Caissie and Robert Jubinville voted against Gov. Charlie Baker’s nominee.

A 50-year-old Arlington resident who was captain of varsity swimming at Harvard University and graduated from William and Mary Law School, Barry-Smith was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and worked for the Democratic Party of Virginia and for former Congressman William Lipinski of Illinois after college, according to an announcement from the governor’s office and documents at the Governor’s Council. Barry-Smith worked for the attorney general’s office from 1997-1999 and then rejoined the office in 2002, spending other years in private practice and as a clerk to federal Judge Alfred Covello.

“I am a true believer and I am here to protect the citizens of Massachusetts from people who should not be on our benches,” said Jubinville, citing Barry-Smith’s lack of criminal law experience. Calling Barry-Smith a “wonderful administrator,” Jubinville said, “This man has no qualifications for a judgeship.”

Amid the copycat gun enforcement controversy, the nomination bound together Attorney General Maura Healey, a prominent Democrat who supported the nomination though she did not testify in person, and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, the state’s most prominent Republican, who nominated Barry-Smith.

“I’m hopeful that as a person now sitting on the bench that he will take into consideration all that he’s learned throughout this process as well,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito told reporters after the close vote. She said, “We have needs to fill vacancies in our courts, and a significant need in our Superior Court. There are individuals that feel they are willing to put their names into the mix to be considered. It is a very rigorous process for vetting any candidate for appointment.”

Jubinville and Caissie both criticized Barry-Smith, saying he was unable to tell councilors the jurisdiction of the court, which handles felony crimes and civil disputes over $25,000.

A vocal backer of gun rights and the lone Republican on the council, Caissie also said she is “concerned about the very key role he played” in Healey’s enforcement action because it was done by “fiat” rather than through a legislative process.

Polito expressed concern about Healey’s enforcement action while indicating that did not play into the decision to nominate Barry-Smith.

“We don’t have a litmus test for our nominees. On this particular nominee the issue presented by the attorney general did raise a lot of concerns among gun owners and gun dealers and legitimately so,” Polito said.

The Gun Owners Action League has urged its supporters to call Baker’s office to “strongly oppose” any judicial nominee who worked for Healey.

“The million-dollar question is why would Gov. Baker nominate someone that has a track record of attacking people’s Second Amendment civil rights – and has absolutely no criminal trial experience – to a Superior Court position,” asked GOAL executive director Jim Wallace, in a statement. “It is clear that the governor cannot be counted on to represent and protect the civil rights of all citizens. It is also clear that our member’s aggressive grassroots efforts have brought attention to a very broken judicial nominating system in the Commonwealth.”

Councilor Marilyn Devaney argued the council had no business determining whether the attorney general’s enforcement action was appropriate — leaving that to the courts – and said she was impressed by Barry-Smith’s work establishing the Child Protection Division and his work on the drug abuse epidemic.

Barry-Smith applied for state judgeships previously in 2010, 2011, and twice in 2013, seeking a federal judgeship in 2014, said Jubinville, who criticized him for failing to obtain criminal trial experience even after failing to win a judgeship in his prior attempts.

Healey thanked Baker for nominating her top deputy, a longtime state prosecutor.

“For 17 years he has served with great distinction in the Attorney General’s Office and his leadership and insight have been invaluable to the legal work we do for the Commonwealth,” Healey said in a statement after the vote. She said, “He is a person of unimpeachable integrity and intellect, whose temperament and judgment will well serve the administration of justice in our courts.”

Led by Polito, the Governor’s Council’s regular weekly meetings traditionally begin with a prayer by one of the councilors. On Wednesday Jubinville, a criminal defense attorney, led the meeting with a cryptic message to his fellow members.

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“A moment of silence for the Governor’s Council,” Jubinville said, before members recited the Pledge of Allegiance and got down to business. After the meeting Jubinville explained, “I wanted the councilors to think of the council, to be loyal to the council, not to be loyal to the administration.”