Polito deals with Governor’s Council anger

Caissie, member of body, on track for clerk magistrate job

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

A RAUCOUS GOVERNOR’S COUNCIL hearing and assembly ended Wednesday with two members walking out of the meeting after a third councilor suggested he’d try to block debate at future council meetings in protest of having been denied speaking time at last week’s meeting.

Councilor Robert Jubinville of Milton took issue with the way the council, chaired by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, called the question last week on the confirmation of Taunton Mayor Thomas Hoye as interim register of probate in Bristol County. The motion to call the vote came after some councilors had made statements, but before Jubinville sought to speak.

“Last week, for the first time since I’ve been here, a councilor was prevented from speaking on a vote. That was me and I don’t like that, so I’m going to ask that it never happen again. Thank you,” he said to Polito.

Polito said that she thinks she has been very fair to councilors and explained that she did not allow Jubinville to make his statement last week because a motion to call the vote had been made, was properly seconded, and was supported by a majority of the council on a voice vote. She also reminded Jubinville that he made his comments about the nominee when his name was called to vote rather than casting a yes or no vote.

“I have enormous respect for every member of this council and in my now five years of sitting with you on Wednesday afternoons I have tried very hard to make sure that all of your voices are heard. I take that seriously, I take that to heart,” she said. Polito later added, “It does bother me that you would feel that way.”

Councilor Marilyn Devaney echoed Jubinville’s sentiment before Polito reiterated that it was a vote of the council majority on a legitimate motion that ended debate, not simply a ruling from the chair.

“That was not a proper procedure, in my view, and the chair should go around and ask everybody if they have any comment to make on the nomination,” Jubinville shot back. “Otherwise, next week as soon as you put something down I’m going to move to close it and it will be done.”

After he pounded his fist on his desktop for emphasis, Jubinville added, “I don’t appreciate it being done. I take it personal.”

The Governor’s Council appears to be on track to confirm one of its own, Jennie Caissie, to the position of clerk magistrate of the Dudley District Court after holding a confirmation hearing where councilors acknowledged a perception that people with close ties to the governor and lieutenant governor have the inside track to lifetime judicial appointments.

Governor’s Councilor Jennie Caissie took questions from her colleagues Wednesday in her bid for a lifetime appointment as clerk magistrate of Dudley District Court. [Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS]

Caissie, of Oxford, has been a member of the body that vets and confirms the governor’s judicial nominees since 2011. She is the only Republican currently on the eight-member council.

“I have been an attorney in private practice for over 20 years. I have handled all types of criminal and civil matters in the District Court, in the Superior Court, in the Probate and Family Court, in the Housing Court, in federal court, in Juvenile Court and handled worker’s compensation cases,” Caissie said. “I have represented clients at well over 100 clerk magistrates hearings on both criminal and civil matters. I have had numerous criminal and civil trials, both jury and bench trials, in the District Court and the Superior Court. I have presented arguments at the Appeals Court.”

Aside from her work for the law office of Michael V. Caplette in Southbridge since 1998, Caissie has also served as a special prosecutor in Worcester County since 2004. In that role, Caissie presented evidence to a grand jury to secure an indictment in a case involving the rape of a child.

She graduated magna cum laude from Assumption College in Worcester in 1995 and went on to earn a degree from New England School of Law in 1998 and an MBA from Nichols College in 2000, according to her campaign website. Caissie told the Council on Wednesday that she attended Assumption on a full athletic scholarship to play basketball and later helped coach the women’s basketball team at Nichols.

Vouching for Caissie on Wednesday was Milford District Court Judge Richard Eustis and Jose Rivera, the assistant chief court officer in Dudley District Court and a former three-time, two-division boxing world champion from Worcester.

 

Caissie encountered little opposition from her six fellow councilors who attended her hearing and no one from the public spoke in opposition to the nomination. But Councilor Devaney pressed Caissie on a number of aspects of her application and nomination as a clerk magistrate and whether there was anything untoward about the process.

Caissie said she had been in contact with the State Ethics Commission and “followed the letter of the law based on their advice. I do not think I had a conflict.”

Caissie’s nomination spurred renewed scrutiny of Baker’s recent judicial nominations and the governor took heat from both of Boston’s daily newspapers this week for tapping a series of nominees who appear to be political insiders or have close ties to the administration, particularly Polito.

In April, Baker nominated his deputy legal counsel and the executive director of the Judicial Nominating Commission, Sharon Casey, for a lifetime post as clerk magistrate in Cambridge. Casey had graduated from New England School of Law in the same class as Polito, in 1991.

In August, the governor tapped Shrewsbury Police Lt. Joseph McCarthy Jr., who serves in Polito’s hometown, as clerk magistrate of the Westborough District Court. The Boston Herald reported that McCarthy coached Polito’s son in youth football.

Also in August, Baker nominated Taunton Mayor Thomas Hoye as interim register of probate in Bristol County and Polito acknowledged that the administration tipped off Republican state Rep. Shauna O’Connell of the plan, allowing her to have city election papers filed and a mayoral campaign ready to launch as soon as Baker announced Hoye’s nomination.

And in Caissie, the governor nominated the only Republican on the Governor’s Council and someone who was among a group of Central Massachusetts Republicans on hand to support Polito, a Shrewsbury resident, when she and Baker first began to run as a gubernatorial ticket in 2013.

Devaney, who has previously clashed with Caissie at council meetings, said the perception that insiders have a leg up on all others for judicial appointments has kept some people from even applying for the posts.

“People in my district cannot get an interview with the [Judicial Nominating Commission] or if they do a far less qualified person is chosen,” she said. “A lot of them say there’s no point … What do I tell people in my district? Run for Governor’s Council and vote for all the governor’s nominees?”

Jubinville said Caissie is “extremely qualified” for the clerk magistrate job, but noted that she, “through no fault of your own … followed a string of appointments that have been controversial.” He also acknowledged “the perception that some elected officials and the public has about the council” before asking Caissie when she will resign from the Governor’s Council.

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“It’s going to be as immediate as it can be, I can tell you that,” Caissie said.