Parole Board Chair Josh Wall was confirmed to be a judge in Massachusetts yesterday. It was a 5-3 vote, certainly not an overwhelming sign of approval by the Governor’s Council, and certainly, for many of us—community activists, lawyers, families of parolees, incarcerated men and women, and educators— disappointing (see my columns below). Here are some of the things I heard councilors say, many of which were powerful and many, infuriating, and some, just plain wrong, as they told why they were or were not voting for Josh Wall. Included are also some details not reported in the press.
It was interesting that Governor Patrick was there for this vote, in the antechamber outside his office where votes are held around a round table, crowded with onlookers, and in this case, reporters. In fact he made an entrance, as if this was a big deal. Usually it is the Lieutenant Governor, and Tim Murray, who resigned in 2013, and would have been a tiebreaker in any 4-4 vote. But the Governor does not vote, and who knows if he was showing up just to make sure all went well for his friend? Who knows if the reason he asked Oliver Cipollini to give the opening prayer was so that Cipollini might look good before the assembly after the Boston Herald article from that day? In that article, Howie Carr, intimated that since Cipollini was defeated in his reelection as councilor, he would get payback if he voted for Wall; he asked: “Now that the voters have spoken, are you looking for a soft landing in the hackerama?” There was also more about this on Fox news last night.
But it was business as usual, as Cipollini vigorously denied these allegations, exasperated and squirming in his chair—a new one Governor Patrick had just provided for him and fellow councilor Marilyn Devaney. The prayer he gave asked the Council to reflect on public safety and how the council plays its role in such. Hmmmmmm, I thought. That’s a prayer? Then before the usual order of business, there was the pledge of allegiance.
Two other judges before Wall were put forth to be voted on first, and Councilor Bob Jubinville, who had been vigorous in his disapproval of Wall, said ironically both times when it came up to approve the other judges, “I congratulate the Governor on his nominees, I didn’t hear one objection from any source, defense lawyer or prosecutor, about his character, his fairness, or his integrity on these nominees.”
Terrence Kennedy put forth Josh Wall to be judge. Christopher Iannella seconded. Thus everyone knew: two Yeses. The Governor then asked for comments.
The first to speak against him was Jubinville who said that what he heard in three days of hearings from Wall’s handling of all his work had convinced him to vote no. He cited Brady v Maryland as a decision on exculpatory evidence, the Willy David issues where Wall went behind the judge’s back to find out the criminal records of the jury leading to a trial in his favor, the patterns of Josh Wall’s behavior as a prosecutor including some attacks of him as racist, and as Parole Board chair, the overwhelming support against him. Someone must have suggested that this was a “conspiracy” because Jubinville said to suggest so was foolishness. He ended by citing the Carr newspaper report and saying that Wall does not have the temperament to be a superior court judge. His vote was No.
Next up was Jennie Caissie who said, “The opposition to this nominee is historic.” She said that it is not just the number of people who showed up but “the magnitude of opposition to this nominee.The spectrum of people who showed up cannot be understated.” Again she noted that conspiracy theory that someone (Wall? the Governor?) had floated. Her concern included the Woodmans, victims who she believed when they talked about treatment from Josh Wall. She said she had been contacted by former colleagues from the Suffolk District Attorney’s office and one of them even used the word “God complex” in talking about Wall.
“I voted for Josh Wall twice,” Cassie said, but I think it takes a completely different set of skills to be a judge. “These are not disgruntled defendants or prisoner rights people,” but a variety of people “all drawing the same conclusion,” she said. She ended with probably the best quote of the day: We keep coming back to the word arrogance. And once you put a black robe on a person, they don’t become less arrogant.” Her vote was No.
Eileen Duff managed to get facts wrong as she explained why she was voting Yes for Wall. She said that she had gone back and listened to tapes of the three-day hearing—this she said, is how she makes her decisions— and listened “to what the folks who came in said against Wall. And in listening to Patricia Garin’s testimony, I was really struck by two things.” Here is where Duff totally screwed up her understandings. She twisted Patty Garin’s words, absurdly saying Garin supported Cinelli’s release (Maybe she had said on paper he looked good at the time, Ms. Duff? Parole is a man-made system, Ms Duff, and there will be mistakes, see my article here. The whole Board voted to release him). Wall based new systems on his Cinelli clean-up, yes, because Patrick was under fire. But no, Ms. Duff, you don’t know this: “If the parole rules Josh Wall had in place today, Cinelli never would have happened.” And she obviously did not hold much weight in the repercussions of the system that has been put in place by Wall on many parolees: Lifers wait months for decisions; our lifer paroling rate has gone down and this is against public safety. It was pretty clear that Duff didn’t believe the White Paper on Parole which laid out Josh Wall’s disastrous record, or did she believe any of the facts about the seven month delays in hearings getting word to parolees. Her vote was a resounding ring of support for Wall but maybe as much for Patrick. He did wish her Happy Birthday at the end of the hearing.
Marilyn Devaney’s testimony went on and on and on, and frankly she sounded as if she had been coached. Of course it is possible that she managed to research and believe all of the glowing things witnesses said about Wall and to disbelieve all of the witnesses against him. Her big phrase of the day was “character assassination” of which she spoke on and on, accusing all those who testified against Wall of lying: Donald Perry, Jason Lydon, a law student — all lied. Since Wall also felt they lied, she seemed to be echoing his words. She also defended Wall on the accusation by esteemed attorney Willy Davis who felt Wall’s getting jury backgrounds was a win at all cost attitude. She said she was grateful for all those who contacted her in opposition and she tried to contact them back– but I tried and know of many others whose calls she did not return. She voted Yes. Cipollini voted Yes.
Michael Albano had sent a letter in last week to the Governor indicating he could not support the nomination of Josh Wall. He did not give a speech.
It was amazing that a man who generated this much opposition–hearings that went on for weeks–after his nomination in July, stands as a superior court judge, confirmed in a bit less than a 2/3 vote, which is what a parolee in Massachusetts must get to be released. But whereas Wall feels unanimous decisions are good for the Parole Board, I am certain he was glad he didn’t have to have a unanimous decision here.
I would suggest letting your councilors know how you feel about their vote on Josh Wall. I, for one, will be working against my governor’s councilor (Duff) when her term comes up. It is important to follow some of these races because now there are many judges (13?) who still will need to be approved (or not) before the Governor leaves office.
The best news story is reporter David Boeri’s from WBUR
But even that report doesn’t get into the impact this decision will have on our courts. Let’s hope for the sake of thousands of men and women who will come before him, that Josh Wall’s life from here on out tries to prove those who do not believe he will be a fair judge–wrong.