"At Pittsfield library, film series lays down law"
By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, February 26, 2009
PITTSFIELD — Dustin Hoffman, Sally Field, Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power are among the Hollywood stars who will be at the Berkshire Athenaeum next month as part of the Massachusetts Trial Court's free Cinema of Law Film Series.
Well, the stars won't be there in the flesh, considering half the aforementioned actors have been dead for some time.
But their celluloid images — large and lifelike — will flicker across the movie screen at the legal-themed film festival, now in its third year and featuring guest speakers.
Pittsfield native Francis X. Spina, an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, will introduce the 1982 French film, "The Return of Martin Guerre," a 16th century tale involving a case of mistaken identity starring Gerard Depardieu.
"I think the lawyers and the judges really like doing the introductions," said Barbara Schneider, head law librarian at the Berkshire Law Library, which is tucked away on the third floor of Berkshire Superior Court and open to the public.
In the past, the film series — a veritable mini-festival, replete with free popcorn and film introductions by members of the Berkshire Bar Association — has featured courtroom classics like "The Verdict," "To Kill a Mockingbird," even "My Cousin Vinny," with the late Fred Gwynne (aka Herman Munster) playing the judge.
The films, all of which start at 6 p.m., and their introducers are as follows:
March 10 — "The Return of Martin Guerre," with introduction by Spina.
March 17 — "Witness for the Prosecution," with intro by Berkshire Assistant District Attorney Joseph A. Pieropan
March 24 — "Kramer vs. Kramer," with intro by retired Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Judge Rudolph Sacco.
March 31 — "Norma Rae," with intro by local labor attorney Kevin Kinne.
The annual film series is organized by the Berkshire Law Library, the Berkshire Bar Association and the Friends of the Berkshire Athenaeum.
Gary Smith, the Berkshire Law Library assistant, said he and Schneider come up with a short list, which is winnowed down after consulting with the Friends of the Berkshire Athenaeum.
"We want to get their input, too," Smith said.
Along with the free films, popcorn and commentary by local legal experts, a display of law books related to each of the legal themes addressed in the films also will be available for public perusal.
"Norma Rae" is the 1979 labor-rights classic starring Field, while "Kramer vs. Kramer," also from 1979, is a painfully realistic account of the legal — and emotional — impact of divorce starring Hoffman and Meryl Streep. "Witness to the Prosecution" is Billy Wilder's 1957 courtroom murder drama, starring Power as the killer and Dietrich as his wife.
More information about the Berkshire Law Library is available at www.lawlib.state.ma.us.
The library can be reached at (413) 442-5059 or at berkshire email@example.com.
To reach Conor Berry: firstname.lastname@example.org; (413) 496-6249.
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Francis X. Spina
Francis X. Spina, Associate Justice, was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on November 13, 1946. He received a B.A. degree from Amherst College and a J.D. degree from Boston College Law School. From 1972 to 1974 Justice Spina served with Western Massachusetts Legal Services. From 1975-1977 he served as an Assistant City Solicitor for the City of Pittsfield Law Department. From 1979-1983 he served as Second Assistant District Attorney in the Berkshire County Attorney's Office. Justice Spina was a partner with the Pittsfield law firms of Reder, Whalen, and Spina and Katz, Lapointe and Spina from 1983 to 1993. Justice Spina served on the Superior Court from 1993 to 1997; the Massachusetts Appeals Court from 1997 to 1999; and was appointed as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court on October 14, 1999. He lives in Pittsfield with his wife Sally (O'Donnell) Spina.
Governor Paul Cellucci -- "The Big Dig is on time and on budget" -- nominated Francis Spina to the highest court in the commonwealth after he based his 1998 election campaign on restoring the death penalty in Massachusetts. The conservative Judge Spina is pro-death penalty and his judicial vote on the issue was supposed to have helped Cellucci in his (unjust) cause of executing otherwise very dangerous convicted murderers. Fortunately, Cellucci was NOT successful in restoring the death penalty in Massachusetts while unfortunately being successful in winning the corner office in Beacon Hill's State House. During Cellucci's tenure, the Big Dig proved to NOT be on time and, of course, NOT be on budget either with one single cost overrun of over $2 billion taxpayers' dollars! Cellucci then resigned his seat as Governor during his term and left behind the WORST Governor in the history of the USA: Jane Swift!
A 2008 photo of the John Adams Courthouse, home to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.
Judge Spina voted against legalizing same sex marriage in Massachusetts.
Photo by Ted Fitzgerald
"2 Americas - but countless injustices"
By Howie Carr, February 27, 2009, www.bostonherald.com, Columnists
There are two Americas, only they’re not the two that the lecherous John Edwards described in his doomed campaign for president.
The two Americas are the Dreaded Private Sector (DPS), where life grows gloomier by the hour, and the Public Sector, where happy days are here again, especially in Massachusetts. I know, not everyone on a public payroll is living large, but let’s face it, life right now is a lot cushier.
In the DPS, every week there are farewell parties for co-workers who have been laid off. In the Public Sector, the farewell parties are for colleagues who have filed for disability pensions at age 42.
In the Public Sector, if you can pass a physical test to prove you can do your job, you get a bonus. In the DPS, you don’t get fired - this week.
In the DPS, your pay just got cut. In the Public Sector, you just got a pay raise.
In the DPS, you pay into your pension plan for years, maybe decades, and at the end, you get nothing. In the Public Sector, if you’re a justice on the Supreme Judicial Court, you pay nothing - nothing! - and then at the end you get a big fat pension.
In the DPS, the gas tax goes up, and the money comes out of your pocket. In the Public Sector, if you’re in the Legislature, the gas tax goes up and eventually they just increase their own per-diem travel allowance, which, by the way, operates on the honor system.
In the DPS, if you don’t abuse your sick days, you don’t get fired. In the Public Sector, at least at Massport, if you don’t abuse your sick days, you retire with a six-figure payout for all your “unused” days on top of the 80 percent pension and the health plan.
In the Public Sector, you get off Bunker Hill Day, Evacuation Day, Patriots [team stats] Day, Columbus Day, etc. etc. In the DPS, you’re kidding, right?
In the DPS, people look for “work.” In the Public Sector, they’re looking for a “job.”
In the Public Sector, if you cheat on your taxes, you have the right to claim it was an “honest mistake.” If you’re in the DPS and you cheat on your taxes, you have the right to remain silent.
In the DPS, you have to pay for parking. In the Public Sector, you get free parking and a free car.
The two Americas are diverging - one’s standard of living is plummeting, the other’s is rising. In Massachusetts, the two sectors do only one thing together: They drive to tax-free New Hampshire to buy their gas, booze, soft drinks, cigarettes, electronics gear, furniture and everything else - to beat the taxes that make Taxachusetts Taxachusetts.
Article URL: www.bostonherald.com/news/columnists/view.bg?articleid=1154953
Note: I was once a juror in a civil case in Berkshire Superior Court with Judge Francis Spina presiding during the Summer 1996.
Note: I attended Judge Spina's promotion ceremony at Berkshire Superior Court with my Dad, Bob, during the next Summer 1997. "Luciforo" was there too, and he gave me a very mean & threatening stare at the post ceremony gathering outside on the Courthouse lawn.
Note: During Autumn 2001, my dad and I attended an event honoring "Moby Dick" at Tanglewood hosted by the late Peter Jennings. Judge Spina was also in attendance and said a friendly "hello" to my dad, Bob, who worked in the Pittsfield Court at the time.
"Perv clerk an all-time star in Hackerama"
By Howie Carr, Sunday, March 1, 2009, www.bostonherald.com, Columnists
Who got reputed perv Chelsea court clerk James Burke his $85,000-a-year hack job?
Or, as one poster on a Herald message board asked at 1:28 Friday afternoon:
“Who’s this clown related to that he’s a court officer? You don’t get that gig without connections.”
He got his answer in 12 minutes from a poster with the handle “magnumforce,” who also added his personal assessment of Burke’s intelligence: “He’s dumb as a rock.”
We can’t say for sure yet who Burke’s political sponsor was. Everybody was ducking yesterday: Burke and his lawyer, not to mention the clerk’s alleged patron, whom we’ll call Hack X.
As for the unspeakably corrupt Massachusetts court system, it’s conducting an “internal investigation.” Riiiiiight. They’re just waiting for this latest scandal to drop off the front page.
Rest assured the courts aren’t going to turn on one of their own, especially a distinguished member of the International Brotherhood of Payroll Patriots [team stats]. No ratting allowed. Omerta - silence - may be dead in the Mafia, but not in the state court system. The only difference is, the Mob is always looking for “earners.” The courts only accept “takers.”
Meanwhile, let me fill you in on the curriculum vitae of Hack X. He has the same name as a relative who happened to be a gangster who was shot to death in Charlestown. His father, another hack, was indicted for arranging welfare benefits for the family of another Townie hoodlum. But Hack X’s dear old dad beat the rap after hiring as his attorney the brother of a serial-killing cocaine dealer from South Boston.
Mrs. Hack X eventually landed a $100,000-a-year state job, having been hired by the lawyer of Hack X’s dad. Meanwhile, Hack X himself was recently rebuffed in his attempt to reinsert his snout into the public trough, which would have boosted his pension more than somewhat.
Say what you will about Clerk Burke. He reminds us that in Massachusetts, the court system isn’t about “justice,” it’s about “just us.” It’s a multigenerational conspiracy by connected layabouts to avoid ever having to work for a living.
Burke was lugged one day after the latest miscarriage of justice in a state courtroom. Did you see what happened to the ex-police chief of Stoughton, who was convicted last month of being an accessory to attempted extortion?
The judge threw the book at him - a comic book. The chief got a suspended sentence after four years of “administrative leave,” which means, full pay. A four-year paid vacation. That’ll show the chief, by God.
The chief also lost his pension - at least until he can get his appeal into a state court, which I predict won’t take long.
This ethical cirrhosis that so infects the state courts has spread into the local federal courts. Exhibit A: Felon Finneran, the corrupt ex-House speaker, guilty of obstruction of justice - another suspended sentence for a major felony. Like I said, there’s a lot of that going around.
Now Felon Finneran will soon be trying to get his law license back. Anyone want to bet on whether he gets it?
Meanwhile, Clerk Burke must look for a new job. In the hackerama.
Article URL: www.bostonherald.com/news/columnists/view.bg?articleid=1155374
"Unlike court hacks, she works hard for the money"
By Howie Carr, Saturday, February 28, 2009, www.bostonherald.com, Columnists
Try not to let this sordid episode destroy your faith in the integrity of the Massachusetts judicial system.
Never forget, it’s that 98 percent of the courthouse hacks engaging in dodgy (if not illegal) behavior that give the other 2 percent such a bad name.
Poor James M. Burke - he of the $85,000-a-year salary as an assistant clerk. In Bellingham Square, that kind of dough would have bought him several thousand - oh, never mind. Goodbye, big fat state pension. Somewhere in Middlesex County, John Buonomo feels Burke’s pain.
In the FBI affidavit, the working girl is called “CW,” as in “Cooperating Witness.” In the courtroom, she pointed out Burke to her attorney and said, matter-of-factly, “I (expletive) him in court.”
Here are two of my favorite quotes from the FBI affidavit: “The CW told Attorney Andreasi that Burke said that the judge was his friend and ‘had his back.’ . . . Burke said that he had talked to the District Attorney who told Burke that the CW’s case was going to get resolved.”
Lenny Bruce summed it up very well. In the halls of justice, the only justice is in the halls.
If these allegations are true, it was pathetically easy for Burke to find an empty courtroom for his afternoon delight. That’s the great thing about working in most of these district courthouses. Nobody is ever there, especially after noon. If Deval Patrick was serious about cutting the state budget, he could close half these hack nests.
“Burke told CW that the only way they were able to have a sexual encounter was because it was late in the day and the only judge left was not going to go downstairs.”
God forbid the judge should ever leave his chambers. Somebody might actually expect him to work. But at least the judge was there, in the courthouse, after noon. He should get an award just for that. How did Burke describe the timing - “late in the day”? At a Massachusetts courthouse, that’s any time after 11:45 a.m.
In a recorded conversation, the common nightwalker told Burke she was embarrassed to have, ahem, committed sodomy in the courtroom. Why? At least she was working, unlike most of the people who collect paychecks at the courthouse - or any Massachusetts courthouse, for that matter.
“Burke asked the CW if she thought it was ‘hot’ and the CW replied that it was ‘totally hot’ and ‘freaky.’ Burke agreed that it was freaky and said ‘it’s good because it’s like it’s so bad.’ ”
Clerk Burke turns 42 next week. Is it too late to file for a disability pension?
Photo by UPI (above); Cartoon by Dan Wasserman (below)
"Paul Cellucci rushes to aid GOP"
By Jessica Heslam, Friday, March 6, 2009, www.bostonherald.com, U.S. Politics
Former Bay State Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci says conservative talk radio king Rush Limbaugh is among “many” prominent Republicans who will challenge the new White House administration - but insists there’s “a lot of good leadership” in the GOP.
Limbaugh told the Herald this week that he’s “the most prominent national figure actually tying Barack Obama to his policies” and that the Republican Party doesn’t actually have a “leader.”
“I just don’t agree with that,” Cellucci said yesterday of Limbaugh’s comments.
Cellucci said there are a lot of people “going around the country speaking for the Republican cause,” including Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, ex-GOP presidential contenders Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Romney’s spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“There’s a lot of good leadership in the Republican Party,” Cellucci said. “We’ll have a nomination process to figure out who our next leader will be.”
Limbaugh has been deemed the de facto leader of the conservatives, and his status has only gained steam since President Obama took office. In an e-mail to the Herald, Limbaugh said: “The Republican Party and the conservative movement are two different things. I have nothing to do with the party.”
In January, Obama told GOP leaders that “You can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.” Earlier this week, Steele apologized to the host after calling him an “entertainer” whose show is “incendiary” and “ugly.”
Limbaugh challenged Obama to a debate this week.
“No, of course not,” Cellucci said on the chances of Obama taking the bait. “When you’re president of the United States you don’t debate a talk show host. That’s ridiculous.”
Article URL: www.bostonherald.com/news/us_politics/view.bg?articleid=1156536
Rush Limbaugh. (Photo by AP) - (File)
"What’s Barack Obama’s Rush to make new enemies?"
By Howie Carr, Friday, March 6, 2009, www.bostonherald.com, Columnists
Barack Obama’s administration has uncovered a new Public Enemy No. 1.
Forget Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Obama and the pampered poodles on his staff are going after the real Mr. Big - Rush Limbaugh and his Excellence in Broadcasting network.
Does something seem a little . . . off, shall we say, about the moonbats’ newly rediscovered obsession with El Rushbo? From the War on Terror to the War on Talk Radio.
Obama’s been in office less than two months and he’s already got an enemies’ list. Whatever happened to the old saying, “Every knock a boost”? James Michael Curley used to say, “Never complain, never explain.”
What he meant was, anytime you respond to somebody, you elevate him to your level. Hell, no smart public figure ever admits he has a problem, even if he’s ambushed leaving the courthouse by camera crews demanding answers.
Remember last fall, when indicted Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner stumbled out of his house in Roxbury at dawn with his zipper down? Hardly anyone even knew about Chuck’s sartorial faux pas until he launched into a diatribe on live TV against Ch. 25 for mentioning it.
What happened? Within five minutes, everyone listening to his speech had clicked onto Ch. 25’s Web site to check out the hilarious video for themselves. Within 10 minutes, Councilor Turner had a new nickname - Superfly.
These limousine liberals have revitalized Rush. Suddenly he’s back to where he was in 1995, back when he had a TV show and best-selling books. I couldn’t be more pleased, because I have a vested interest in Rush Limbaugh’s success: He’s my lead-in. If Obama’s jihad means a lot of new listeners are “sampling” him (and it does), at least some of them may stick around at 3:06 when I come on.
Until two weeks ago, Rush was still on top, but he wasn’t as on top as he used to be, if you know what I mean. Too many afternoons he’d end up babbling about his private jet, or meander on and on about the Pittsburgh Steelers or George Brett.
No wonder Rush’s favorability rating among those under 40 had slid to 11 percent. Everything about him screamed “RICH OLD FART.” He still had his 600 stations, but he was slowly fading into a $30-million-a-year irrelevance.
Now he’s back. He’s No. 1 on the new White House Enemies List.
How long did it take Nixon to come up with his enemies’ list? At least three or four years. This Barack guy, he moves fast.
Article URL: www.bostonherald.com/news/columnists/view.bg?articleid=1156528
ELLEN GOODMAN, Op-Ed, The Boston Globe
"Sorry Rush, but you're no Oprah"
By Ellen Goodman, March 6, 2009
I WAS GOING to give this a good leaving alone. But there I was flying home from a mellow family visit when El Rushbo filled - and I do mean filled - the screen before me, delivering what he called "my first-ever address to the nation." Who knew there'd been a coup while I was gone? Hail to the Chief?
Dressed in a style David Letterman later labeled as "Eastern European Gangster," Rush Limbaugh delivered a rousing 85-minute sermon to conservative true believers that included an unapologetic hope that Obama will fail. Ah yes, a talk-radio host who'd rather be (far) right than have his country rescued. Charming.
Limbaugh was not only a counterpoint to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who delivered the hapless Republican response to the president. He managed to bully the Republican leadership, including its party chair, the misnomered Michael Steele. After saying Limbaugh was "incendiary" and "ugly," Steele turned to mush and groveled about being "a little bit inarticulate."
Despite watching Limbaugh's rant at 30,000 feet, I read glowing reviews saying that "it will be talked about for years and even decades." And so I am forced to return to the subject our man Rush implied just days earlier: "Why don't women like me?"
This question came after Public Policy Polling showed a gender gap of massive proportions in his approval ratings - 56 percent of men view him favorably compared with only 37 percent of women.
Pew Research folks have charted an even deeper divide in the audience - 72 percent of his listeners are men, only 28 percent are women. Nevertheless, with the deepest of faux sincerity, Limbaugh announced a Female Summit on his favorite subject: Rush Limbaugh.
As he framed it, "Cause I'm just a harmless little fuzz ball. I'm the sweetest, the nicest, most generous, compassionate, confident, cocky, I-know-what-I-want-and-I-know-what's-right-and I'm-going-to-say-what-I-think kind of guy you could run into, and I'm saying to myself, 'What could be the explanation for the gender gap?'"
Gosh. Was it something he said? Could it have the teensiest bit to do with all those "feminazi" cracks? Was it his warning that "the last place you want to be is between a liberal who gets herself pregnant and a morning-after pill"? Was it his crack that Hillary would lose because Americans didn't want to see a woman age in office? Or his description of New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand as "marginally hotter than the former senator." If that were the only problem, we could cure it with duct tape.
Now a touch of reality here. Women don't tune in to talk radio as much as men. Talk radio has been the forum of the "angry white man" since the 1990s. Women have had quite enough men yell at them, thank you, and Rush is more than vaguely reminiscent of the boss from hell.
But Rush, who brags "I own the men," asked "What must I do now to own the women?" Well, sweetie, Oprah owns the women. If Rush talks at women, Oprah talks with women.
Just imagine Limbaugh in marriage therapy letting his wife speak for an uninterrupted five minutes. You don't own women unless you can listen to them.
More to the point, remember that Oprah is all about change. Rush, however, is the prototype of the Man Who Won't Change.
What finally happened at that Female Summit? When women callers who love Rush told him how to woo women who didn't, he balked. Pompous? "I'm not changing that." Stop with the "babe" talk? "Why do I have to change who I am?" Be more vulnerable? "You're trying to emasculate me here."
None of this is world-shattering. What makes it notable is that the Man Who Won't Change has used his ample body to fill the vacuum of Republican leadership. And the biggest gap in his own approval is among exactly those who left the party in droves: independent women.
Yes, our pinup boy has a following of about 20 million listeners. But last time I looked, Obama won with nearly 70 million voters. At this rate, The Party That Won't Change is going to have to rename itself the Grand Old Ditto Heads.
Ellen Goodman's e-mail address is email@example.com.
My Daily Work: Bobby Jindal
Posted by Dan Wasserman, February 26, 2009, 5:31 P.M.
WAS GOVERNOR PAUL CELLUCCI PARTIALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR 9/11/2001?
9/11/2001 - We will never forget...Paul Cellucci & Jane Swift's poor leadership! The 2 airplanes that hit the WTC Twin Towers in NYC on 9/11/2001 left from the very Boston airport that Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift oversaw!
“MOAKLEY, CELLUCCI TRADE BARBS OVER MASSPORT APPOINTMENT”
By Martin Finucane, Associated Press, 09/14/99
BOSTON- Gov. Paul Cellucci traded barbs Tuesday with U.S. Rep. Joseph Moakley over his decision to appoint chief of staff to head the Massachusetts Port Authority.
Moakley, D-Mass., had criticized Cellucci’s nomination of 34-year-old Virginia Buckingham, QUESTIONING HER ABILITY TO RUN THE AGENCY THAT OVERSEES LOGAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT and the Port of Boston.
“I’m surprised at Congressman Moakley,” said Cellucci. “It sounds like Joe Moakley might be one of those men I was referring to a couple of weeks ago who are threatened by powerful women.”
Cellucci, at a recent news conference, had defended Buckingham by suggesting her detractors were threatened by powerful women and they should “get a life.”
MOAKLEY CRITICIZED BUCKINGHAM FOR HER LACK OF TRANSPORTATION EXPERTISE, TELLING THE BOSTON HERALD, “I FAVOR ON-THE-JOB TRAINING, BUT NOT IN THE TOP POSITION.”
He also told the Herald on Tuesday that Cellucci had taken “some girl sitting in the next office” and put her in charge.
Moakley quickly apologized, the newspaper reported, and amended his statement to say “woman.”
But the Republican governor and LT. GOV. JANE SWIFT pounced on Moakley’s initial use of the word “girl.”
“Ginny Buckingham is a professional woman. She’s not the girl in the room next door,” said Cellucci.
SWIFT said: “I just think it’s unacceptable for the dean of our congressional delegation to call an accomplished 34-year-old woman a ‘girl’.”
Moakley spokeswoman Karin Walser emphasized Tuesday that “Mr. Moakley apologized the minute the word left his lips. It was a misstatement pure and simple.” She had no further comment.
Moakley and Cellucci are currently at odds over a controversial proposal by Massport to add a runway to Logan. Moakley is leading the opposition to the plan.
The powerful South Boston politician also has clashed with Cellucci over the governor’s criticism of the all-Democratic federal delegation for failing to secure enough money for the Central Artery-third harbor tunnel project in Boston (the “Big Dig”).
Buckingham, who has been on maternity leave, is expected to be approved by the Massport board on Thursday and begin her new job next week. She has told the board she wants to make $150,000, $10,000 more than her predecessor Peter Blute was scheduled to make. Her home phone number in Marblehead is unlisted.
Moakley had also criticized the Buckingham appointment as part of Cellucci’s pattern of naming close political allies to key jobs.
“You look at a couple of (Cellucci’s) appointments, he didn’t have to walk two feet to make three of them. I know the world is getting smaller, but I don’t think it’s that small,” Moakley said.
Cellucci defended his appointments by pointing to Administration and Finance Secretary Andrew Natsios, a former state representative who left Massachusetts to work for the U.S. Agency for International Development and a private relief agency in Washington.
“It’s a remarkable life experience. … We’ve brought in people. … We’ve also promoted people who have demonstrated they can get the job done,” Cellucci said.
Natsios was a close friend of Cellucci’s when the served in the House of Representatives together in the 1970s.
The Boston Globe, Op-Ed, JOAN VENNOCHI
"Could Charlie Baker rescue the state's GOP?"
By Joan Vennochi, Boston Globe Columnist, March 5, 2009
CHARLIE BAKER is thinking about running for governor.
Baker thinks about that almost as often as Julia Roberts thinks about getting married in "Runaway Bride."
But the slightest confirmation of mulling causes fluttering in the hearts of that endangered species known as Massachusetts Republicans.
Baker, who heads Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, held top administration positions for Governors Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci. From time to time, he makes it clear he would like to be governor. But, when it comes to actually running for the job, he has a commitment problem.
Like a bride-to-be poised to hit the Filene's Basement wedding gown sale, Baker looked almost ready to suit up in 2006. But, due to family obligations, not to mention a primary opponent with a family fortune, he opted out. That left the Republican gubernatorial slot to Kerry Healey, the lieutenant governor, who lost to Democrat Deval Patrick.
With some help from Baker, a Baker run is being talked up once again.
"Have not decided. Will not decide today, tomorrow, or the next day. Not the day after that either. The choice is somewhere between ridiculous and preposterous," he said, via e-mail.
Baker then went on to detail the challenges of running against an incumbent Democrat who could count on millions in political contributions, along with campaign help from his good friend, the president of the United States.
"So, yeah - I'm thinking about it - but I'm a pretty pragmatic guy," he concluded, in classic, inconclusive Baker style.
Baker also ducked when asked where he stands on the burning fiscal issue of the day - Patrick's proposal to hike the gas tax by 19 cents: "Unless I decide to run, who cares what I think?" he replied.
People should care, especially if he runs.
Baker served eight years in state government, first as secretary of human services and then as secretary of administration and finance. During the Weld/Cellucci years, Big Dig costs rose and the state borrowed money to cover them.
"When Charlie was head of A&F, the state borrowed against future federal highway aid. We're paying for that now," said Michael Widmer, who heads the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and supports a 25-cents-per-gallon gas tax hike.
If Baker runs for governor, Widmer said, it is fair to ask, "How much of what happened on his watch is what we're having to pay for now?"
When it comes to taxes, Baker and any Republican gubernatorial candidate would like to have it both ways, just as Weld did in 1990.
Faced with a huge budget deficit, outgoing Governor Michael Dukakis, a Democrat, raised taxes with support from the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate. An angry public rebelled by voting Republican. Weld and a team that included Baker then benefitted from the new revenue.
"The tax increases saved what would have been massive budget cuts on his watch," said Widmer.
Baker was a key part of other important policy decisions that are also open to debate. For example, Baker was secretary of health and human services when the Weld administration moved to deregulate the healthcare industry in Massachusetts. As a result, healthcare providers now compete with each other; the state no longer sets rates. Baker also signed off on the merger of the state's two biggest hospitals, which occurred without a public hearing. As CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, he has been critical of the fallout, especially as it relates to cost. He recently compared it to "having the grenade that you throw on one end of the boat roll back down and blow up on you when the boat shifts."
But in a party starved for credibility and gravitas, Baker is a star. He's a Harvard graduate, a former state Cabinet officer, and widely viewed as Harvard Pilgrim's savior.
It will be much harder to save the Massachusetts GOP, which explains why Baker is still only thinking about running for governor.
Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"To execute or not: A question of cost?"
By Deborah Hastings, Associated Press, Saturday, March 07, 2009
After decades of moral arguments reaching biblical proportions, after long, twisted journeys to the nation's highest court and back, the death penalty may be abandoned by several states for a reason having nothing to do with right or wrong:
Turns out, it is cheaper to imprison killers for life than to execute them, according to a series of recent surveys. Tens of millions of dollars cheaper, politicians are learning, during a tumbling recession when nearly every state faces job cuts and massive deficits.
So an increasing number of them are considering abolishing capital punishment in favor of life imprisonment, not on principle but out of financial necessity.
"It's 10 times more expensive to kill them than to keep them alive," though most Americans believe the opposite, said Donald McCartin, a former California jurist known as "The Hanging Judge of Orange County" for sending nine men to death row.
Deep into retirement, he lost his faith in an eye for an eye and now speaks against it. What changed a mind so set on the ultimate punishment?
California's legendarily slow appeals system, which produces an average wait of nearly 20 years from conviction to fatal injection - the longest in the nation. Of the nine convicted killers McCartin sent to death row, only one has died. Not by execution, but from a heart attack in custody.
"Every one of my cases is bogged up in the appellate system," said McCartin, who retired in 1993 after 15 years on the bench.
"It's a waste of time and money," said the 82-year-old, self-described right-wing Republican whose sonorous voice still commands attention. "The only thing it does is prolong the agony of the victims' families."
In 2007, time and money were the reasons New Jersey became the first state to ban executions since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1972.
Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine commuted the executions of 10 men to life imprisonment without parole. Legal costs were too great and produced no result, lawmakers said. After spending an estimated $4.2 million for each death sentence, the state had executed no one since 1963. Also, eliminating capital punishment eliminated the risk of executing an innocent person.
Out of 36 remaining states with the death penalty, at least eight have considered legislation this year to end it - Maryland, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, New Hampshire, Washington and Kansas - an uncommon marriage between eastern liberals and western conservatives, built on economic hardship.
"This is the first time in which cost has been the prevalent issue in discussing the death penalty," said Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a data clearinghouse that favors abolition of capital punishment.
The most recent arguments against it centered on the ever-increasing number of convicts cleared by DNA evidence.
Some of the worst cases occurred in Illinois. In 2000, then-Gov. George H. Ryan placed a moratorium on executions after 13 people had been exonerated from death row for reasons including genetic testing and recanted testimony. Ryan declared the system "so fraught with error that it has come close to the ultimate nightmare, the state's taking of innocent life."
He commuted the sentences of all 167 death row convicts, most to life imprisonment without parole. His moratorium is still in effect.
Across the country, the number of prisoners exonerated and released from death row is more than 130, with thousands of appeals clogging the courts.
Death penalty trials are more expensive for several reasons: They often require extra lawyers; there are strict experience requirements for attorneys, leading to lengthy appellate waits while capable counsel is sought for the accused; security costs are higher, as well as costs for processing evidence - DNA testing, for example, is far more expensive than simple blood analyses.
After sentencing, prices continue to rise. It costs more to house death row inmates, who are held in segregated sections, in individual cells, with guards delivering everything from daily meals to toilet paper.
In California, home to the nation's biggest death row population at 667, it costs an extra $90,000 per inmate to imprison someone sentenced to death - an additional expense that totals more than $60 million annually, according to a 2008 study by the state's Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice.
The panel, which agreed with California Chief Justice Ronald M. George that the state's death penalty system was "dysfunctional," blamed exorbitant costs on delays in finding qualified public defenders, a severe backlog in appellate reviews, and a high rate of cases being overturned on constitutional grounds.
"Failures in the administration of California's death penalty law create cynicism and disrespect for the rule of law," concluded the 117-page report.
Some prominent Californians have asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to get rid of executions. Especially now, as service cuts and tax increases are pegged to fill a $42 billion budget hole. But it appears that the Republican governor will not abandon capital punishment anytime soon.
Meanwhile, the nationwide number of death sentences handed down has declined over the past decade, from 284 in 1999 to 111 in 2008. Reasons differ significantly, depending on who's providing them: Pro-death penalty activists say it's because crime rates have declined and execution is a strong deterrent; abolitionists say it's because jurors and judges are reluctant to risk taking a life when future scientific tests could prove the accused not guilty.
Executions, too, are dropping. There were 98 in 1999; 37 in 2008.
Still, the costs of capital punishment weigh heavily on legislators facing Solomon-like choices in these dismal economic times.
In Kansas, Republican state Sen. Caroline McGinn is pushing a bill that would repeal the death penalty effective July 1. Kansas, which voted to suspend tax refunds, faces a budget deficit of nearly $200 million. McGinn urged fellow legislators "to think outside the box" for ways to save money. According to a state survey, capital cases were 70 percent more expensive than comparable non-death penalty cases.
In New Mexico, Gov. Bill Richardson recently said his longtime support of capital punishment was wavering - and belt-tightening was one the reasons. As the state tries to plug a $450 million budget shortfall with cuts to schools and environmental agencies, a bill to end executions has already passed the House as a cost-saving measure. The state supreme court has ruled that more money must be given for public defenders in death penalty cases, but legislators have yet to act.
In Maryland, a 2008 Urban Institute study said taxpayers forked out at least $37.2 million for each of five executions since the death penalty was re-enacted in 1978. The survey, which examined 162 capital cases, found that simply seeking the death penalty added $186 million to prosecution costs. Gov. Martin O'Malley, who disdains the death penalty on moral and financial grounds, is pushing a bill to repeal it.
There are many, of course, who refuse to change their minds, believing execution is the ultimate wage of the ultimate sin. They also say that death penalty cases don't have to be so expensive.
Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a pro-capital-punishment group, said, "Having an effective appeals process might very well cost less."
States "calculate the cost as if these people are going to spend their whole lives on death row. We should be revamping the appeals process so that these cases move more quickly," Scheidegger said.
But court systems and their costs vary greatly among states, as does the time it takes to exhaust appeals. It's doubtful that change could come quickly enough to generate savings during this roiling recession.
"It's all about money," said McCartin, the former California judge. "The reasons I changed my mind were between that and how the victims' families just get raped during appeals."
But if convicted killers get life imprisonment instead of death, is that letting them off easy?
Not a chance, says 52-year-old Gordon "Randy" Steidl. He lived on death row and then in the general prison population, after his sentence was commuted to life. He preferred his former accommodations.
Steidl was released in 2004 after being exonerated of the 1986 stabbing deaths of a newlywed couple in Paris, Ill. He had an alibi for the night of the murders, corroborated by others. But he was convicted on eyewitness testimony provided by the town drunk and the town drug addict. Both later recanted.
The state of Illinois spent $3.5 million trying to execute him, "only to end up giving me a life sentence," Steidl said. "And then 5½ years after that, I was exonerated."
He spent 12 years in a tiny cell on death row. Then he was thrown into "gen pop," with its snarling mass of an open cellblock, where the prospect of being stabbed, raped or worse loomed constantly, alongside deafening noise and psychotic cell mates.
"If you really want to kill someone, give them life without parole," Steidl said in an even voice. He speaks of his troubled past as if it was trapped under glass or locked behind bars - visible but no longer able to torture him.
"It's worse than dying."
For more on this topic:
Well Executed?: The Real World Implications of Capital Punishment
Failure magazine's interview with Rev. Carroll Pickett, former Death House chaplain at The Walls in Huntsville, Texas
"Massachusetts: Superior court celebrates 150 years"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Saturday, March 28, 2009
PITTSFIELD — James Buchanan was the president and the country was divided over slavery when the Massachusetts Superior Court was founded in July 1859.
One of the oldest common law trial courts of general jurisdiction in the United States, the Superior Court is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year with a series of educational events that involve courts across the commonwealth, including Berkshire County's.
The Berkshire County events include three programs that will be broadcast on local cable television stations. The first will be a discussion of the history and work of the Superior Court that includes Chief Justice Barbara J. Rouse and Berkshire Superior Court judges John A. Agostini and Daniel A. Ford. That program was filmed in Superior Court on Friday afternoon.
The two others consist of mock hearings on criminal and civil matters that will be distributed to schools on CD-ROM for classroom discussion.
Rouse, who traveled to Pittsfield on Friday to discuss the anniversary celebrations, said many across the state have no idea what the courts do.
"Civics is no longer taught in Massachusetts schools," she said. "Studies have shown that some segments of the population can't name the three branches of government."
Ford will preside over the mock criminal hearings, and Agostini the civil matters. Members of the Berkshire Bar Association will also participate. Those programs will be filmed in Superior Court in April.
Ford is the chairman of the Berkshire County committee that planned the local anniversary celebrations. He said the idea to create three television programs was arrived at by consensus.
"We're a smaller county than some of the other ones," Ford said. "We wanted to have an outreach to the schools. We thought this was a good way of doing it. It was something that we thought would be educational, informative and enjoyable."
In May 1959, the Berkshire Bar Association hosted a celebration for the Superior Court's 100th anniversary with a dinner at Pittsfield's Wendell Sherwood Hotel.
Rouse said no public funds have been used to pay for any of the 150th anniversary celebrations. Superior Court judges across the state have made contributions, and the court received a grant from the state Bar Association, she said.
The economic recession has forced Gov. Deval L. Patrick to cut funding to several state agencies. Rouse said the Superior Court implemented a hiring freeze and eliminated per diem court reporters in civil sessions. She said the Superior Court won't know what additional cost-saving measures it may have to take until it receives its fiscal 2010 funding from the state in May or June.
Berkshire County: James Dohoney Scholarship Fund
"Lawyers' goal: A play for funds"
By Derek Gentile, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, April 13, 2009
LENOX — Even before a visitor enters the Lenox Community Center, one can hear raised voices. This is just a rehearsal, but the two dozen or so attorneys taking part in the Berkshire Bar Players' production of "Inherit The Wind" are clearly taking this performance very seriously.
"Oh yeah, they're all into this," said co-director Lou Oggiani, a Great Barrington attorney. "And some of them are pretty good."
The play will be shown Thursday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. at the Unicorn Theater in Stockbridge. Tickets are $30.
The Berkshire Bar Players are a group of amateur actors who all happen to be full-time lawyers. They have banded together for a good cause: They are raising money for the James Dohoney Scholarship Fund, a fund that provides scholarship money to local high school students.
To date, according to Judith Monachina, who is the publicist for the show, the event has raised $37,585, which provided scholarships for 43 local students, as well as funding to five local educational enrichment funds.
They are also bound together by their affection for Dohoney, a local judge known as much for his love of the job as for his fairness on the bench. Dohoney died in 1995, and the scholarship fund was created a few years after his demise.
But the irony of it, as Oggiani will admit, was that in 1999, when lawyers began speaking of a fund to honor the late judge, "We didn't really have any idea of how to raise the money. Then I thought about doing a play and everybody got excited about it."
That first year, Oggiani directed "12 Angry Jurors." (The play was originally called, as most people know, "12 Angry Men." But the Berkshire Bar Players included some female actors, and so the title was changed.)
The Bar Players try to choose a play with a legal theme. This year's play, "Inherit The Wind," is a fictionalized version of the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" trial, which resulted in John T. Scopes' conviction for teaching Charles Darwin's theory of evolution to a high school science class, which was then against Tennessee state law.
The company has been rehearsing since December. In March, rehearsals went from once a week to twice a week, said Oggiani.
"It's says a lot that all of these people have families and other commitments, but they've been pretty good in making time for this play," he said.
(Chris Hondros/ Getty Images/ File 2001)
"US, in turmoil, risks fulfillment of bin Laden’s aims"
By Glen Johnson, Boston Globe Staff, August 14, 2011
Amid all the hardship in America right now, there may be an even harder truth.
Coming up on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, what more could Osama bin Laden have wanted for the United States?
The economy is struggling through its worst period since the Great Depression.
The US political system is virtually paralyzed, with the lower chamber of Congress effectively holding a veto over the will of the president.
The war in Afghanistan continues toward an uncertain end, with 30 more troops added to the body count after last weekend’s Chinook helicopter crash.
And there has been a spike of violence in Iraq, where combat operations have ostensibly ceased.
Not all of this was part of the specific plan that crystal clear September morning a decade ago. But there is a thread that connects it all, and it has shaken the foundation of the country that bin Laden and his terrorist followers declared their enemy.
With bin Laden vanquished thanks to members of the same SEAL team that lost members in the helicopter crash, the challenge today is a set of issues still capable of achieving his principal aim: knocking the United States from its lofty world perch.
After three planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and a fourth plummeted into a field in Shanksville, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush vowed revenge.
Less than a month later, he launched airstrikes on Kabul, Kandahar, and other Afghan locations, aiming to oust the Taliban regime that harbored bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network.
Less than two years later, Bush followed up with a similar coalition attack on Iraq. The aim there was to oust dictator Saddam Hussein, who was accused of harboring weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the United States or its allies.
The near-unanimity of congressional support for the Afghanistan invasion contrasted with bitter division over the Iraq attack, shaping the 2004 presidential election - which Bush nonetheless won - and the 2008 campaign, which his Republican Party lost as a war-weary country declared it wanted change.
During this foreign focus, a string of domestic problems - including the subprime mortgage crisis, the banking collapse, and the rising price of gasoline - triggered the recession that cemented President Obama’s victory in fall 2008.
The Democrat’s response to that cornucopia of issues during the first two years of his administration, as well as his push for his prime presidential policy objective, a federal universal health care program, then fueled the Tea Party movement’s rise.
It also cost him the House majority in last year’s midterm elections and triggered the recent partisan showdown over the country’s debt ceiling.
The way that debt accumulated offers its own lens on the past decade.
It offers a nonpartisan, nonpolitical way of leveling responsibility for the foreign and domestic problems that have shaken the country to its core.
Of the $14.3 trillion national debt, $1 trillion of it was accumulated before the 1980s administration of President Reagan. Government, congressional, and banking sources show the Republican helped the debt nearly triple, increasing it by $1.9 trillion during his eight years in office.
President George H.W. Bush, a fellow Republican, added nearly as much, $1.5 trillion, while President Clinton, the Democrat who succeeded him, added slightly less, $1.4 trillion.
The boom in debt accumulation occurred during the two terms of George W. Bush, who was president when bin Laden attacked.
Over two terms, Bush added $6.1 trillion to the debt, including $1.5 trillion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and $1.8 trillion for the tax cuts whose repeal was a sticking point in the recent debt-limit negotiations between Obama and, in particular, House Republicans.
Since taking office, Obama has added $2.4 trillion to the debt, including $1.1 trillion for the economic stimulus package and tax cuts he believed would help lift the country out of recession.
Those numbers speak for themselves, giving an objective basis for examining how the country has lived, acted, and voted in the post-9/11 era. They can also offer a dispassionate context for resolving the problems that could achieve bin Laden’s goals in absentia.
Glen Johnson is lead blogger for Political Intelligence, available online at www.boston.com/politics. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Francis X. Spina of Pittsfield, second from right, is congratulated by Gov. Paul Cellucci during a swearing-in celebration Dec. 10, 1999 at Berkshire Superior Court. Spina previously had taken the oath of office in Boston. Looking on, from left, are Superior Court Clerk Deborah Capeless, Lt. Gov. Jane M. Swift and Sheriff Carmen Massimiano. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle FILE)
"Pittsfield's Justice Francis X. Spina retiring from state's highest court"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, August 11, 2016
PITTSFIELD — For the first time in 17 years, Francis X. Spina isn't preparing for the opening of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court sessions in September.
The Pittsfield native, who will turn 70 later this year, is retiring after a distinguished legal career that included work as a public defender, an assistant district attorney, assistant city solicitor, a private practice attorney, a Superior Court judge, state Appeals court judge, and since 1999, one of the seven justices on the state's highest court.
"Justice Spina has been a wonderful colleague," said Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants. "I am going to miss him."
Spina grew up on Pittsfield and still resides here. After graduating from Amherst College and later Boston College Law School in 1971, Spina worked as a staff attorney at Western Massachusetts Legal Services, working on welfare rights cases and landlord/tenant law. He rose to the position of managing attorney in the Springfield office before moving on to work as the assistant city solicitor in Pittsfield.
He was appointed to the Superior Court in 1993, to the Massachusetts Appeals Court in 1997, and to the Supreme Judicial Court in 1999 by the late former Gov. Paul Cellucci.
Gants said in a recent interview that Spina was "invariably a gentleman," especially during the crafting of opinions when justices meet to debate and offer criticism of the drafts with the aim of producing a finished opinion of the court.
His criticism was always offered in a respectful, professional manner, Gants said, and was invariably valuable as well. Gants remembered a critique by Spina of one of his draft opinions that "caused me to change it for the better."
"He has always been one of the unsung heroes," Gants added. "Anytime something needed to be done, even something not terribly glamorous, he would step up."
For that trait, Spina earned the nickname "Saint Francis," Gants said. "That was coined by [Justice Geraldine] Hines, but it immediately stuck. He has always been willing to take on a difficult task."
SERVED AT MANY LEVELS
Spina took on many roles during his long career, and he speaks with enthusiasm of each.
"I enjoyed being a general practitioner," he said during an interview, though he added, "Those days are gone."
In the practice of law, he said, "once you get outside the big firms, it really depends upon the middle class. I hung up my shingle in Pittsfield and started taking whatever cases walked through the door — and you become a family lawyer, much the way doctors were family doctors."
In those days, Spina said, "you did a lot of different kinds of cases, and people could afford to pay you, and most lawyers made a good living but were not what you would call wealthy."
Today, "the complexion of society has changed dramatically," he said. "Depending on the county, it's 80 to 90 percent of [parties] in Probate Court who cannot afford a lawyer. It's a huge problem. Most people charged with a crime are assigned a public defender. So it's much more difficult for lawyers — as it is for most people."
The variety of experience and versatility from working through issues in multiple areas of the law was something Spina said he has relied upon even while writing decisions on the high court.
Early in his career, Spina was a partner with the Pittsfield law firms of Reder, Whalen, and Spina from 1983 to 1987, and after that, as partner with the law firm Katz, Lapointe and Spina from 1987 to 1993.
"Not only was exposure to a great variety of areas of practice helpful to me as a judge," Spina said, "but my exposure to many wonderfully ethical lawyers in Hampden and Berkshire counties helped me develop an understanding and appreciation of best practices."
He said he was "especially grateful to Ed Lapointe, Dave Katz and L. George Reder."
Asked about the most memorable cases during his 17 years on the court, Spina said, "To me, the most important case is the one I am working on today, I just think in fairness to the parties it has to be the way. But some cases I have been involved with involved more notoriety than others."
Among those was the decision related to thousands of state drug lab test reports signed by former state chemist Annie Dookhan, who later admitted tampering with evidence, throwing into doubt whether the defendants had received a fair trial.
"We decided defendants who pleaded guilty in those cases were entitled to a presumption of irregularity in the first step of analysis of a motion to withdraw a guilty plea," Spina said.
He said the trial judges would still have to decide whether the defendant would have pleaded guilty anyway.
"My understanding is that in the vast majority of cases, the judge did not allow them to withdraw the guilty plea," Spina said, adding that "some have gone back to trial and the juries have with some consistency been convicting them nonetheless."
Although he did not oppose same-sex marriage, Spina was one of three justices who dissented to the landmark Supreme Judicial Court decision in 2003 that made Massachusetts the first state in the nation to legalize gay marriage.
"We dissented generally on grounds of procedure," he said. "We thought it was too important a question. It was essentially a question that involved a dramatic social change and should have been put to the voters; it should not have been decided by the court. None of us was against same-sex marriage."
In Diatchenko vs. Suffolk County District Attorney, Spina said the Supreme Judicial Court's ruling followed a U.S. Supreme Court case in which the court determined a juvenile accused of murder cannot be sentenced to life without parole without the juvenile receiving a hearing "as to whether he is incorrigible."
Spina said that was based on the neurological science of the juvenile brain, which said the brain continues to develop up to age 25. The U.S. Supreme Court "drew the line at 18 years old," he said.
However, the Supreme Judicial Court "went one step further" in Massachusetts, saying a juvenile does not even require a hearing as to whether he or she can be considered for parole in the future. That means a juvenile, unlike an adult being sentenced, can't receive life without parole and must be at least considered for parole, not necessarily granted release, Spina said.
Asked about political pressures the justices sometimes feel, Spina said, "We don't cave in to political pressure, but it's there, and there is always the threat that the budget might be reduced or set below what we are looking for — and oftentimes it is set below what we are looking for when there is no political pressure; there are just financial considerations."
The bottom line, he said, is that "We have tremendous respect for the Legislature and the governor. We always try to work with them on common problems, common administrative problems."
Those include issues like trial procedures, court system computerization upgrades, and time standards.
"We have tried to establish [trial] time standards that work," Spina said, adding, "if the Legislature or the governor have a particular concern about the way certain kinds of cases are being handled, we will sit down with them and try to understand their concerns and come up with solutions."
Speaking about those inevitable times when the political heat is unquestionably on, Spina added, "We are all big boys and big girls, and there is a separation of powers, and invariably somebody is going to be unhappy with someone else. And they have to understand, and we have to understand, that each department of our government has a responsibility to carry out and they are doing it in good faith."
"That's the presumption — that everyone is preceding in good faith, even when they're unhappy," he said. "And I've got to say that in 17 years on the SJC there have been some uncomfortable times, but we have gotten through every one of them, and so have the other branches of government."
"It makes the job interesting," he said. "I guess the most important message is that you have to proceed respectfully, carefully, but also confidently, firmly — all three branches have to proceed that way."
After he retires, Spina intends to spend more time with family. He has two grown daughters, Francesca and Stephanie.
His wife, Sally O'Donnell Spina, passed away in March.
Having majored in music with a concentration in piano while at Amherst, Spina said he wants to go back to the piano on a more regular basis. "It's unfinished business in my life," he said.
He said he once hoped to be a good amateur musician and now plans to work with a teacher in his retirement and pursue performance opportunity in the Berkshires.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. firstname.lastname@example.org @BE_therrien on Twitter.
"What do Supreme Judicial Court justices do? Justice Spina explains"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 8/12/2016
PITTSFIELD - What is it like to sit on the state's highest court?
Pittsfield's Francis X. Spina, one of 98 justices to have served since 1800, has learned the job from the inside out, serving as a justice of the Supreme Judicial Court since 1999.
"Well, we begin in September and try to finish our work by July," Spina said. "You can relax a little in August, but by the middle of the month, they send you the briefs on cases that are going to be argued after Labor Day, so it starts again."
"August is basically our vacation month, but it's not work-free," he said with a smile.
The justice is not complaining; he clearly sounded during an interview like someone who enjoys working in the legal system and has always been fascinated by the law and the issues it raises and tries to resolve. He said that has been true at each stage of his long career, which he will close this month by retiring from the court.
At the Supreme Judicial Court level, Spina said the majority of the cases taken on during each annual session involve the most important precedents or the most pressing social, political or constitutional issues.
While some 1,250,000 cases are filed in a year in the Massachusetts court system, only about 225 typically receive an opinion or ruling at the Supreme Judicial Court level, and about 1,800 are dealt with the Appeals Court level.
"Most, basically, live with the decisions they are given" in Superior, District, Probate, Juvenile or other courts in the system, Spina said.
The high court has some leeway in deciding which cases to take up in a session, he said, but some are automatically referred to the Supreme Judicial Court — including all first-degree murder cases and actions involving professional license disciplinary decisions and reprimands concerning attorneys issued by the state Board of Bar Overseers.
Spina has served on the court's Hearing List Committee, deciding (along with input from staff attorneys) which cases will be heard, as well as on other committees and as a liaison to other court departments, such as juvenile or housing courts.
About 164 cases per annual session are assigned by the chief justice for full written opinions.
"It's sort of like piece work," Spina said. "Everybody gets a packet with 24 cases a year ... The chief justice doles them out."
The full court sits on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays during the term, from September through May.
"Typically, we hear five cases a day, sometimes six, sometimes four," Spina said.
In addition to the written records submitted in a case before the Supreme Judicial Court, attorneys in most cases will each have 15 minutes to offer oral arguments, Spina said, except in murder cases, when attorneys are allowed 20 minutes apiece.
Approximately 18 to 19 cases requiring full written opinions are heard per month, along with two or three others the justices call "non-complex" cases. Those typically involved a straight ruling, up or down, usually in cases where the basic facts are not being disputed.
The court has internal time standards, Spina said, including that all cases, except first-degree murder cases, must be heard within one year.
"I think we are pretty successful on that score," he said. "We are at about 90 to 95 percent," excluding murder cases.
After arguments in a case are heard, he said the justices try to reach a consensus on a ruling. The chief justice then assigns someone to write the opinion, he said, often choosing a justice he believes "can probably best express all of the views."
Toward the end of each month, the justices meet to review the draft opinions currently being written, Spina said. A majority of opinions are agreed upon by the court after one meeting, he said, while more than 90 percent approach a consensus after two of the monthly meetings.
"But there always is that one case a year that will go for three or four months," he said.
The justices also have the option of writing a minority dissenting opinion, he said, and sometimes, after a meeting or two, that opinion gains adherents and becomes the majority view. Then, another justice is asked to write the court's majority opinion.
SINGLE JUSTICE DUTY
Each justice also acts as a single justice for a month at a time on a rotating basis, Spina said. Cases coming before a single justice could range from appeals of Board of Bar Overseer decisions to questions of the admissibility of evidence in an ongoing trial.
"We have special power of superintendency," he said, and as many as 8 to 10 percent of single justice decisions involve "interlocutory" rulings, which means the lower court trial has yet to be completed.
Appeals of lower court decisions on admissibility of evidence questions or double jeopardy issues are among that type of case. Single justice decisions can also be appealed further to the full Supreme Judicial Court.
Finally, all of the opinions of the Supreme Judicial Court, and many of the Appeals Court decisions each year, are published in volumes of hundreds of pages and online, Spina said. They are called the Massachusetts Report and the Appeals Court Reporter.
On the Supreme Judicial Court, Spina also was active on a number of court committees in addition to the Hearing List Committee. He served on the Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services from 2000 through 2011. He also is a member of the court's Case Management Committee, Information Technology Committee, Personnel Committee and Library Committee.
Spina has been the court's liaison to the Board of Bar Overseers since 2009, and he participated in the development of time standards for bar discipline matters, as well as other administrative matters.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. email@example.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.
Our Opinion: “Judge Spina's classy tenure worth emulating”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 8/12/2016
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided a variety of high-profile cases in recent years but its members rarely had a high profile themselves. In that sense, Francis X. Spina embodied the calm, deliberative approach of the SJC.
Judge Spina, a Pittsfield native and resident who turns 70 later this year, is retiring after a career in which he climbed the legal ladder until his appointment to the state Supreme Judicial Court in 1999. U.S. Supreme Court justices and some of their state counterparts pursue or otherwise achieve celebrity status, but that was never Judge Spina's ambition.
Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants described him as "one of the unsung heroes" of the court willing to take on any judicial task, glamorous or not (Eagle, August 12). When Justice Spina offered criticism, the chief justice recalled, it was made respectfully and constructively.
That team approach is not often seen on the national stage, where the fundamental concept of the separation of powers is often demeaned. A Republican Senate that refuses to even conduct hearings for a Supreme Court vacancy because it doesn't want it filled by a Democratic president is weakening that core principle.
"We are all big boys and big girls, and there is a separation of powers, and invariably somebody is going to be unhappy with someone else," Judge Spina told The Eagle's Jim Therrien in describing how the three branches of government in Massachusetts have disagreements but will ultimately carry out their responsibilities in "good faith." There are currently not enough big boys and big girls in Washington for this process to work, resulting in paralysis and bitterness that poisons the national debate.
Judge Spina, who credited the legal community of Berkshire and Hampden counties for helping him build a foundation that served him well as a judge, said the "most important message" for the judicial, executive and legislative branches is that they "have to proceed respectfully, carefully, but also confidently, firmly ..." Judge Spina and his state SJC colleagues have done that consistently through challenging cases brought in contentious times. Washington, particularly at the legislative level where responsibilities are too often shunned, needs to follow that wise advice.
August 12, 2016
Re: Francis Spina is pro death penalty
The Berkshire Eagle's news articles today on retiring Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Judge Francis Spina left out the biggest piece of information. When the late Paul Cellucci ran for Governor in 1998, one of his positions was to bring back the death penalty to Massachusetts courts. Judge Francis Spina was pro death penalty. Gov. Cellucci appointed Judge Spina to the SJC for his pro death penalty stance in criminal justice law.
How could the Eagle omit this important point?
I am sure Francis Spina was an excellent Judge and his legal career is admirable.
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