Massachusetts family law attorney Kimberley Keyes reviews the latest news surrounding the judges of the Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts.
Since our last blog on judicial appointments, which focused on probate and family court nominations and appointments in Boston, Cambridge, Salem and Western Mass, several new judges have been nominated and appointed to Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts. As always, we will try to update news on judges and judicial appointments as we receive it.
Remember: tips are always welcome!
Here is our latest rundown on the justices of the Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts:
Table of Contents for this Blog
- High Profile Attorney Thomas J. Barbar Nears Confirmation for Middlesex Probate and Family Court
- Attorney Kathleen Sandman Confirmed as Circuit Judge for Probate and Family Courts in Western Mass
- Susan Sard Tierney Confirmed as Probate and Family Court Judge, Lauded by Women’s Bar Association
- Anonymous Judge Reprimanded for Discourteousness, Agrees to Retire
- Quincy Attorney Janine D. Rivers Nominated to Suffolk Probate and Family Court by Governor Baker
- Chief Justice Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court Calls Burden on Probate and Family Court Judges “Unsustainable”
On October 11, 2017, the eight-member Governor’s Council held a hearing on the nomination of Boston family-law attorney Thomas J. Barbar to serve as an associate justice in the Middlesex Probate and Family Court.
Barbar, a principal attorney at Deutsch Williams Brooks DeRensis & Holland, practiced for more than 20 years in the areas of domestic relations, probate litigation and estate planning. A 1993 graduate of New England Law-Boston, Barbar is a high-profile member of the Massachusetts Bar Association, serving on the Executive Management Board, Budget and Finance Committee, and House of Delegates, as well as co-chair of the Family Law Section Council and co-chair of the MBA’s Annual Family Law Conference and as a member of numerous MBA committees.
Barbar’s nomination hearing was uploaded to YouTube and can be viewed here:
Barbar was recommended for a judgeship by the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) and nominated by Governor Charlie Baker on August 31. Middlesex Probate and Family Court is the biggest and busiest probate court in Massachusetts, docketing more than 5,000 divorce cases per year.
(UPDATE 10/27/17: Lawyer’s Weekly is reporting that Barber was confirmed by the Governor’s Council on Wednesday, 10/25/17).
In other news, Springfield lawyer Kathleen Sandman was unanimously confirmed by the Governor’s Council on September 6 to be an associate justice of the Probate and Family Court. Sandman will serve as a circuit judge, meaning she can sit in all four Western Massachusetts counties. Sandman’s confirmation hearing can be viewed here:
A sole practitioner since 2009, Sandman concentrated her law practice on family litigation as well as real estate law and personal injury. At her confirmation hearing in August, Sandman said her personal experience with “blended” families will give her perspective on and respect for the people who come before the court.
Following her nomination by Governor Baker in May, Cape Cod attorney Susan Sard Tierney was confirmed by the Governor’s Council in June as an associate justice of the Probate and Family Court for Suffolk County. Tierney’s confirmation hearing before the Governor’s Counsel can be viewed here:
Tierney was the 2015 recipient of the prestigious Lelia J. Robinson Award by the Women’s Bar Association, which applauded her confirmation:
“The WBA applauds the confirmation of Susan Sard Tierney as a justice of the Probate and Family Court. Susan is an experienced practitioner who has spent her career seeking to make a difference in the lives of women and children. As a past recipient of the WBA’s Lelia J. Robinson award for her years of work assisting women and children who have been the victims of domestic violence, Susan exemplifies the dedication, hard work, and pioneering spirit of women in the legal profession that the WBA celebrates. Her commitment to public service and thirty years of experience practicing domestic relations and family law will serve her well on the bench,” states WBA President Michele Liu Baillie.
The WBA also provided a comprehensive review of Tierney’s career that might prove insightful for attorneys and litigants who appear before her:
Susan Sard Tierney has practiced domestic relations law at the firm of Dunning, Kirrane, McNichols & Garner, LLP since 2007, focusing on all aspects of domestic relations including divorce, separation, paternity, guardianship, and adoption. From 1998 to 2007, Ms. Tierney served as a staff attorney with South Coast Counties Legal Services, managing the Family Law Unit and representing the agency on the Cape and Islands Regional Domestic Violence Council. Prior to working on Cape Cod, Ms. Tierney clerked for Chief Judge Shane Devine of the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire and worked for New Hampshire Legal Assistance representing clients in a range of civil matters. Ms. Tierney received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science, Magna Cum Laude, from Brown University in 1981, and her law degree from Northeastern University School of Law in 1985. Ms. Tierney is a qualified mediator and also serves as a qualified Category F Guardian ad Litem in all types of cases. Ms. Tierney volunteers with WE CAN (Women’s Empowerment through Cape Area Networking) providing legal assistance to low income women, provides pro bono representation to children in the Probate and Family Court, provides free consultation to domestic violence victims referred by Independence House (a community-based organization providing services to domestic violence victims), and is a volunteer mentor in the Women’s Bar Foundation’s Family Law Project for Battered Women. She also remains a member of the Cape and Islands Regional Domestic Violence Council.
Tierney has recently been sighted on the bench at Plymouth Probate and Family Court, and there has been speculation that she will eventually fill a seat on the Barnstable Probate and Family Court after current First Justice, Hon. Robert A. Scandurra, reaches mandatory retirement age in the summer of 2019.
On September 27, 2017, the Governors Counsel confirmed longtime South Coast attorney James P. Harrington for a seat on the Bristol County Juvenile Court. WBSM reports that the Fall River resident was well-known in the Bristol Juvenile and Probate and Family Courts:
For the last fifteen years, Harrington has served as the sole practitioner of the Law Offices of James P. Harrington, with an emphasis on child welfare, delinquency, family law and civil litigation issues in the Juvenile, Probate, District and Superior Courts. He began his legal career in 1994 in the Law Offices of Steven Pereira, where he worked until 2002, individually handling all phases of a caseload including family law and both criminal and civil litigation. He is the Committee for Public Counsel Services Resource Attorney for the Bristol County private bar in the area of children and family law.
Harrington’s confirmation hearing can be viewed here:
Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly reported this week that an unknown Massachusetts judge was reprimanded by the Commission on Judicial Conduct for discourteous courtroom behavior, and has agreed to retire:
A judge has been reprimanded for treating discourteously parties appearing before the judge in two separate matters, violating Rule 2.8(B) of the Code of Judicial Conduct, the Commission on Judicial Conduct announced recently.
The judge also agreed to retire voluntarily after failing to overcome health difficulties, the CJC added.
It is not clear who the retiring judge is – or which court or district he or she sat in – but the report comes amid an apparent spike in activity by the CJC, which includes a recent action brought against District Court Judge Thomas Estes for sexual harassment, and last year’s action against the former First Justice of the Falmouth District Court, retired Judge Michael C. Creedon, for allegedly making insensitive racial comments to another judge while in the judges’ lobby of the Falmouth District Court.
This spring, the CJC was criticized for allowing Creedon to quietly retire instead of completing its enquiry into the judge’s racially charged remarks (which appeared to be highly offensive and not merely “insensitive”). WCBV news published the following statistics about CJC investigations in its piece about the secretive panel, which reviews approximately 3,000 allegations made against Massachusetts judges each year:
- More than 90 percent of complaints that got a closer look were ultimately dismissed
- But in 50 dismissals, the commission expressed concern about the judge’s conduct
- The commission informally resolved 33 complaints, including private reprimands and voluntary retirements
- The commission has not issued formal charges against a judge since 2007
According to WCBV, the last judge to face formal charges by the SJC was former Plymouth Probate and Family Court, Hon. Michael Livingstone in 2007. Estes, like Creedon before him, is currently under investigation by the CJC, but does not face formal charges yet.
UPDATE (11/8/17). Has another judge been admonished for discourtesy? It’s not clear. The Newburyport News reported on November 9:
The Commission on Judicial Conduct announced Thursday that it has admonished a judge but no further information is available about the case, not even the identity of the judge.
“The Commission on Judicial Conduct has admonished a judge for treating a party who appeared before the judge discourteously and for otherwise behaving in a manner that was unbecoming a judicial officer and that brought the judicial office into disrepute, in violation of M.G.L. c. 211C, sec. 2(5),” the commission said in a short press release. “Through this conduct, the judge failed to be patient, dignified, and courteous to a person appearing before the judge, in violation of Canon 3B(4) of the Code of Judicial Conduct then in effect. The judge agreed to be monitored by the commission and meet with a mentor judge for a period of one year from the effective date of the Agreed Disposition.”
Asked why the commission did not disclose the name of the judge, commission executive director Howard Neff III told the News Service, “I’m not going to discuss that.” Asked if there was any additional information available about the case, Neff said, “There is none.”
On October 23, 2017, Lawyers Weekly reported that an anonymous judge who was admonished for discourtesy planned to voluntarily retire.
Rivers has been a sole practitioner since 1997, focusing on juvenile and child welfare cases, family law, divorce, child support and custody, guardianship and debt collection, according to the Governor’s Office.
Chief Justice Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court Calls Burden on Probate and Family Court Judges “Unsustainable”
Speaking at the annual State of the Judiciary address hosted by the Massachusetts Bar Association on October 26, 2017, the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), Hon. Ralph J. Gants, told the MBA:
The burdens we place on our Probate and Family Court judges are simply not sustainable; we need to reimagine how we do justice in our Probate and Family Court.
Describing the challenges faced by probate and family court judges, Gants told the audience:
The judges charged with resolving Family Court disputes — alimony, property division, child custody, and guardianship — must understand not only a single transaction or event, but each family’s entire history, including the relationship between the spouses, their abilities as parents, and the needs of their children or, in some guardianship cases, the needs of an elderly parent or a drug-addicted adult child. The judges must also determine each family’s income, assets, and potential financial resources, including their capacity to earn.
Gants said the difficulty of the job was compounded by the number of unrepresented parties in the probate court:
[I]n the vast majority of cases, [judges] need to figure out all these issues when at least one party is without the assistance of counsel. In no other court do we have so many self-represented parties being asked to litigate disputes as complex, as emotional, as enduring, and as life-changing, as in the Probate and Family Court.
Gants told the crowd that he had tasked SJC Associate Justice Margot Botsford with the task for reforming the Probate Court in Massachusetts:
She is already hard at work speaking with judges, probation officers, staff, and attorneys, and she will work with Chief Justice Carey, Chief Justice Ordoñez, and others in an attempt to reimagine the delivery of justice to make it less burdensome for judges and more effective for litigants. I do not know how this journey will end, but I am confident, knowing the extraordinary talent of those making this journey, that by next fall we will be well underway in rethinking how we do justice in the Probate and Family Court.
About the Author: Kimberley Keyes is a Massachusetts divorce lawyer and Massachusetts family law attorney for Lynch & Owens, located in Hingham, Massachusetts.
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