Baker’s judicial picks include a corporate lawyer and a star DUI attorney
For better or worse, one power of a polarizing presidential race is how it spurs everyday Americans to touch topics typically reserved for wonks. Like pensions. And healthcare. And the Supreme Court of the United States!
Since the danger posed by one POTUS nom or another to SCOTUS is such a buzz plate of late and our job as a local outlet is to shift attention toward regional matters, it seemed appropriate to survey the most recent nominations to the Massachusetts bench made by Gov. Charlie Baker. Courts at the county, district, and superior levels play significant roles in our lives, and yet the process by which judges are appointed in the Bay State happens largely beyond headlines. Which is how the executive branch, which wields power over 411 judicial slots statewide, probably likes it, considering the background of certain, um, rather interesting selections.
As this is one of only three states where black robes aren’t born out of elections, to become an appeals, district, juvenile, probate, superior, or supreme court judge in Mass, applicants must first face scrutiny from the Judicial Nominating Commission. Comprised of 21 members from both public and private practice, the latter group including corporate lawyers and attorneys from elite firms, the JNC is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the governor. It’s such an unofficial ad hoc unit that each new administration gets to clean house by scrapping the appointees of its predecessor, issuing new rules via executive order. Only insiders know why some people are tapped for the commission over others, though giving money to the right decision-makers doesn’t appear to impede one’s chance of gaining sway over the courts in which they and their partners practice; eight of Baker’s appointees (with help from their spouses) combined have contributed more than $40,000 to the war chests of the governor, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, and the Republican State Committee since 2009.
The JNC passes its prospects to the Governor’s Council, a board of eight elected individuals who screen and vote on hopefuls (plus the lieutenant governor, who presides over the group but doesn’t vote). So far during Baker’s tenure, the Council unanimously confirmed three of the governor/JNC’s choices for the Supreme Judicial Court, as well as Boston lawyer Karen F. Green for a Superior Court judgeship. Green is the type of candidate who residents would hope the Council thoroughly impugns; a gifted litigator who served as the first female chief of staff to a Mass governor (William Weld) and who before that clerked for iconic US District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. during monumental rulings on school integration, as a corporate lawyer Green has also represented some unsavory white-collar criminals, even working on behalf of defense contractors and pharmaceutical companies.
This month, the Governor’s Council will also vet longtime youth and family attorney Kathryn Phelan-Brown, who is vying to become an associate justice on the Massachusetts Juvenile Court, as well as Christopher Barry-Smith, a consumer protection specialist who served under former Attorney General Martha Coakley and is nominated to become an associate justice of the state’s Superior Court. The Council will also meet to discuss the pending nomination of Brockton attorney Edward Sharkansky, who Baker picked to become an associate justice of the Plymouth District Court. If the name Sharkansky sounds familiar, it may be because he’s among the most noted DUI attorneys in the region. Here’s an online bio from a former web site for his firm that’s been removed from the internet:
When facing an OUI/DUI or drunk driving charge in Braintree or Brockton Massachusetts, Criminal Defense Attorney Edward Sharkansky is your best defense … Sharkansky has a proven record as a reliable and successful advocate. For nearly 20 years, he has worked on both sides of the Massachusetts courtrooms. First as a prosecutor for the Plymouth County District Attorney’s Office, then as a criminal defense attorney in private practice. This unique combination of experience and insight gives Attorney Sharkansky the upper hand when defending clients accused of DUI/OUI, Drug Possession, Motor Vehicle Offenses or any other criminal offenses in Massachusetts.
A successful defense lawyer by several measures, Sharkansky nonetheless described his work in far less detail on his recent application for a judgeship than he has in past promotional materials. Unless the JNC members and councilors who vet him on behalf of the Commonwealth search for “Ed Sharkansky” on Google, they’ll get a version of his resume that notes his work on behalf of indigent clients, but that doesn’t mention DUI defense at all:
My law practice has specialized in criminal and civil litigation … The majority of my clients were being prosecuted for felony and misdemeanor criminal offenses within the jurisdiction of the juvenile, district and superior courts. Some of these clients were deemed indigent by the court and were appointed to me through CPCS.
Sharkansky did not respond to a request for comment from DigBoston. We hoped to ask what his experience as a DUI attorney would add to the bench, but now that’s left to the Governor’s Council. If it pursues some course of inquiry at his confirmation hearing this week, perhaps it’ll want to ask about this commercial for his services on YouTube:
What I can tell you is that about 80 percent of the clients that sit with me through a trial are found not guilty. What I can also tell you is that I will not sell you out to protect my perfect record. What most lawyers won’t tell you is that they won’t try a case when a client drives into the front door of a house on New Year’s Eve. I’ll try that case, I have tried that case, and I’ve won. They also won’t tell you that they’ll try a case when their client drives into the back of a police cruiser, which is parked with its emergency lights on. I’ve tried that case and I’ve won that case also.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.