If the Governor’s Council does not approve Bob Ullmann as a Superior Court judge, it won’t be the first time they get things exactly backwards.
First, some disclosure: Ullmann is married to Patty Wen, a colleague of mine at the Globe. That said, I wouldn’t know Ullmann if he fell over me. The last time I saw him I had black hair, and Roosevelt was president. Teddy, not Franklin.
But I know a little something about lawyers and their reputations in this town, and Ullmann has a good one. The idea that he does not have enough experience to sit on the Superior Court bench would be laughable except that Councilors Jennie Caissie and Terry Kennedy have actually said this.
They are talking nonsense. Ullmann has worked as a prosecutor, a defense lawyer, and as a civil litigator. He has more legal experience than most of the judicial candidates Governor Patrick has nominated.
The idea that he is unqualified because he has never tried a case in Superior Court is ridiculous. This ain’t brain surgery, folks. It’s the law. And when you go to law school, you’re taught how to practice in any court. The idea that negotiating the Superior Court requires some deep, unique legal knowledge is deeply silly.
Now, there are some defense lawyers who will never forgive Ullmann because he prosecuted Joe Balliro, dean of the Boston defense bar, on money laundering charges many years ago. The case was a stinker, and the federal judge who sat on it, Teddy Harrington, was so unimpressed with the evidence that he directed a verdict and Balliro was acquitted. But Ullmann should not be blocked from the bench because his bosses gave him a lousy case to prosecute.
There was much made during Ullmann’s confirmation hearing last week about him not doing enough to out Whitey Bulger as an FBI informant and stand up to crooked FBI agents protecting Bulger.
That is exactly backwards. Ullmann helped build the case against Whitey, despite FBI duplicity. Ullmann and his bosses, then US Attorney Wayne Budd and first assistant John Pappalardo, went to see the FBI in 1994 to confirm what I and my colleagues on the Globe’s Spotlight Team first reported in 1988: that Whitey Bulger was an FBI informant.
In Judge Mark Wolf’s 1999 opus detailing the FBI’s corrupt relationship with Whitey, you will find a section about the three prosecutors sitting down with FBI Special Agent in Charge Tom Hughes, his assistant Dennis O’Callaghan, and informant coordinator agent Nick Gianturco to discuss Whitey.
And guess what your local FBI did when the three prosecutors asked whether Bulger was an informant? The FBI told them to go pound sand. They wouldn’t tell them squat.
Budd, Pappalardo, and Ullmann then tried to go around Whitey’s protectors, appealing directly to FBI headquarters. Then, as Wolf wrote, “Gianturco contacted the informant section at FBI headquarters as part of an effort to combat that request.”
That would be the same Nick Gianturco who used to exchange gifts with Bulger. The same Nick Gianturco who invited Whitey to his home for dinner. The same Nick Gianturco who admitted a fondness for Bulger and credited the gangster with saving his life, a bogus claim meant to inflate Whitey’s value as an informant.
There is a certain irony that the swing vote on Ullmann could come from Councilor Mike Albano. When he was on the Parole Board, Albano tried to help some guys who had been framed by crooked FBI agents for a murder. For his trouble, Albano was paid a visit by Bulger’s corrupt FBI handler, John Connolly, and his equally corrupt supervisor, John Morris, and told to back off. When Albano became mayor of Springfield, the FBI vindictively tried to nail him but never did.
Final disclosure: I know and like Mike Albano a lot. He has every right to resent the FBI’s corruption. But it would be a travesty if, of all people, Bob Ullmann is made to pay the price for the FBI’s shameful handling of Whitey Bulger.Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.