Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland, the first African-American on the Supreme Judicial Court, announced Monday that he is retiring, giving Governor Deval Patrick an opportunity to name a new head of the state’s highest court before he leaves office.
Ireland is set to turn 70, the mandatory retirement age for judges, in December, but he said in a letter to Patrick that he would retire effective July 25. The court’s new term starts in September.
“I have been blessed to be a member of the judiciary for almost 37 years,” said Ireland, a native of Springfield who was appointed chief justice by Patrick. “Serving the people of Massachusetts in this great office of public trust has been a truly humbling, challenging, stimulating, albeit sometimes difficult, but always rewarding experience, and I have enjoyed each and every day of my work.”
The timing of Ireland’s retirement gives Patrick a historic opportunity to make a long-lasting impact on the makeup of state’s highest court, said Martin Healy, chief operating officer and chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association. By replacing Ireland, the governor will have appointed a second chief justice before he leaves office next January.
If Patrick promotes one of the current associate justices, he will need to fill that opening. By doing that, he would have appointed a majority of the seven justices on the court.
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