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Maura Healey home use may violate judicial code

Maura Healey defended her use of the townhouse.

John Blanding/Globe staff

Maura Healey defended her use of the townhouse.

It is certainly one of the grandest quarters ever for a candidate for attorney general: a $1.4 million Charlestown townhouse.

For four months, as Maura Healey and her small staff worked to launch her candidacy, she used the home where she lives as a working office for some of her political operations.

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Healey does not own the property, but because she lives there, her campaign was not required to pay rent, saving some hefty bills in its early low-budget efforts to jump-start her candidacy for the Democratic nomination.

But the question could be more complicated for the owner — her partner, state Appeals Court Justice Gabrielle R. Wolohojian — who is barred by the code of judicial conduct from supporting, or even appearing to support, partisan political activities.

Allowing Healey’s campaign to operate out of her 3,200-square-foot, three-story brick townhouse could be construed as a sign of Wolohojian’s support of her candidacy, according to past advisory opinions and guidelines issued by the Committee on Judicial Ethics and interviews with specialists in the field.

Healey, in an interview, defended her use of the townhouse, sharply rejecting that it violated the code of judicial conduct. Wolohojian declined to comment.

“We reviewed the rules for public servants and judges and we have ensured that we have complied with those rules . . . ” Healey, a former state prosecutor, said in an interview.

The judicial ethics panel has repeatedly warned judges to be extremely cautious about showing any appearance of involvement in partisan issues, even in cases of family members.

In a 2005 opinion, the Massachusetts Committee on Judicial Ethics addressed a similar issue now facing Healey and her partner. An unnamed judge, whose daughter was living at home while also managing her brother’s run for public office, asked the committee if the daughter could put up a campaign sign on the family lawn. The panel said such a political activity was “strictly forbidden.”

“The committee recognizes that the code’s prohibition on political activity imposes a unique burden on a judge’s natural support to the political campaign of an immediate family member,’’ the committee stated. But, it added, “ . . . separating the judge’s judicial role from political activity is at the heart of our separation of powers and the code envisions that this separation be scrupulously honored.’’

Healey said she chose not to rent a headquarters because she was only in the early stages of her candidacy. Shortly after she resigned as assistant attorney general in October, Healey began running for the Democratic nomination to succeed her former boss, outgoing Attorney General Martha Coakley.

“As you can imagine for a first-time candidate, I was working and having meetings and working from home like any other candidates,’’ Healey said. She said she also met in coffee shops and diners. “That is the nature of campaigns.”

Her campaign committee listed Wolohojian’s home when it signed up for workers’ compensation health insurance in February, according to state records.

In March, nearly four months after she disclosed her candidacy, Healey’s campaign operation moved into a headquarters on Cambridge Street in downtown Boston. The political committee is paying $2,850 a month for the office space.

She said Wolohojian was aware of “as a general matter” of the political activities in the house. “She was not aware of the specifics,’’ Healey added.

Healey said she found it “troubling and unfortunate’’ that her partner was getting pulled into the political arena.

“My partner is a respected public servant,’’ she said. “She is a person of great integrity and it is unfortunate she is being dragged into this.”

In recent weeks on the campaign trail, Healey has pointed to her adherence to a “play by the rules” code of conduct. She recently pounced on her Democratic primary election rival, Warren Tolman, when reports surfaced that a union Tolman worked for was revising its records to claim he had worked as a consultant not as a Washington, D.C., lobbyist.

“People are looking for an attorney general who is up front, transparent, and plays by the rules. I always have and I always will,” Healey said.

Asked if her statement fits with her use of the Charlestown house for campaign work, Healey was firm in rejecting the notion. “Absolutely,” she said. “I have complied with the rules . . . and have been very careful with that.”

Several legal and judicial specialists said Healey was putting her partner in potential conflict with the code of ethics.

Mary Connaughton, a former member of the Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct and the 2010 Republican candidate for state auditor, said judges’ appearing to take sides in the political process or public policy debates threatens the concept that citizens get a fair shake in the court room.”

“Once they become a judge they have to go above and beyond to make the public perceive them as being without bias,’’ said Connaughton, explaining the intent of the judicial code.

Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com.
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