Metro

Baker’s rejected bench prospect faces domestic abuse charge

Edward J. O’Reilly
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File 2016
Edward J. O’Reilly

A controversial Gloucester lawyer, who cleared Governor Charlie Baker’s judicial vetting process but was rejected by the state bar, is facing domestic abuse charges after his wife obtained a restraining order against him Friday.

Helen O’Reilly, the estranged wife of North Shore trial attorney Edward J. O’Reilly, told an Ipswich District Court judge she has suffered a series of violent encounters with her husband over the last five years, according to public court documents.

O’Reilly, who had been seeking a district court judgeship, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Advertisement

Concerns over O’Reilly’s temperament were the basis of his failing earlier this month to win the endorsement of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s judicial review panel — the Joint Bar Committee — that vets judicial candidates, according to sources familiar with its decision. Joint Bar Committee proceedings are not public.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Baker, whose office had forwarded O’Reilly’s name to the joint panel for review, said in reaction earlier this month that, although not legally bound by the committee’s recommendations, he will honor its decision and not forward O’Reilly’s name to the Governor’s Council for consideration. He noted that rarely has a governor ignored the bar’s judicial reviews since they began over 50 years ago.

In her sworn affidavit to the court, O’Reilly’s wife outlined what she claimed was a series of violent outbursts by her husband over the past four years, from “smashing” the remote against their television, verbal assaults against her in front of their children, breaking a bedroom lamp, “hurling” a kettle at her, pushing his car into hers in their driveway, and kicking a stool at her. Last month, she said, O’Reilly entered her home late one night, switched on her bedroom light, and stood over her bed demanding to discuss issues about their children.

She also said that in a confrontation at their house in May that her husband had “restrained me by the neck and kicked me” in front of their 3-year-old child and “repeated until I escaped into the yard, then threw things at me.” He moved out of the house on Sept. 28, according to her affidavit.

Judge Paul M. Yee Jr. issued an “abuse prevention order” against O’Reilly, which forbids him from contacting his wife and being within 50 yards of her. The order also requires that, because “There is a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse,’’ O’Reilly was to immediately hand over any guns and ammunition to the Gloucester police.

Advertisement

The Joint Bar Committee had reviewed a number of complaints from the legal community about the 64-year old O’Reilly, from North Shore prosecutors and court officials, persons aware of its review said. They cited a physical altercation in a courthouse with a young district attorney in 2011, along with a verbal confrontation in a courthouse parking lot with a judge, as among the issues the panel examined.

When it became known Baker would not go against the review panel’s recommendations, O’Reilly’s supporters on the Governor’s Council, whose eight elected members are tasked with confirming the governors’ judicial nominees, charged his rejection showed once again the committee overstepped and usurped its constitutional authority.

As retribution for not rejecting the committee’s recommendation, the council delayed a scheduled hearing for one of Baker’s candidates for Superior Court.

Baker aides did not respond to a question as how his Judicial Nominating Commission came to a different conclusion about O’Reilly’s qualifications than the review panel’s findings. But, in a statement, they did try to distance the governor from O’Reilly’s judicial candidacy, noting that Baker often does not nominate applicants that clear the Judicial Nomination Commission’s vetting.

“The Baker-Polito administration may routinely not nominate applicants who clear the Judicial Nominating Commission’s initial review, did not nominate Mr. O’Reilly and values the Joint Bar Committee’s role in the lengthy and thorough judicial nomination process for vetting candidates,’’ said press secretary Billy Pitman. Eileen Duff — a council member based in Gloucester, where O’Reilly practices law — said at the time that the bar association’s rejection of him was a “huge insult to us.”

Advertisement

“They are usurping our constitutional authority,’’ she said. “They meet in secrecy, behind closed doors, and they are not even elected.” Duff did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment. Another O’Reilly supporter on the council, Terrence W. Kennedy of Lynnfield, declined to comment, saying he was not aware of the restraining order.

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