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Third justice to step down from SJC

Justice Fernande R.V. Duffly said in a statement she planned to retire in 2019 but moved up the date to July 12. Robert E. Klein for the Boston Globe/file

Justice Fernande R.V. Duffly announced Wednesday that she is retiring this summer from the state Supreme Judicial Court, becoming the third member of the court in recent weeks to announce their retirement.

Duffly, who is stepping down July 12, was appointed to the state’s highest court five years ago by former governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat. She said in a statement that she originally planned to retire when she turned 70 in December 2019, but has now changed her plans.

“When my husband’s recent surgery required me to devote more of my time to helping him fully recover, I moved up my retirement date,’’ she said in the statement.


Duffly, a native of Indonesia, was the first Asian-American appointed in 324 years to the court, which dates back to the Salem witch trials.

She added, “It has been a privilege to serve as a jurist in the Trial Court, the Appeals Court and the Supreme Judicial Court. My years on the bench confirm for me that broad and diverse perspectives make an enormous contribution to the decision making process.”

Duffly is the third justice to announce they are leaving the SJC this year, joining Justices Robert Cordy and Francis X. Spina, both of whom were appointed by the late Republican governor, Paul Cellucci.

Their departures, combined with the pending retirement next year of two more justices, will give Republican Governor Charlie Baker the chance to appoint five people to the seven-member court before his first term in office ends.

Justice Margot Botsford turns 70 in March 2017 and Justice Geraldine Hines turns 70 in October 2017, according to the SJC.

Martin W. Healy, general counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association, noted that it was only during two terms that Patrick was able to name five justices to the state’s highest court.


“These retirements create a historic opportunity for Governor Baker to make an immediate and lasting impact on the future makeup of the SJC,” Healy said in a statement. “This will be a brand-new court with very little institutional knowledge, so it will be interesting to see how things play out. We’re not likely to see this again for quite some time.”

During her legal career, Duffly was a partner in a downtown Boston law firm, then known as Warner and Stackpole, making her one of the one of the few women to reach that professional milestone at the time.

Margaret H. Marshall, a former chief justice of the SJC, said that she and Duffly met as young lawyers and have kept crossing paths with each other in the 40 years since.

“Women partners in law firms were few in number, and our professional paths crossed frequently,’’ Marshall wrote. “It is no surprise that she is recognized nationally for her many efforts to make ours a more inclusive profession, and a more just democracy.”

Duffly served on the Probate and Family Court for eight years before being promoted to the Massachusetts Appeals Court in 2000, where she remained until 2011 when Patrick nominated her to the SJC. She was sworn in on Feb. 1, 2011.

Duffly often represented indigent clients while working as a private attorney and served as president of the National Association of Woman Judges during her years on the bench. The American Bar Association last year gave her the Margaret Brent Lawyers of Achievement Award, the ABA’s highest honor for women lawyers.


“Informed by her own unique life experience, she has brought to her judicial work a keen insight into the challenges faced by immigrants, women, and persons of color,’’ Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, said in a statement.

“She has been a frequent lecturer, mentor and role model to women judges and lawyers in this country and around the world,’’ Gants said. “I will miss her friendship, her wisdom, and her generosity of spirit.’’

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.