Governor Deval Patrick delayed a vote Wednesday on attorney Robert Ullmann, his pick for associate justice of the Superior Court, after it looked as if the criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor might fail to win confirmation to the court.
Patrick requested that the vote be delayed for two weeks during the weekly Governor’s Council meeting.
Councilor Jennie Caissie objected to the proposed date, saying she would not be present and asked another week’s delay to give her the chance to vote. Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray, who chairs the council, said the administration would push it back to April 3.
Some council members said before the weekly meeting they planned to vote against Ullmann because he lacked experience trying cases in Superior Court.
During his four-hour confirmation hearing last week, Ullmann fended off criticism about the inability of federal prosecutors to capture and prosecute James “Whitey” Bulger during the early 1990s. Ullmann, a federal prosecutor in the US attorney’s office at the time, oversaw wiretaps set up to catch Bulger.
Ullmann and former US attorney Wayne Budd told council members they were unaware of the extent of the corruption inside the FBI’s Boston bureau and unable to capture Bulger because of it.
Ullmann also defended himself against his controversial decision to prosecute criminal defense attorney Joseph Balliro, who was indicted for money laundering in 1989. Balliro represented many organized crime figures.
Councilor Terrence Kennedy said Ullmann’s tenure in the US Attorney’s office during the time when federal prosecutors were trying to build a case against Bulger had nothing to do with why he planned to vote against him.
“The primary reason I’m not voting for him is that we need people who practice and have tried cases in the Superior Court in Massachusetts,” Kennedy said before the vote was postponed. “The last several nominees that have been approved haven’t had that experience.”
Of 71 Superior Court judges, the council has appointed seven or eight within the last year who did not have experience trying cases in Superior Court, Kennedy said.
Councilor Marilyn Devaney said Wednesday she was distressed that after four hours of questioning last week, no one asked Ullmann questions about his 18 years of experience in criminal defense work. Councilor Jennie Caissie disagreed, saying she asked him substantive questions about cases he has tried. Ullmann said he has never tried a case in Superior Court, she said.
“For me, Whitey Bulger, has nothing, nada, zilch, nothing to do with how I will vote for this nominee,” Caissie said. “My concerns deal with his trial experience in the Massachusetts Superior Court.”
Councilor Eileen Duff said she has decided how she will vote, but declined to specify how she would vote.