Former federal prosecutor Robert Ullmann won confirmation to the Superior Court on Wednesday in a close vote after fending off criticism about the US attorney’s office’s inability to capture and prosecute reputed mobster James “Whitey” Bulger in the 1990s and his decision to prosecute a well-known criminal defense lawyer that was thrown out of court.
The Governor’s Council voted 5 to 3 to confirm Ullmann after several councilors expressed their objections and Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray took the rare step of publicly defending the administration’s nominee before the vote.
Ullmann spent 10 years as a federal prosecutor and is currently a lawyer in Boston at Nutter, McClennen & Fish. Councilors Robert Jubinville, Jennie Caissie, and Christopher Iannella voted against Ullmann’s confirmation.
Jubinville expressed grave concern about how Ullmann will wield the “great power” that comes with a lifetime appointment to the Superior Court bench, highlighting what he considered to be the overzealous prosecution of criminal defense lawyer Joseph Balliro, who was indicted for money laundering in 1989.
Balliro represented many organized crime figures, and the case was thrown out of court during the middle of his trial by the federal judge. Jubinville said the prosecution has followed Balliro despite the mistrial. “That is what happens to citizens who get indicted sometimes,” Jubinville said.
Jubinville also raised concerns that Ullmann did not do more to break down the wall between the US attorney’s office and the FBI-led Bulger task force despite concerns over being stonewalled in their investigation efforts. He highlighted an e-mail sent to him by Ullmann during the confirmation process when Ullmann warned Jubinville that failure to confirm him to the bench would be a “victory” for Bulger, a note Ullmann later apologized for sending.
“I kind of saw that as a threat to me,” he said, suggesting the e-mail was written in anger and did not display the type of temperament necessary for a judge.
Murray, who rarely gets involved in the judicial confirmation process except for nominees to the Supreme Judicial Court or in cases where he must break a tie vote, said he took a special interest in this case and spoke to Ullmann as well as two members of the State Police involved in the Bulger investigations of the 1990s.
Murray said he was satisfied that Ullmann tried to do the right thing in the Bulger case, and Ullmann told him that if he had the chance to handle the Balliro case again with his many more years of experience he would do things differently.
“We all grow and learn in our jobs and hopefully that’s something he brings and I believe he will bring to the bench,” Murray said.
Councilor Marilyn Devaney read a prepared statement before the vote, defending Ullmann and his lengthy legal background, and criticizing the amount of time her fellow councilors spent focused during his confirmation hearing on Bulger given the level of corruption documented around the case.