Justice Francis X. Spina, the most senior member of the Supreme Judicial Court, will join Justice Robert Cordy in departing from the state’s highest court this August, a move that gives Governor Charlie Baker time to name two new justices before the court’s fall session.
Spina, a Pittsfield resident and graduate of both Amherst College and Boston College Law School, reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 in November but set his departure date for August, when the court’s current sitting officially ends.
Spina was appointed to judicial posts by Republican Governors William Weld and Paul Cellucci, who nominated him for his seat on the state’s highest court, a seat he has held since Oct. 14, 1999.
“It has been a privilege and an honor to serve the people of the Commonwealth at this level,” Spina said in a statement released by the court. “I have been blessed to work with so many dedicated employees in the judicial branch whose commitment to justice for all has been a daily inspiration for the past 23 years.”
Earlier his week, Cordy announced that he was also stepping down in August, although his retirement comes four years before he reached the mandatory retirement age. Cordy was also nominated to the SJC by Cellucci.
The dual departures, along with the impending retirements of two other justices in 2017, mean Baker will be able to put his imprint on the state’s highest court before his first term ends. He said earlier this week that he considered both Cordy and Spina as his inspiration when deciding who should be chosen to succeed them.
Baker said Friday that he wanted to promote, “terrific, people, very strong legal minds, people who are incredibly well respected by the legal community.’’
Both Spina and Cordy dissented in the SJC’s landmark same-sex marriage ruling. Both are also considered to be workhorses. Cordy authored 360 majority decisions and Spina wrote 400 himself during their careers on the SJC, where they served with three chief justices.
The current chief, Justice Ralph D. Gants, said in a statement that Spina’s colleagues called him “Saint Francis” and the “unsung hero” of the court whose “superb intellect, careful craftsmanship, and gentle manner” built bridges among judges, court employees, and the public.
Roderick L. Ireland, who served as SJC chief justice from 2010 to 2014 and as an associate justice alongside Spina, said he sometimes disagreed with Spina, but never disliked him.
“Even when we didn’t agree, we respected and listened to each other,’’ Ireland said in a statement. “He is hard-working, thoughtful, and shows professionalism and dedication in everything he does. He was always helpful, never turning down an assignment. I consider him a dear friend and wonderful colleague.”
Salary for an associate justice of the SJC is $175,000 annually.
John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.