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Governor looks to make mark on SJC with 3 nominations

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Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced three Supreme Judicial Court nominees.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced three Supreme Judicial Court nominees.Jonathan Wiggs

Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday nominated three state judges — all former prosecutors — to serve on the Supreme Judicial Court, the first stage in what will be a historic remake of Massachusetts' highest court in the governor's first term in office.

Baker nominated Superior Court Judges Kimberly S. Budd, Frank M. Gaziano, and David A. Lowy to fill three vacancies created by pending retirements on the seven-person bench, the oldest appellate court in the country.

And with two more Supreme Judicial Court justices expected to retire next year, Baker will have the opportunity to name a majority of the justices on the court that sets civil and criminal law for the state.

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"This will be a big part of his legacy long after he leaves office, whenever that is," said John Pucci, a lawyer in Western Massachusetts who served on the governor's commission to search for and recommend candidates for the vacancies.

Pucci added that the sudden and thorough remake of the court will immediately have an impact at a time when the court is exploring new law, with the evolution of social media, technology, and gender rights issues.

"This really is a profound change, and an opportunity for him to shape the court in a way that suits his values and his perspectives," he said.

In choosing Lowy and Gaziano, Baker selected two men who were first appointed to the bench by Republican governors. Budd, the daughter of former US attorney Wayne A. Budd, was named to the Superior Court in 2009 by Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat.

According to municipal records, Lowy is a registered Republican in Marblehead, where he lives; Gaziano is a registered Democrat in Scituate; and Budd is an unenrolled voter in Newton.

Pucci said political affiliation was not taken into account when making the picks.

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All three of the nominees are former prosecutors, though Baker said he did not consider whether that background represented a philosophical view of the law. He said he based his selections on their reputations as judges.

"These are people who aren't going to have to spend a lot of time figuring it out and getting started," Baker said.

While Superior Court judges oversee civil and criminal trials, the Supreme Judicial Court hears appeals on a broad range of criminal and civil cases, and collectively reaches a decision that becomes the standard of law in the state.

"They have demonstrated every day that they are judges of the highest caliber and character," Baker said of the nominees.

Members of the legal community, including Democrats, applauded the choices.

"Governor Baker has made an impressive opening statement with the nomination of three highly regarded Superior Court judges," said Martin W. Healy, chief legal counsel and operating officer for the Massachusetts Bar Association.

Former attorney general Thomas Reilly, a Democrat who ran for governor in 2006, called them "three great appointments" who will bring lengthy judicial experiences to the court.

The nominations must be approved by the Governor's Council, an independent body that reviews judicial nominations. Baker has said he hopes to have the retiring justices — Robert Cordy, Francis X. Spina, and Fernande R. V. Duffly — replaced by the court's next session in September.

Next year, Justices Margot Botsford and Geraldine S. Hines will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70, creating two new vacancies. Pucci urged the governor to consider a nominee from Western Massachusetts, to continue the court's tradition of having at least one representative from that region. Spina, retiring this year, is from Pittsfield.

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Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants said in a statement that, "Judges Budd, Gaziano, and Lowy are each thoughtful, experienced, and hard-working judges with superb judgment."

The nominees were joined by family members at the governor's announcement at the State House on Tuesday, and said they looked forward to their confirmation hearings.

"I'm truly honored and humbled by [the governor's] expression of confidence in me," Budd said.

Gaziano said he was honored to be nominated to a court "whose mission is to preserve everybody's individual liberties in this state, promote fairness among our citizens, to make sure that litigants have impartial trials, and to accommodate the rule of law."

Budd, 49, grew up on the North Shore and is a graduate of Georgetown University and the 1991 class at Harvard Law School, which also included President Obama. She is a former attorney for Harvard University and prosecutor in the US attorney's office.

She was appointed to the Superior Court by Patrick in 2009 and has since often sat in courthouses in Greater Boston.

Gaziano, 52, is a former prosecutor both in the Plymouth County district attorney's office and the US attorney's office, where he was part of the team of lawyers who secured a death sentence for serial killer Gary Lee Sampson in 2003. (His death sentence was later vacated by a judge who found juror misconduct.)

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Gaziano was also one of the Superior Court judges recently assigned to handle the complicated criminal cases arising from the Annie Dookhan drug lab scandal.

He also presided over the trial and the conviction of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, the con man who called himself Clark Rockefeller.

Gaziano was appointed to the Superior Court in 2004 by Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican. He is a graduate of Lafayette College and Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

Lowy , 56, worked as an assistant district attorney in Essex County before joining the administration of Governor William Weld in 1991, where he worked with Baker. He is graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Boston University Law School.

Lowy helped draft Weld's first legislative crime package in 1993, which included a major legal reform that allowed judges to consider dangerousness when setting bail, a boost for advocates of domestic violence victims.

More recently, Lowy presided over the first-degree murder trial of teenager Philip D. Chism.


Frank Phillips and Joshua Miller of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Milton J. Valencia can be reached at Milton.Valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia. John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.