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Judge presiding over Kevin Spacey case is no stranger to controversy

NANTUCKET — Judge Thomas S. Barrett looked straight out of central casting when he entered the courtroom where Kevin Spacey was set to be arraigned Monday.

Wearing gold, wire-rimmed glasses and a navy bow tie, he addressed the room: “It would be a bit of an understatement to say we have at least one case today that is garnering media attention.”

He added: “Sit, listen, and observe but don’t interrupt.”

Barrett is a veteran judge, having spent nearly 20 years in the district courts in Quincy, Plymouth, Hingham, New Bedford, Fall River, and Barnstable. He has been a presiding justice in the Nantucket court since 2014.


Barrett is a former Cohasset attorney nominated for the district courts in 2000 by the late Governor Paul Cellucci. During his career, Barrett has made thousands of rulings in criminal trials, bail hearings, civil lawsuits, and domestic violence issues, but only two of those decisions were reviewed by the Supreme Judicial Court, the state’s highest court.

In one case, the SJC said Barrett was wrong when he found a man guilty of resisting arrest, and in the second, the court said Barrett reached the right verdict but should not have held a trial after hearing a motion to suppress.

“While we are not unmindful of the burden faced daily by District Court judges seeking to dispose of large volumes of cases, the practice should be eliminated,’’ the SJC concluded in a rebuke to Barrett.

Barrett has more recently drawn the ire of Bristol District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III, who has publicly complained that Barrett made the wrong decision when he refused to rule a Dartmouth man accused of robbing an 11-year-old girl at knifepoint as a danger to society. Barrett ordered him released on personal recognizance with a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.


During the next six months, the suspect harassed a woman he once had a relationship with, according to Quinn’s office, and another judge sent the man to jail while awaiting trial. He pleaded guilty and got a four-year sentence earlier this year, Quinn’s office said.

“The judge chose to release him without any bail, on some conditions. This should not have happened,’’’ Quinn said in an August statement. “This defendant should have been held without bail. Instead, it took him committing a new crime to get him back into custody. This is another example of a defendant who was a danger to the community who should not have been out on the street.”

Barrett also was the judge who dismissed a domestic violence case against Thomas Latanowich in 2017, months before he allegedly shot and killed Yarmouth Police Sergeant Sean Gannon when Gannon tried to arrest him for probation violations in 2018.

Gannon, ironically, testified in the domestic violence case, but Barrett ruled the case could not go forward after the victim, who was then Latanowich’s girlfriend, invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, records show.

Barrett was also one of the district court judges whom the Globe Spotlight Team determined in 2011 routinely found accused drunk drivers not guilty. The Globe found that more than four out of five Massachusetts defendants — 82 percent — are found not guilty of operating under the influence of alcohol when a judge, sitting alone without a jury, decides the outcome, an acquittal rate that appears to be virtually unmatched in the United States.


The Globe reported that Barrett had an acquittal rate at that time of 94 percent.

According to the state court system, Barrett sits in Nantucket approximately two days a week. He also is assigned to district courts in Barnstable and New Bedford.

He is a graduate of Suffolk Law School and University of Massachusetts-Boston.

Maria Cramer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @globemcramer.

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