Paul Dacier leading state panel that selects judges
Paul Dacier’s job as general counsel for EMC Corp. has brought him to courtrooms in London, Dublin, Frankfurt, Paris, Tokyo, and Milan. But his years-long focus on improving the court system at home has led to his recent appointment by Governor Charlie Baker as chairman of the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission.
“I’ve been fortunate to see how other systems work. Everybody has their pluses and minuses, but the legal skill and analysis is generally the same,” Dacier said.
Dacier has already begun leading the 21-member panel charged with nominating a replacement for the chief justice of the Appeals Court, Phillip Rapoza. Rapoza is retiring June 30, after a 23-year career in the state judiciary.
The commission under Dacier is also poised to fill two other vacancies in the Appeals Court and more openings expected in the District and Land courts in the coming months. The commission recommends nominations to the bench, and the nominees ultimately need the approval of the governor and the executive council.
“My goal is to set general guidance and get input from all. And then work it in the right way so we come up with the right result,” said Dacier, describing a method he uses at the office and when volunteering.
Dacier said he is interested in maintaining a diversity of expertise on the bench, something that he began advocating for in the 1990s.
“They have to be an excellent lawyer,” Dacier said. “That means excellent legal skill and analysis. They should be a leader in the profession or in the community or both. But most importantly, they have to have excellent temperament and empathy.”
Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito also want to make sure the candidates are from a statewide pool of applicants, Dacier said.
“We are going to be sensitive to the needs of the local communities and the courts that are in those communities, and the types of people that we’ll recommend to appoint to the bench,” Dacier said.
To understand how Dacier will lead the commission, it helps to know his working life for the data-storage giant and the years he spent advocating for the court system.
Dacier had middle-class upbringing in Hudson rooted in volunteerism. His father, a dentist and local Boy Scout leader, did free dental work for the nuns from St. Michael’s Church in Hudson. His mother was also active in the church and led the local Girl Scout chapter.
When Dacier started at EMC in 1990, he was the first attorney cofounder Richard Egan hired. While EMC underwent a meteoric rise in the 1990s becoming a publicly traded, multibillion dollar company, Dacier went about building a worldwide legal team to defend it from poachers. EMC now has 68,000 employees and 120 attorneys worldwide.
“It’s always 9 a.m. somewhere in the world, and when there’s a question, the number they call is his cellphone,” said Thomas Dougherty, a corporate lawyer in Boston who has known Dacier for roughly two decades.
Dougherty said Dacier has built one of the most diverse legal teams he has seen.
“One of the reasons he is general counsel is that there’s two words there,” Dougherty. “He is a general. He is counsel. He has had to look at budgets, structure, and people. It’s like a small law firm he’s built around the world.”
In legal circles, Dacier became known among lawmakers for advocating for more resources toward what he and Egan saw as a budget-constrained, overworked court system that struggled with handling the types of complex business litigation in which EMC was getting involved.
“We came to the conclusion that we could criticize, but let’s do something better here,” Dacier said. “And so that’s why I got very active in the late 1990s to have a business court.”
The Business Litigation Session began in Suffolk County in October 2000 and allowed the same judge to remain with a case until its conclusion. Establishing the session also kept businesses from turning to private arbitration to resolve disputes involving issues such as trade secrets and shareholder and contract disputes. The session recently marked its 15th year of presiding over business cases.
Dacier said that making sure Massachusetts had a diverse bench is what drew him to first joining the Judicial Nominating Commission. (He first served during Jane Swift’s last year as acting governor and then four years on the commission’s executive committee under Governor Mitt Romney.)
The commission exposed Dacier to the various arms of the court system, and the lawyers who work within it.
“There were lawyers on that commission back then that handled juvenile matters or domestic relations matters, and in the course of my work I would never see that,” he said. “And they talked about things and certain procedural issues I had no idea what they were talking about. Ironically, they will tell you the same thing.”
Dacier also became involved in the Boston Bar Association. He held three offices before being elected to a year-long term as president on Sept. 1, 2013. While president of the association, Dacier took it upon himself to visit with chiefs of all trial courts. He went to watch a session of drug court and worked every day on running the 12,000-member organization, said Richard Page, executive director for Boston Bar Association.
Dacier’s style of running association board meetings created a level playing field for a large group of lawyers that at times held very divergent opinions.
“That is not an easy thing in an organization like ours,” Page said. “I’ve been really impressed by his, I want to use the word civility, but he has a humility and graciousness that I have always found helps create an open and inclusive environment.”
“At the end of every board meeting,” Page added, “Paul would go around and ask every member of the board whether they had anything they wanted to bring up. It was a way to make sure no perspective went unheard. I had never seen that before, but I have seen other people copy it.”
On Dacier’s last day as president he came back to its offices for one final piece of business.
“He went from the bottom floor to top and thanked every single person for their service,” Page said. “That’s the guy who is superintendent of the building, receptionists, the bookkeeper, the people you don’t know about or hear about. Paul went through the building shaking every one of their hands. When I think of Paul, that’s what I think about.”