Editorial

Curiouser and curiouser: two odd Baker picks

Governor Charlie Baker (PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF )

You can’t make this stuff up.

Thanks to Governor Charlie Baker, a police lieutenant with no law degree — but who once coached Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito’s son in football — will take over as clerk magistrate of Westborough District Court, with the power to decide behind closed doors whether to issue criminal charges in certain cases.

Baker nominated Lieutenant Joseph G. McCarthy Jr. of the Shrewsbury police for the clerk’s job; the Governor’s Council confirmed the choice on Sept. 4. In a statement before the 5-3 vote, council member Marilyn M. Petitto Devaney said, “Representing the citizens of Massachusetts — I will be voting no. Appointments should be based on what you know — not who you know. Sadly, I can’t change this practice!”

Baker can and should change the practice — but instead, he’s buying into it. According to Devaney, McCarthy initially applied for the clerk magistrate’s position in Dudley District Court. However, that post appears to be reserved for another political insider — Jennie L. Caissie, of Oxford, a current member of the Governor’s Council who also voted to confirm McCarthy. According to the Governor’s Council website, Caissie’s nomination is scheduled to come up for a hearing on Sept. 18. That means Caissie’s fellow council members will be questioning her and will then decide whether to confirm her. Talk about a predetermined outcome.

Unlike McCarthy, Caissie is an experienced lawyer and has worked as a special prosecutor in Worcester County. That’s good. But there’s still a troubling lack of transparency in the way these nominations are handled and an insidious “who you know” aspect to the process. Like Polito, Caissie’s a graduate of New England School of Law, and the two are said to be friends. A Baker aide also confirmed that Caissie’s husband was charged last April with drunk driving, following an incident in Webster, and the case was transferred from Dudley to Palmer. A Baker aide said the transfer had nothing to do with the clerk magistrate job, and was intended to avoid a conflict of interest because Caissie practiced law and worked as a special prosecutor in Worcester County, but Devaney said the transfer was made because the nomination was already in the pipeline.

In nominating her, Baker said in a statement, “Attorney Caissie’s public service experience and career in criminal and civil law will bring sound legal insights to the Dudley District Court.” While Caissie is not responsible for her husband’s action’s, this nomination shows how much the right connections help smooth the way past embarrassing complications.

As reported by the Globe, the statewide network of secret courts, which exists nowhere else in the country, allows court clerks to preside over hearings to determine whether there’s probable cause that a crime was committed — and if so, whether to proceed with criminal charges. The show cause hearings take place in private, with minimal record keeping. The Supreme Judicial Court just ruled that district court clerks must audio record the hearings, and that judges have ultimate oversight over whether records from show cause hearings become public.

Asked about the McCarthy nomination, a spokesperson for Baker said, via e-mail, “Officer McCarthy has gone through the multi-step judicial nominating committee process, which consists of a 21-member independent board vetting an application to verify qualifications through due diligence, including the first round of vetting which includes a blind process where an applicant’s name is not revealed.” Funny how a “blind process” ended up embracing the nomination of someone who once coached the lieutenant governor’s son in a local youth football league. McCarthy’s ties to Polito, via her son, were first reported by the Boston Herald and confirmed by the governor’s office.

Everything about this system — from the secret power of clerk magistrates, to the process of selecting them — is flawed. Baker should be reforming the system, not aiding and abetting it.

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