BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS)–The Governor’s Council unanimously approved four pardons recommended last week by Gov. Charlie Baker, granting forgiveness to four men for crimes dating back 30 to 50 years, on a busy Wednesday in the Council Chamber that also featured a flurry of activity around judicial nominations.

While councilors last week discussed holding hearings on the clemency bids, all eight members of the elected body ultimately agreed to proceed without publicly interviewing the pardon recipients.

Councilor Marilyn Devaney wrote a letter to Baker last Thursday asking that the four pardons be brought before the council’s formal session for a “simple vote.” “These are good people who should not have to be publicly embarrassed for a mistake they made early in life,” Devaney wrote.

On 8-0 votes, the council approved pardons for Kenneth Dunn, who was convicted in 1971 of larceny from a building; Steven Joanis, convicted in 1990 of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon and armed assault in a dwelling; Michael Picanso, convicted in 1986 of trespass, larceny, and wanton destruction of property; and Stephen Polignone, convicted in 1980 of larceny and altering a motor vehicle license/registration. None of the men served time in prison in connection with their crimes.

In their initial hearings with the Parole Board, which forwards clemency recommendations to the governor, the four men had discussed how their criminal records held them back from doing things like participating in activities with their children and seeking professional opportunities.

“At a certain point, the punishment needs to stop for some of these folks,” Councilor Eileen Duff said. “They’ve served their time, they’ve done the very best they can, they’ve been good citizens. And to be able to get a job and a promotion is really important. And so this would complete them. I think the total, unconditional pardons of these folks is very necessary.”

Councilor Robert Jubinville made the motion for Joanis’ pardon and said that his felony convictions have “hung over his head for all these years, like the Sword of Damocles.”

Out of the slate of pardons, none of which encountered opposition at Parole Board hearings, Joanis’ seemed to involve the most serious offense. As a 17-year-old, he used a friend’s unloaded rifle in an attempt to intimidate a man who had allegedly raped his girlfriend. “He made one mistake as a young man,” said Jubinville. “And we know from the science that young men aren’t — their brains aren’t fully developed at 17. But anyway, nobody was hurt. He paid his price, I think, much more than he should have.”

The Milton Democrat added that Joanis’ record “kind of dogged him all his life” as it prevented him from participating in projects at his children’s school and CORI checks also arise in the course of his engineering job.

Devaney told Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who presides over council sessions, that she hoped future pardon recipients would likewise not be subjected to public hearings. “They already have paid for their indiscretions as young people, and I think that we should just vote for them,” the Watertown Democrat said.

Shuffling The Courts

The council also dispensed with a usual practice in the case of Clerk Magistrate Kirsten Hughes, the former chairwoman of the state Republican Party, whom Baker requested to transfer from the Stoughton District Court to the South Boston division of the Boston Municipal Court.

Councilors interviewed Hughes Wednesday morning and gave her a same-day confirmation vote on a motion of Councilor Christopher Iannella Jr. Her transfer was approved 7-1, with Councilor Paul DePalo dissenting. The council similarly gave same-day confirmation last month to Clerk Magistrate Eric Donovan’s transfer from the BMC’s Brighton division to the Brockton District Court.

It could be the beginning of a new precedent for the council, which for decades has operated on customs and traditions rather than on a written set of rules. On the Donovan vote, councilors indicated they did not view a lateral transfer — “simply being moved from one court to another,” as Councilor Terry Kennedy said — as meriting the same full treatment that other nominees require.

Hughes’ transfer to the South Boston court was made possible by Baker’s move in September to tap longtime South Boston Clerk Magistrate Margaret Albertson for a judgeship. And the governor now has an opportunity to name a new magistrate for Stoughton.

Similarly, Donovan’s transfer opened up the clerk magistrate’s job in Brighton, which Baker quickly sought to fill with Christopher Phillips, a longtime assistant in that office.

The governor is dealing with relatively few judicial vacancies, but nominations like those have a chain effect of opening up new vacancies elsewhere in the court system.

The District Court is bumping up against its cap of 158 judges, but with Wednesday’s nomination of Pittsfield District Court First Justice Paul Hart Smyth to sit on the Appeals Court, Baker gained another potential chance to fill a District Court seat before his term expires in January.

Parole Board Opportunities

Baker has choices to make for the state Parole Board after the council confirmed Chairwoman Gloriann Moroney to a District Court judgeship, 5-3, during Wednesday’s session. Councilors Devaney, Duff, and DePalo voted in opposition. The trio of Democrats had faulted Moroney during her public interview for discord among parole department staff and low rates of clemency recommendations.

The governor now has the ability to pick a new leader for the Parole Board, which is not subject to confirmation by the council. He can either tap a new chair from among the board’s six existing members, or wait until naming a member to fill Moroney’s board seat if he has an outsider in mind for the top post. A new member must be confirmed by the council before joining the panel.

Moroney followed the latter path. Baker nominated her to the Parole Board in 2019 and she served for three months before he selected her as the new chair. She had previously worked as the board’s executive director.

The council was unanimous in its approval of two other judicial nominees Wednesday — Quincy City Councilor Brian Palmucci for the District Court, and former Falmouth Select Board Chair Megan English Braga for the Probate and Family Court.

Three other candidates paraded through the chamber for their pre-confirmation hearings: Northwestern District Attorney’s Office chief trial counsel Jeremy Bucci (Superior Court), Wrentham District Court Clerk Magistrate Michelle Kelley (District Court), and BMC first assistant clerk magistrate Christopher Phillips (clerk magistrate, BMC-Brighton).