BOSTON (SHNS) – After eight years on the Superior Court bench, Judge Thomas Drechsler is due to retire Wednesday, according to the governor’s judicial nominations office, creating the second court vacancy of Gov. Maura Healey’s administration — and without a mechanism in place to start putting new judges in robes.
Healey has yet to name members to a Judicial Nominating Commission, a panel that governors set up soon after starting their terms. The JNC, often made up of attorneys from a mix of backgrounds and practice areas, pre-screens judicial applicants before some are advanced to interviews with the administration.
Gov. Deval Patrick set up his nominating commission on Jan. 19 in his first year in office, and Gov. Charlie Baker issued an executive order creating his JNC on Feb. 5 in his first year with a Feb. 27 deadline to request a seat on the panel. The commissions were filled out later, with Patrick naming the bulk of members on March 21 and Baker appointing members on April 10.
An executive order to reconstitute the JNC can also set qualifications to be nominated for a judgeship, guidelines for recruitment, or a code of conduct for judicial applicants, such as forbidding someone to make campaign contributions to the Executive Branch after they have applied, a provision that Baker included.
While the corner office may be feeling less urgency in 2023 given the low number of open spots on the bench, the vacancies will particularly stack up this winter and spring in the Superior Court, which has jurisdiction over first-degree murder cases.
The anticipated retirement of Drechsler, a onetime law partner of former House Speaker Thomas Finneran, follows Superior Court Judge Richard Carey’s reported February departure, and two more judges are set to retire in Massachusetts next month — Superior Court Judge Paul Wilson (April 23) and Juvenile Court Judge Carol Erskine (April 27).
Another pair of Superior Court jurists are due to retire in May: Judge Janet Sanders and Judge Douglas Wilkins, whose father and grandfather were both chief justices of the Supreme Judicial Court.
Staring down the end of 2023, three more Superior Court judges are expected to hang up their black robes, including Judge Jeffrey Locke (Dec. 22), who has served since last year as chief justice of the Trial Court system.
Healey could be limited in her influence on the state’s highest court, which currently consists entirely of Baker appointees.
It appears that none of the seven members of the Supreme Judicial Court will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 until after the next gubernatorial election. The eldest jurists on the top court are Justices David Lowy, Elspeth Cypher, and Scott Kafker, who are all around their early 60s.
That does not preclude the possibility of early exits, as with Justice Robert Cordy, who left the bench in 2016 three years ahead of his mandatory retirement to return to his former law firm.