BOSTON (State House News Service) – Governor’s Councilor Jennie Caissie was confirmed Wednesday as the next clerk magistrate in Dudley District Court following a somewhat contentious confirmation process, opening the door for the Legislature to pick a new member of the elected body that vets judicial nominees.
The seven other members of the Governor’s Council voted 5-2 on Wednesday to confirm Caissie to the post. Councilors Marilyn Devaney and Robert Jubinville opposed the confirmation.
Caissie, an Oxford Republican, has been a member of the Governor’s Council since 2011 but plans to resign from the position as soon as she can be sworn in as clerk magistrate, a job that comes with a lifetime appointment.
For more than 20 years, Caissie has worked for the law office of Michael V. Caplette in Southbridge handling criminal and civil matters in various courts and she said she has had “numerous criminal and civil trials, both jury and bench trials, in the District Court and the Superior Court.”
Caissie has also served as a special prosecutor in Worcester County since 2004. She graduated magna cum laude from Assumption College in Worcester in 1995 and went on to earn a degree from New England School of Law in 1998 and an MBA from Nichols College in 2000, according to her resume.
Caissie’s nomination spurred renewed scrutiny of Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent judicial nominations and the governor took heat from both of Boston’s daily newspapers last week for tapping a series of nominees who appear to be political insiders or have close ties to the administration, particularly Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. In Caissie’s case, it has long been an open Beacon Hill secret that the Republican who was among the first to support the Baker/Polito ticket desired to be appointed to a judicial post.
At her confirmation hearing last week, Devaney pressed Caissie on a number of aspects of her application and nomination as a clerk magistrate and whether there was anything untoward about the process. On Wednesday, she said she could not vote for her colleague.
“This vote that I am asked to make for a member of the Governor’s Council to be a clerk magistrate may not be against the law, but I believe it is unethical and unacceptable to the citizens of Massachusetts,” Devaney said. “No sitting councilor should be allowed to apply for a judicial position.”
Other councilors praised Caissie last week. Even Jubinville, who voted against Caissie’s confirmation, said last week that she is “extremely qualified” for the job.
“We can only judge the nominee before us and whether you are qualified or not. And you are imminently qualified for this job. I may have some real big political disagreements with you still about different things, but as to your ability to be impartial, I have seen that and I have experienced that,” Councilor Eileen Duff said last week.
As soon as Caissie resigns, there would be a vacancy on the council which could be filled by the Legislature. The Massachusetts Constitution calls for the House and Senate, in concurrent votes, to “choose some eligible person from the people of the district wherein such vacancy occurs” to fill the seat until the next election.
It is unclear whether the Legislature will fill the seat. House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office declined to comment Wednesday and Senate President Karen Spilka’s office did not respond to an inquiry about the vacancy.
All eight Governor’s Council seats will be on the ballot in November 2020. In 2012, Councilor Kelly Timilty died while in office and the Legislature opted to leave her seat on the council vacant rather than appoint someone to complete the term.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito is eligible to join the council and vote on judicial nominees as long as Gov. Baker is present during such votes.
Caissie represents the 7th District on the Governor’s Council, which is largely located in central Massachusetts, but also includes the towns of Brimfield, Holland, Monson, Palmer, and Wales in Hampden County, as well as Ware in Hampshire County.