Lenk delays retirement, keeps SJC at full strength

Boston Statehouse
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BOSTON (SHNS) – Justice Barbara Lenk is pushing off her retirement from the state’s highest court until late fall, nixing earlier plans to exit next Monday.

Lenk recently notified Gov. Charlie Baker that she was postponing her retirement until Dec. 1, a day before her 70th birthday, according to an SJC spokeswoman. Seventy is the mandatory retirement age for Massachusetts judges.

As recently as a few weeks ago, the court had told the News Service Lenk planned to retire Aug. 17 from her seat on the bench.

The delayed retirement will mean more time for the governor’s Judicial Nominating Commission to pre-vet candidates to fill her seat, a process followed by public questioning of Baker’s nominee by the elected Governor’s Council. Council members ultimately vote on the nominee’s approval.

“I wonder why that happened,” Councilor Robert Jubinville said Thursday in response to news of Lenk’s postponed retirement. “But I know they had been interviewing candidates for the position, but they had to, I guess, reopen it up — more candidates.”

The Milton Democrat said he was hoping to see more diversity on the court, which is currently composed of four white men, two white women, and one Black woman.

“We have Judge Budd, who I believe is the only [justice] of color, a Black lady. So I’d like to see more diversity, and hopefully they will get some qualified candidates for the position from the minority sector and get a little more diversity up there.”

The Nominating Commission is accepting applications through noon on Sept. 11. Baker’s next SJC pick will be his sixth since taking office in 2015, filling the majority of the court with his preferred candidates and leaving Chief Justice Ralph Gants as the only non-Baker justice.

The first openly gay member of the SJC, Lenk joined the court in 2011 after she was nominated by Gov. Deval Patrick and confirmed 5-3 by the Governor’s Council. She was first nominated to the Superior Court in 1993 by Gov. William Weld, then elevated by Weld to the Appeals Court two years later.

Lenk was not present for oral arguments in parts of 2017 and 2018 after the court announced she would be tending to “some non life-threatening health issues.”

As her original retirement date approaches, Lenk has been holding single-justice sessions for the SJC and earlier this month ordered that a lawsuit challenging Baker’s authority to declare a COVID-19 state of emergency be scheduled for oral arguments before the full court in September.

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