Governor Baker nominates Judge Serge Georges Jr. to the Supreme Judicial Court

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – Serge Georges Jr.’s nomination to the Supreme Judicial Court is poised to make history in more ways than one.

Georges, announced Tuesday as the latest pick from Gov. Charlie Baker to fill existing or impending vacancies, would join only a handful of district court judges in Massachusetts ever elevated to the state’s highest court in its lengthy history.

Depending on the confirmation timeline, his ascension to the SJC could make him the seventh and final sitting member of the court appointed by Baker, giving the governor a potentially unprecedented clean sweep of the entire panel.

Georges would also recast the balance of representation on the SJC. As the son of Haitian immigrants, he could become the court’s third non-white justice alongside Justice Kimberly Budd, whose confirmation as chief justice is expected Wednesday, and another Baker nominee, Appeals Court Judge Dalila Argaez Wendlandt.

Assuming Georges and Wendlandt are confirmed, the SJC would feature four men and three women.

While unveiling the nomination, Baker read verbatim a comment from one of Georges’s colleagues on the Boston Municipal Court: Georges, the person said, is “everything you would want in a judge.”

Georges has served as an associate justice in the Boston Municipal Court’s Dorchester Division since he was nominated by former Gov. Deval Patrick in 2013. Between 2014 and 2018, he presided over the Dorchester Drug Court.

Both Baker and Georges himself praised that experience — working as close to the judiciary’s ground level as possible, rather than in a superior or appeals court setting — as vital to ensuring that the SJC’s work does not occur in a vacuum.

Georges cited his Jesuit education at Boston College High School and later Boston College, where he graduated from in 1992, as influencing his approach in municipal and drug court.

“There are plenty of people that have just made mistakes that need some guidance in order to get back on their feet, stop committing crime and be productive members of society,” he said. “That’s a cornerstone principle of the Jesuit tradition, and I try to do that, to give people an opportunity to be successful.”

Georges’s background also puts him in rarefied company: according to Baker, only about “four or five” members of the state’s top court in its centuries-long history, including current SJC Justice David Lowy, ever served at the district court level before climbing the ranks — a fact that Baker called “shocking.”

“Having another voice on our highest court that comes with the real-world experience of the district court will improve the quality of the discussion and debate and, ultimately, the quality of the decisions that will be rendered,” Baker said.

Before he joined the bench, Georges, 50, had a wide-ranging legal career, working at a practice and also running his own solo practice covering topics such as commercial and business litigation, criminal defense, and professional licensure and liability.

He continues to teach at Suffolk University’s School of Law, where he obtained his law degree.

His parents were one of the first Haitian families to settle in Dorchester’s Uphams Corner neighborhood, according to Baker, remaining in a two-bedroom apartment until all three of their children had left home.

Today, Georges and his wife, Michelle, live in Randolph with their two daughters only a few minutes from his parents.

Describing the nomination as a great honor, Georges stressed that “you don’t get to this position of being the governor and the lieutenant governor’s nominee for the Supreme Judicial Court by yourself.”

“Through all of the things that the Haitian people have been through with natural disasters and some of the other challenges with the governmental systems over the years, it’s incredibly important for (my parents) to see that — that they came with the hope of giving us a better life, and I think through some measure of our achievement, they feel that they have.”

The nomination sets into motion the final step in a flurry of activity to reshape the SJC.

Former Chief Justice Ralph Gants and Justice Barbara Lenk had been the only sitting members nominated by a preceding governor, but Gants died suddenly in September and Lenk is approaching the mandatory retirement age.

Baker selected Budd, who has served as one of the SJC’s associate justices since 2016, to take over as chief justice, which opens up another associate seat to fill.

The Governor’s Council, an eight-member elected body that vets and confirms judicial nominees, held a hearing to interview Budd last week and will do the same for Argaez Wendlandt, Baker’s other nominee, on Wednesday.

“Judge Georges has made a legal career out of his grit, his work ethic and his intelligence,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who presides over Governor’s Council assemblies but typically does not vote on nominations. “Those that have worked with him have said that he’s impossible not to like and respect. He always finds a way to connect with people and commands attention in a room while giving people an opportunity to just be themselves.”

The Council has not yet scheduled a hearing for Georges’s confirmation, but it could put one on the calendar as soon as Wednesday.

If all three nominees are confirmed, Baker will have selected all seven justices on the state’s highest court, appearing to join a rare list of Massachusetts chief executives who have picked the entire membership of the SJC.

In 1781, Gov. John Hancock appointed the entire membership of the SJC as the commonwealth came into being under its new constitution. His initial picks included holdovers from the previous high court. A News Service review found that for a period in the 1810s and 1820s, it appeared that Gov. Caleb Strong had nominated all of the SJC’s sitting justices, and Gov. John Long by 1882 also appeared to have nominated all sitting justices.

“All seven of these folks are, to use one of the words that was used in some of the feedback we got about Justice Georges, rock stars,” Baker said.

Before the latest trio of nominees, Budd was the court’s only nonwhite member. With the administration’s picks, it could soon feature three nonwhite jurists and maintain the gender balance at three women and four men.

Governor’s Councilor Eileen Duff praised Georges and the broader shift to the panel that his selection would achieve, but argued that Massachusetts has “more work to do to achieve full diversity on the bench throughout the state’s judicial system.”

“According to Massachusetts’ most recent Annual Diversity Report, only 11% of the state’s Trial Court Justices identify as a racial or ethnic minority, compared to nearly 30% of the state’s population as a whole. Further, only 44% of Trial Court Justices are women,” Duff said in a statement. “I am calling on Governor Baker to commit to diversity fulfillment on the courts, so that our judicial system truly represents the Commonwealth.”

Georges’s nomination drew praise from across the judiciary and legal field.

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins tweeted that Baker’s “three excellent choices” have “altered our SJC for decades to come.”

In a follow-up statement, she said the nominations are “critical steps in moving our criminal legal system toward greater fairness and understanding of the rich and diverse experiences of those who come in contact with the system.”

“I’ve had the great honor of working with Justice Georges in his capacity as a justice in the Dorchester Division of Boston Municipal Court, one of the busiest Courts in the Commonwealth,” Rollins said. “I greatly admire his keen legal mind, his tremendous work ethic and his understanding of the impact of the legal system’s impact on those who find themselves before the court, whether as a defendant, a victim, a witness or a member of the community. He also treats every person that appears before him in Court with dignity and respect, whether they are a victim or a defendant, wealthy or indigent, innocent or implicated.”

Boston Bar Association President Martin Murphy said Georges’s nomination caps off “a historic remaking of the state’s highest court.”

“Judge Georges — who currently sits in the Dorchester session of the Boston Municipal Court, not far from the Kane Square neighborhood where he grew up — is a jurist of great compassion, empathy, and wisdom,” Murphy said.

For more information about the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, visit: http://www.mass.gov/courts/court-info/sjc/.

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