Photo of Gloriann Moroney at Governor’s Council, Oct. 12, 2022 by Lisa Berland, Parole Watch
Parole Board Chair Gloriann Moroney’s contentious hearing to become a judge
Another Parole Board chair with a prosecutorial background is vying to be a judge. This time, it’s Gloriann Moroney, whose hearing before the Governor’s Council, known to rubber stamp nominations by the governor, was held on Wednesday, Oct. 12. She was nominated in 2019 to the board for a five-year term by Gov. Charlie Baker and wants to move on after three and a half years as chair.
Similarly to her board chair predecessors, Joshua Wall and Paul Treseler, Moroney rose through the ranks at the Suffolk District Attorney’s (DA) office. Wall, who serves as an associate justice in the Middlesex County Superior Court, was plucked from the Suffolk DA’s office in 2011 by then-Gov. Deval Patrick. He served as Parole Board chair until 2014 when Patrick elevated him to be a judge. Treseler, another prosecutor from Suffolk, was nominated by Baker in 2015, and stayed on the board until 2019 when he ascended to associate justice of the Boston Municipal Court.
“It’s a way to distinguish yourself,” said Geraldine Hines, retired associate justice of the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) in a phone interview for this article. She theorized that the Mass Parole Board is one “path to the bench” in what she called “the judge sweepstakes.” She added, “This governor has an incredible record of appointing former prosecutors… If you are aligned with one side of the criminal legal system that has currency and want to be on the bench and have a governor who prioritizes that side, it gives you an upper hand.”
Since Baker’s tenure in office began in 2015, the Governor’s Council—which votes on the governor’s nominations for judicial, parole, and other positions, as well as on commutations and pardons—has approved 350 of his nominees, with five people withdrawing their nominations, and only one negative vote.
We analyzed the experience of 30 of the attorneys who, so far, in 2022 have been appointed by Baker to a trial court judgeship and approved by the Governor’s Council. Our finding: 60% had primarily prosecutorial backgrounds.
In an interview for this article, Attorney Victoria Kelleher, past president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (MACDL), said that MACDL has encouraged more applicants from the defense bar, but historically, they have felt shut out from the process, treated as if prosecutors made better judges.
In her opening statement at the Governor’s Council hearing on Wednesday, Moroney testified that she has the “qualifications, demeanor, and character needed to be a judge who impacts the community.” Councilor Mary Hurley, a retired Chicopee District Court justice, agreed, as did judges who testified in person, Michael Doolin and Holly Broadbent.
Dion Young begged to differ. In a phone call, the formerly-incarcerated Young referred to himself as “currently held captive by parole” for the past 15 years. That means, as one who has earned parole—the opportunity to complete his sentence in the community—he understands the criminal legal system from the inside. He said that judges should have “lived experience” or “worked or cared for individuals who’ve been impacted by the legal system,” i.e. they should merely be appointed. He told me, “If we want [judges] to govern [well],” we should not “constantly promote failure based on who they know.”
At a hearing that was fraught with the usual rancor of the Governor’s Council which we have written about before, Councilor Robert Jubinville, an attorney from Milton, ran the public hearing and angered those who had come to speak against Moroney by imposing an unannounced three-minute limit on testimony. At another judge’s confirmation hearing, Jubinville recently stated, “We all decided in our own way how we were going to vote, before we even walked into this chamber.”
Patricia Garin, an attorney and Northeastern University School of Law professor who supervises students representing prisoners with life sentences at Mass Parole Board hearings, testified that Moroney created a “very dysfunctional parole board.” She cited a number of problems including: poor morale and high turnover at the agency; only four commutation hearings held with two granted out of more than 100 applications (a commutation leaves the conviction intact but reduces the punishment); only two petitions for termination of parole granted during Moroney’s tenure; and lifers waiting a year to receive negative parole decisions and five months for positive ones.
Moroney said that she was proud of her initiatives during COVID, including a sober home program that led to placements for 1,000 formerly-incarcerated people in transitional housing. But the picture for Mass prisoners is not as rosy as she painted.
We have written about the board under Moroney and how it fared during the height of the coronavirus crisis. Massachusetts did not issue a clear policy for releasing people during dangerous times, per the US Department of Justice. According to an Aug. 2022 DOJ special report, between Jan. 2020 and Feb. 2021, only 73 prisoners with COVID who had committed nonviolent offenses were released early and all were unsentenced at the time of release.
Questioned by Councilor Paul DePalo from Worcester, Moroney said she had not shown any of the other board members a recent report by the Special Commission on Structural Racism in the Massachusetts Parole Process. While it was not made clear what led the chair to not distribute or discuss the report, Kelleher of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys said, “Not having a defense perspective can contribute to structural racism and institutional racism in the courts. The defense sees the whole pipeline.”
Moroney said she supported some recommendations but never hashed them out or talked about implementing them with her board. Her justification for not sharing the information with board members and staff: “The report is online,” she said.
A native of Peabody, Councilor Eileen Duff took issue with the clipped response. Duff emphasized that while the Parole Board chair might have trial court experience, staff members at the agency have explained to Duff, through conversations and letters, that Moroney had “a complete disregard for the common man and woman that work at the parole agency.”
Duff pointed out, “The men who work in the yard, that bring those prisoners in, in and out … They’ve done that work since they were 18-years-old, many of them, since high school. And you call them ‘frat boys’ and you think they don’t hear it? You don’t think they don’t know the disdain you have, over and over and over, vocalized for them? The rolling of the eyes, the sighs?”
Watertown councilor, Marilyn Devaney, took issue with Moroney’s using the Parole Board as a springboard to judgeship.
“Why didn’t you just apply to be a judge?” she implored, suggesting that Moroney had used the board to obtain what she really wanted all along. Or as Attorney Leslie Walker, former executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services and current criminal legal system lobbyist, told me, “Judgeship should not be a reward for a tough job on the Parole Board.”
Attorney Kelleher concurred, “The Parole Board should see that [being on the Parole Board] as their endgame. If the endgame is being a judge, it is much better for [members] to deny parole [to petitioners] because that way there is no risk to them in that they will be potentially outed as overly ‘soft on crime.’ That would be a detriment to their being a judge.”
“What we need are judges who are bold,” said Attorney Daniel Medwed, a professor at Northeastern University School of Law and legal analyst for WGBH, whose new book is titled, Barred: Why the Innocent Can’t Get out of Prison. “Being progressive is still a risk, but research suggests giving people opportunities might be more effective in the long run; taking a chance, freeing more people on parole is better for them and the public at large.”
Other Parole Board members/chairs who found the path to judgeship include Paul Chernoff (1976), John J. Curran (1990), Michael Pomerole (2002), Cesar Archilla (2013), Maureen Walsh (2008), and Ina Howard Hogan (2016).
The vote to confirm Moroney will be held Wednesday, Oct. 19 at noon in the Council chamber and can be seen on their YouTube channel.