A Judge’s Judge: Justice Gants’s Governor’s Council Hearing

Wednesday’s Governor’s Council meeting featured a full day of testimony for Supreme Judicial Court chief justice nominee Justice Ralph Gants.  Gants, who is the youngest member of the court, could serve for 10 years if approved until he turns 70 in 2024.  Retiring Chief Justice Roderick Ireland has been chief since December 2010 and plans to retire on July 25th. The SJC’s new term starts in September.

Justice Gants chairs the Access to Justice Commission.  In this role, he has worked hard to find ways to provide everyone with equal ability to have their cases heard in court, regardless of their income or native language.  He was an advocate for the creation of soon-to-be-installed pilot court service centers, which will help unrepresented litigants find their way through the court system and he is a leader in exploring ways to eliminate the justice gap, such as through law school incubator programs.

Members of the Governor’s Council had broad and wide-ranging questions for the individuals who testified.  One Councilor commented that Justice Gants would be chief for a decade without review and questioned whether or not the chief justice should face further review or re-nomination procedures like the chief judges of the lower courts.  Another Councilor raised the issue of whether or not justices of the SJC should contribute to their own pensions.  A third asked one of Justice Gants’s Access to Justice Commission peers about the potential for mandatory pro bono in Massachusetts. 

Witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing included SJC Chief Roderick Ireland, Greater Boston Legal Services Executive Director Jacqui Bowman, Chief Justice of the Superior Court Barbara Rouse, several other judges and several people who have worked directly for Justice Gants.  They raved about Justice Gants’s intellect, work ethic, humor, and commitment to access to justice issues.  He was called an independent and open-minded thinker who values the opinions of others and has a deft ability to connect with everyone from indigent pro se litigants to court staffers, his peers on the bench, and high profile attorneys. 

Chief Justice Barbara Rouse summed up Justice Gants’s well-rounded persona when she spoke of his time serving as Administrative Justice of the Superior Court’s Business Litigation Session.  This session focuses on complex business issues and is known for the challenges it presents to judges.  It is extremely paper intensive – litigants often wheel in bankers’ boxes filled with papers for hearings.  It requires an exacting judge capable of reading masses of documents, understanding complicated business issues and handling the egos of some of the nation’s top attorneys. 

Unsurprisingly, Justice Gants was a standout, helping to grow the business litigation session into the standard for other states to emulate.  Some companies even incorporate the business litigation session into contracts as their default chosen forum for disputes.  Yet, at this time, Justice Gants remained equally committed to hearing pro se cases in other court sessions and also served as an emergency judge when needed.  Despite having one of the most labor-intensive judicial seats in a rapidly growing and renowned session, he did not believe he was owed any special privilege.  His commitment both to the courts and to underprivileged litigants remained unwavering.

Testimony for and against Justice Gants lasted all day and will continue next Wednesday. 

- Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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