If appointed to the state’s highest court, Boston Municipal Court Judge Serge Georges would bring expertise in real estate law, substance use disorders and the daily churn of the state’s district courts — a perspective Gov. Charlie Baker says is sorely needed at the top.
“This is a chance to put somebody who has presided over a drug court, who’s been deeply involved in the busiest district court in the Commonwealth of Mass. in a position where he can engage his colleagues in discussions about how their decisions affect the actual practice and delivery of justice every single day in the working courts across the commonwealth,” the Republican governor said Wednesday morning.
As the Governor’s Council heard remarks from and about Georges, they weighed not only whether the district court judge has the qualifications and character to serve on the Supreme Judicial Court, but whether the benefits outweigh the potential risks of having a municipal court judge promoted so quickly to the high court.
Baker estimated there have been a small handful of district court judges, perhaps fewer than 10, who have made it to the SJC. He said it is an “astonishingly small” group in the past 250 years.
“I just find that to be, honestly, troubling,” he said.
Former U.S. Sen. Mo Cowan, Suffolk University Law School Dean Andrew Perlman and others in the legal field or public officials who spoke of Georges’ career, agreed his wit, empathy and ability to dig deep into complicated subjects would benefit the court.
They painted picture of Georges — the attorney, the professor and the judge overseeing the busy Dorchester Drug Court — as a compassionate leader who did extra research to understand newer areas of the law and shared his expertise with people in his courtroom and the students he teaches at Suffolk.
“You’re going to have someone on the SJC who understands that those rulings that come from on high have real impact and understands how they impact the litigants, the system, those in the system and will carry out those duties with that in mind,” said Cowan, who has known Georges since they were young lawyers.
James B. Krasnoo, an Andover-based attorney, recalled how Georges took on a complicated case in municipal court that involved evidence related to WhatsApp, the mobile chat app.
During the case, Krasnoo and the state wrote memos citing Massachusetts law on the technology. Unsatisfied with the existing case law, Georges researched other cases and came back with a case out of Maryland’s supreme court. Then he invited them to submit memos based on the information he shared before he would issue his decision.
“That is extraordinary in a district court pressed for time that he would take his own time to research an issue. It was extraordinary that he would give us the further opportunity to work on the matter, as opposed to using the research he found simply to make the decision and, most importantly, it showed me that he was not content just to rely on his own research, even though it was adequate enough,” Krasnoo said. “He wanted to be sure that what he was doing was right.”
One attorney, Anne Stevenson of Salem, asked councilors in a letter to oppose Georges’ nomination to the SJC, saying he lacked the experience by not having served on the superior court or the appellate court level.
“Judge Georges has only been on a bench a very short amount of time and during his tenure served only in the Boston Municipal Court Drug Court and Traffic Court,” said Stevenson, arguing she had more experience with other courts in her three years as an attorney.
Her comments drew a sharp contrast to Baker’s remarks. Baker noted the 50-year-old judge was younger than the governor, but had packed much more experience in his legal career already.
Georges did not answer questions about how he would rule on disputes between religious organizations and LGBTQ rights, saying it would be improper to give his opinion if he were confirmed and the SJC faced such a case.
He did speak to his concerns about the challenges that solo practitioners face, having been one, and how his experience as a local judge could help shape the high court. He said the impact of a state statute or an SJC decision can quickly become apparent in a municipal courtroom where people with varying levels of education and resources have their first, if not their only, brush with the legal system.
“It‘s important to know the difference between a criminal and someone who violated a criminal statute — for all of us, the district attorneys, the defense lawyers and the judges,” Georges said. “That involves a heck of a whole lot of empathy to the things that people don’t have.”
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