Joint Bar Committee Review
Throughout the past century the organized bar has played both an informal and formal role in assisting the Executive Branch in the merit selection of judicial officers. The bar recognizes that a competent, principled judiciary is the cornerstone of the justice system. The function of the Joint Bar Committee (JBC) on Judicial Appointments is to independently review, evaluate and report on the qualifications of judicial and clerk-magistrate aspirants to all courts of the Commonwealth. Although rarely exercised, the committee has on occasion evaluated the appointment of individuals to the Federal Courts having jurisdiction over Massachusetts. The twenty-five member committee is chaired by the Massachusetts and Boston Bar Associations and has a diverse body of practitioners from every county and a majority of specialty bar associations in the state. Members of the committee are non-partisan and generally serve for three years.
The Joint Bar Committee was formally established in 1961,and the committee has played a role with every administration in evaluating the qualifications of judicial applicants. The Committee works on a confidential basis, with the Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel, in serving as the final independent check and balance on those individuals selected by the Governor for nomination. In other words, the committee operates after an individual is approved by the JNC, selected by the Governor, and prior to their submission to the Governor’s Council.
The Joint Bar Committee conducts due diligence and reviews the background of every nominee prior to their nomination. The committee receives confidential information provided by the Governor’s legal office, including an individual’s JNC application and any other relevant materials as submitted by the candidates. The committee may on its own obtain additional information as desired, including the interview of judges, attorneys, court personnel and other individuals who may have pertinent information regarding the candidate. If desired, the committee may interview the candidate.
The JBC maintains a consistent evaluation process, which assesses the following: a candidate’s integrity, character and reputation, knowledge of the law, professional experience, temperament, diligence, financial responsibility, and public service.
Upon completion of their due diligence, the JBC votes the candidate as either “well-qualified”, “qualified”, “not qualified” or “insufficient information to evaluate”. A quorum of at least thirteen members is necessary for a vote to be considered valid. Candidates who are found to be “not qualified” are afforded an opportunity to meet with the committee. The committee may then, at its discretion, vote to reconsider their prior “not qualified” vote. The committee communicates all of its votes confidentially to the Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel. If the Governor selects to ignore the findings of the committee when a candidate is deemed “not qualified” and proceeds to nominate such individual, the committee will publicly disclose the “not qualified” finding. However, in any event the findings of the committee are never made public prior to an individual’s nomination.