Governor selects Gants as next chief justice of the SJC

Issue May 2014 By Mike Vigneux

Governor Deval L. Patrick has nominated Supreme Judicial Court Justice Ralph D. Gants as the next chief justice of the SJC. If confirmed by the Governor's Council, Gants will replace current SJC Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland, who is set to retire in July.

Gants, a Lexington resident and Harvard Law School graduate, has more than 33 years of legal experience, including 16 years as a judge. Appointed by Patrick in 2009, Gants has served as an associate justice of the SJC for the past five years. Prior to the SJC, he also served as a Superior Court judge for 12 years after being appointed by former Gov. William Weld in 1997.

He served as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston for eight years, where he was chief of the Public Corruption Division. In the early 1980s, Gants worked as special assistant to former FBI director William Webster. Gants spent 17 years as a practicing lawyer and was a partner at Palmer & Dodge, LLP.

"Justice Gants has worked his way up from the trenches of law practice and has the strong intellectual firepower to boldly lead the court," said Massachusetts Bar Association Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W. Healy. "The people of Massachusetts, as well as the administration of justice, will be equally well served by his appointment."

As a member of the SJC, Gants has authored more than 120 majority decisions, including many significant rulings in civil liberties and consumer protection cases. He is co-chair of the SJC's Access to Justice Commission and chair of its Standing Committee on Model Jury Instructions on Homicide. During his tenure on the state's highest bench, Gants has been very involved in adding SJC rules that have helped directly fund legal services and increase access to justice across the state. He is also committed to reducing the rate of recidivism among prisoners.

Referred to as a "judge's judge" within the legal community, Gants is known for his friendly personality and constant accessibility to the bar.

"He's approachable, and that's important," Massachusetts Bar Association President Douglas K. Sheff told the Boston Herald after news of Gants' appointment broke. "A lot of the time, judges think they're beyond reproach, but he's a guy who will pull you aside and have a genuine conversation. That's how I know him, and that's how others see him as well."

At the April 17 press conference where Patrick announced Gants as his pick to succeed Ireland, Gants said: "I am honored and humbled by the governor's nomination of me to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court. I hope to be worthy of the critically important mission that we seek to accomplish everyday - the provision of fair, equal and efficient justice to every person in this commonwealth."

Gants was the first of several distinguished guests to speak at one of the MBA's House of Delegates (HOD) meetings this year. Addressing the HOD in September, Gants emphasized the importance of re-establishing connections to the judiciary through more bench-bar meetings and urged members to provide comments on proposed rules.

"It's terribly important when you folks have an opportunity to comment that you take advantage of it," said Gants.

He also noted it was an "exciting time in the court system" with the new leadership of Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey and Court Administrator Harry Spence.

Patrick has appointed four of the seven current SJC justices during his two terms in office and has the opportunity to appoint a fifth if Gants is confirmed as chief justice.