JP lawyer becomes judge after battle

June 13, 2008
By

JOHN RUCH

Local resident Maureen Monks has been appointed as a judge in the East Cambridge-based Middlesex County Family and Probate Court by Gov. Deval Patrick.

But the judgeship comes only after Monks survived a bruising confirmation battle before the Governor’s Council, where even a supporter expressed concerns that she “fudged” key facts about her legal background.

“I see nothing but devastation in the future for families of Middlesex County,” Governor’s Councilor Mary-Ellen Manning, who voted against Monks, told the Gazette. “I hope I’m wrong. I hope I’m dead wrong.”

Manning accused Monks of giving inaccurate data on the genders of clients she has represented as an attorney and of incorrectly claiming to have helped found a legal project—which Manning was actually involved in—among other criticisms.

“There were a number of things that were not true and were provably not true,” Manning said of the information Monks presented to the Governor’s Council, which reviews judicial appointments.

“I don’t have any comment at this time,” Monks said in a voicemail message to the Gazette. “I have referred your call to the governor’s legal counsel.”

The Governor’s Office did not respond to Gazette requests for comment for this article.

The May 28 confirmation vote was itself controversial, according to Manning and Governor’s Councilor Christopher Iannella, who is also a Jamaica Plain resident.

With seven councilors present, the body at first voted orally 5-2 to confirm Monks. But then Manning showed up about a minute later with the results of her own research into some of Monks’ statements. In a written vote tally book, Manning added her negative vote and convinced another councilor to change her vote, making for a 4-4 tie instead. A majority is needed to confirm a candidate.

At a June 4 Governor’s Council meeting, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, who presides over the body, announced that the administration was accepting only the original 5-2 vote as valid because Manning showed up after the meeting was adjourned. That meant Monks is confirmed as a judge.

“The vote was 5 to 2, but the sense of the council was 4 to 4,” said Iannella, who voted in favor of Monks. “She got lucky.”

Manning acknowledged arriving slightly late for the original vote, but said the meeting also started about five minutes early—something she suggested was deliberate.

“I take full responsibility for not knowing the administration was going to pull a fast one,” she said. “I’m very troubled by the depth to which this administration sank to silent dissent to sustain its agenda.”

The controversy led the Boston Herald to editorialize on May 31 that the Governor’s Council should be disbanded as a “relic of a bygone era,” adding that opposition to Monks appeared to be not based on “anything beyond a hunch.” Manning’s web site calls the editorial “lazy and dishonest.”

Manning is known as the council’s gadfly. Last year, she also opposed the nomination of another JP resident, Margaret Botsford, to the state Supreme Judicial Court. Botsford was confirmed and is now serving as a justice.

Monks is co-chair of the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association and has frequently been an activist in development controversies in that neighborhood, notable for a calm, precise approach. Before the judgeship, she was partner in the Cambridge family law firm Butler & Monks, The Women’s Law Collective.

She is also co-director of the Battered Women’s Advocacy Project at Suffolk University. An expert in legal issues of gay/lesbian/bisexual parents, she is also a founding member of the Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Bar Association.

Patrick nominated Monks for the judgeship in April. “Maureen Monks is a compassionate collaborator who offers important expertise in the evolving issues of family law,” he said in a press statement at the time.

Manning and Iannella are both attorneys who commented on Monks as a nominee before she was sworn in. It is considered unethical for attorneys to comment about a sitting judge.
“Fudged a few facts”

Manning and Iannella both described Monks as a solid-seeming nominee who made councilors suspicious by claims that appeared to not hold up under scrutiny.

“It bothers me a little. I don’t want to say it doesn’t bother me. But I gave her the benefit of the doubt,” Iannella said. “In my opinion, she probably fudged a few facts she didn’t have to.”

He confirmed that accuracy of answers is especially important for judicial nominees. However, Monks was not under oath in her interview with the Governor’s Council.

“She had many years of experience with this area of the law,” Manning said. “Until the hearing, I had no reason to suspect I would be voting against her. I told her, ‘You were qualified for this position. I don’t know why you needed to embellish your resume.”

“Any one of these things I don’t think would be enough to conclude anything about attorney Monks,” Manning said of her complaints. “But all of these things together made me concerned she was doing a little too much reinventing to pass muster. The reinventing started to look like dishonesty.”

Asked whether she thought Monks’ answers were “dishonest,” Manning paused for a long time, then noted there are other possible explanations, such as bad advice on how to respond at the Governor’s Council interview.

“Sometimes you really can believe your own hype. I chalked it up to that,” she said.

Still, in a statement delivered to the council and published on her web site, Manning accused Monks of actively “hiding.”

“While her agenda in favor of women in divorce was telegraphed in even a cursory reading of her resume, her attempts at hiding her agenda are of more concern,” Manning wrote.

A major criticism was aimed at Monks’ nomination statement that in divorce cases, her clients had been about 65 percent women and 35 percent men. Manning said she did her own research, looking at about 20 to 25 opposite-sex divorces Monks handled in Middlesex and Suffolk counties courts in the past eight years. Only one of the clients in those cases was a man, Manning said.

Iannella noted concern about that is based in the possibility of judicial bias—in this case, in a family court. “It’s divorce. It’s child custody. You want someone to be fair,” Iannella said.

Manning noted that judicial nominees often have a one-sided history as a lawyer—a prosecutor or a defense attorney, for example. The issue is not representing mostly women, Manning said, “but that she hid that fact from us…Once [nominees] have hidden something from us, the question becomes not only what else they’re hiding from us, but why.”

Another criticism was Monks’ reported claim to have helped create and design the Women’s Bar Foundation pro bono Family Law Project.

“She took credit for something she didn’t do. I know, because I was there,” Manning said, explaining that she was herself involved in the early planning for that project. “I asked her at the hearing, ‘Have I ever met you before?’” Monks was reportedly unable to answer detailed questions about the project.

Another concern mentioned by Manning and Iannella was that records of Monks’ own divorce, which was finalized last year, were sealed in a relatively unusual move. Manning said it is unclear whether those records were part of Monks’ background search, which is conducted confidentially by a separate agency, the Judicial Nominating Commission.

A more minor complaint was that Monks’ resume changed during the process. An item about “teaching same-sex marriage concepts to high school students” was dropped, according to Manning, who said Monks explained she needed room to add her address to the resume. Manning said that older items on the resume were not cut. Manning appeared to not know what to make of the alteration.

All of the issues, brought up after the end of the official vote, raised questions in most councilors’ minds, Iannella said. He added that he would not have changed his favorable vote.

“The council would like her to answer those questions,” Iannella said. But with the confirmation now complete, “We’ll never know why she said what she did,” he said.