For more than two decades Watertown’s Marilyn Petitto Devaney has served as the Governor’s Councilor for District 3, but in 2022 she faces an opponent in the Democratic Primary, Mara Dolan, who questions her voting record on judges and her relationship with other members of the Council.
The Governor’s Council, also known as the Executive Council, votes on the Governor’s nominations for judges in all levels of state courts, clerk magistrates, as well as members of other state boards, including the Parole Board, the Appellate Tax Board, and the Industrial Accident and Industrial Accident Reviewing boards. They also vote on the Governor’s proposed pardons and commutations of prisoners, as well as, the warrants for the State Treasury.
The candidates debated each other Monday night on Watertown Cable Access TV, and covered a range of topics, including a recent Boston Globe article that focused on Devaney’s relationship with the other members of the Council and a vote to approve a judge who refused to publicly reveal her stance on abortion rights.
Devaney pointed to her record as an independent voice on the Governor’s Council who often went against the others, and cited some reforms she has spearheaded including continuing to broadcast meetings on YouTube after the pandemic restrictions ended and prohibiting contributions by nominees to members of the Governor’s Council.
She added that she is the only Governor’s Councilor who meets with every nominee before voting on whether or not to confirm the person. Devaney served on the Watertown Town Council from 1981 to 2009.
Dolan, a public defender from Concord, said she wants to increase the number of public defenders who become judges, wants to increase the number of pardons and commutations, and to make sure the Governor’s Council “reflects the will of the people.”
Having stood up for defendants in a court of law thousands of times, Dolan said she has experience that her opponent does not have. She previously lived in Watertown and was elected to the Library Board of Trustees in 2019 but did not serve because she moved to Concord.
The candidates were asked about how they will consider nominees for judgeships.
Dolan said she wants to make sure that judges not only understand the intricacies of State Law. She added that addiction comes up frequently in court cases, and she wants to make sure judges are knowledgeable on the subject.
“I will make sure all nominees understand the science of addiction and work to support recovery,” Dolan said. “This is deeply personal to me as my own sister passed away from an alcohol use disorder.”
Dolan also said she is concerned that judges in Massachusetts are predominantly former prosecutors, with prosecutors outnumbering public defenders 2 to 1 in trial courts, 5 to 1 on the Court of Appeals and 4 to 1 on the Supreme Judicial Court.
Devaney said she has looked for people who are qualified to be judges, not political appointees.
“I want them to be qualified. I am tired of political people that go through,” Devaney said. “I want someone who has earned it, has qualifications, and follows the rule of law of Massachusetts.”
She said she also looks at nominees’ backgrounds, such as what committees they serve on, what charities they have worked with.
“I am looking at the whole person. I am voting for that person, their personal life and their professional life, and what they bring to that position,” Devaney said. “That’s why I meet with everyone.”
Dolan was critical of Devaney’s support of a judge who was appointed to the Superior Court who would not go on the record about abortion rights during her confirmation hearing. The nominee said she did not think her view on abortion applied because abortion rights cases do not come before the Superior Court. Dolan said, however, that in Massachusetts girls 15 and under who cannot get permission of a parent or guardian to get an abortion can seek permission from a Superior Court judge.
“The incumbent voted to confirm an anti-choice candidate to the Superior Court, something I would never do,” Dolan said. “Now she tells us that the candidate told her privately that she would recuse herself. That’s not good enough. I’m sure you will recall that (Supreme Court Justice) Brett Kavanaugh told (Maine Sen.) Susan Collins privately that he would not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
Devaney said she asks all nominees for the Superior Court and the Supreme Judicial Court about their view on abortion.
“One said very strongly she would recuse herself because it was against her beliefs,” Devaney said. “She’s not a Trump judge that changes her mind, I believe her.”
Commutations and Pardons
The Governor’s Council votes on people who are up to have their sentences commuted or to be pardoned of their crimes.
Devaney said she considers the person’s background, and said she believes in second chances. She added that she volunteered to work with juveniles in the probation system before she was on the Council.
“I think you have to look at the background, how they grew up,” Devaney said. “When they have not had anyone to care for them, don’t know what’s good in life, and they lead that bad path, I think we need to reconsider and I believe in second chances — and that is what it is all about, second chances.”
Dolan said that she has seen as a public defender that most people who end up in the criminal justice system know what they have to do to solve the problems that got them into trouble.
“Look there are folks that pose a danger, and those folks should be behind bars,” she said. “But if someone does not pose a danger and they have rehabilitated themselves, and they are really in a good place to return to society — and I am a pretty good judge of character, having worked with thousands of criminal defendants over the years.”
Working With Other Councilors
The candidates were asked about how they would work with others on the Governor’s Council. The issue was also addressed in the Boston Globe article, in which a former Councilor (now a judge) Jennie Caissie described Devaney’s legacy on the Governor’s Council as a “laughingstock,” and Mary Hurley, a councilor not seeking re-election, said it was “time we stood up to the terror she has rained upon this council and the nominees.”
Devaney said that she believes the issue stems from her opposition of broadcast of meetings being removed from YouTube, on which she tried to get others to support, but when they didn’t she worked with the ACLU, Common Cause, MassPIRG, the League of Women Voters, and other groups to restore the broadcasts.
“I believe councilors should get together and work together,” Devaney said. “I had an issue and I guess I am not going to be Miss Congeniality.”
In the Globe article, Devaney stated: “I want good government, I want transparency, I don’t want everybody’s friends to be nominated.”
Dolan said that she would make it a priority to work with others on the Governor’s Council.
“Look, sometimes you have to stand alone on principle, and I am no stranger to that. But I also know the power of building consensus, working with others, finding common ground, and working together to achieve our shared objectives,” Dolan said. “Without that on the Council we do not have the representation we might have otherwise.”
Devaney said her endorsements include Congressman Stephen Lynch, State Rep. Carmine Gentile along with the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts, National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), the Newton Carpenters Union, and the Boston Carmen’s Union.
Dolan said her endorsements include State Sen. Will Brownsberger, State Rep. John Lawn, Congressman Seth Moulton, State Auditor Suzanne Bump, Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts, Young Democrats of Massachusetts, and the State Police Association of Massachusetts.
At the end of the debate, Devaney said that Dolan had run for Democratic State Committee member in Concord in January 2020 when she was still living in Watertown.
Dolan did not have an opportunity to respond during the debate, but Watertown News reached out to her. She said: “There is no truth to that statement. I moved back to Concord in November, 2019 and registered to vote here in January, 2020.”
View Watertown Cable’s Governor’s Council Debate by clicking here.
The 2022 Massachusetts State Primary will take place on Sept. 6. Early voting will take place from Aug. 27 to Sept. 3. See the hours below: