Westfield's Three-Branch Pierce Begins Sunset Ride with Blessing from Supremes

Friday, August 14, 2015

If you held a high position in the judiciary and were doing a bad job, I don’t think the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court would issue a press release saying good things about you when you filed for retirement.

No, in that situation, the members of our state’s highest court would likely sigh with relief and begin the task of erasing you from their memories.  In the hallowed halls of the Adams Courthouse, the least said about a bust-out judge the better.
One may thus infer that the soon-to-be-retired chief justice of the Massachusetts Housing Court, the honorable Steven D. Pierce of Westfield, is the genuine article.  Else, why would we have the July 7, 2015, SJC press release with Paula M. Carey averring that Pierce “was an early proponent of management reforms that have increased accountability and transparency across the court system” and that “his leadership of the Trial Court’s Fiscal Task Force was key to our efforts to avoid layoffs through the fiscal crisis”?  Carey’s the chief justice of the Massachusetts Trial Court.

And why would we have Harry Spence noting in that same release that the Housing Court, under Pierce, is now “more widely recognized for the importance of its expertise and resources, such as housing court specialists who mediate cases, saving time and expense of litigation”? 
Spence, currently serving as administrator of the Trial Court, has been handed the task of repairing a damaged and/or disgraced entity of state and local government on several difficult occasions.  Think Chelsea, post-bankruptcy.  Being on the hard-nosed end of the political spectrum, he’s not one for easy or shallow compliments.

I thought it perhaps significant that the release on Pierce’s retirement was issued almost three full months prior his official retirement date of September 30, as if it were purposely setting the stage for a long, slow victory lap by the outgoing chief justice.
Pierce, who will turn 66 right after he retires, owns the distinction of having served in all three branches of state government, first the legislature, then in two gubernatorial administrations, and finally in the court system.  He also was once a serious candidate for the Republican nomination for governor and once came very close to winning a Congressional seat.

A Republican and a graduate of Duke University School of Law, Pierce was first elected to the Massachusetts House in 1978.  Within five years, he was the House Minority Whip, and, four years after that, in 1987, was elected Minority Leader.
In 1990, Pierce was a strong early entrant in the Republican primary election for governor, but couldn’t sustain his initial burst and wound up losing decisively to Bill Weld, who went on to defeat Boston University President John Silber in the November final and win re-election four years later against Democratic representative Mark Roosevelt.

Weld appointed Pierce to his first cabinet as Secretary of Communities and Development.  This proved to be only a way stop:  Silvio Conte, the long-time Republican incumbent in the old 1st Massachusetts District, died in 1991 and Pierce resigned to pursue the congressional prize.
Pierce won his party’s primary and faced off against Amherst State Senator John W. Olver in the final.  It was a heck of a fight.  Olver emerged victorious by a margin of only 1,934 votes.  Had Pierce managed to flip just 968 of those voters, he’d have gone to Washington and likely stayed there for years, as had Conte and as did Olver.

Pierce was back in state government by 1993 as a senior advisor to Governor Weld.  One year later, Weld appointed him executive director of the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, where he remained until 2001, when Acting Governor Jane Swift, a fellow denizen of Western Massachusetts, appointed him her chief legal counsel. 
Before leaving office at the end of 2002, Swift appointed Pierce as a justice of the Housing Court.  Governor Mitt Romney named Pierce the court’s chief justice in 2006; Governor Deval Patrick appointed him to a second five-year term in 2011.  The Housing Court Department is comprised of five divisions and has 10 authorized judicial positions across the state.

The (Springfield) Republican observed, correctly, in 2010 that “Few people have seen all sides of state government and worked in so many key positions as Pierce.”
I happened to have the chance yesterday to ask someone who served in the House at the same time Pierce did if he thought Pierce was really good or really lucky.  Without a moment’s hesitation, this gentleman said, “Good!  Steve had a good way about him.  He was good with people, good on the issues.  I don’t know how else to say it: he just had a really good way about him.  It showed in everything he did.  People genuinely liked him.”

I guess you can file the Steve Pierce story, then, under “Good guys finish first.”





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