Governors Fill Register of Probate Vacancies, Artfully

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Gina DeRossi was far into her second six-year term as the elected Register of Probate for Bristol County when word came she was in line to be the next administrator of the Massachusetts Appeals Court.  This is a coveted, highly compensated ($161,180 per year) position in our court system.

Mark Green, Chief Justice of the Appeals Court, made the news official on Oct. 31, 2018, when he announced the DeRossi appointment.

A graduate of Providence College and the New England School of Law in Boston, DeRossi seems to have been contemplating a switch to the appointed side of public service for quite some time: in 2017, she earned a certificate in judicial administration from Michigan State University.

DeRossi moved on, her longtime second-in-command, Assistant Register of Probate Jason Catron, became acting register, and the world went back to ignoring what happens in the Registries of Probate in Bristol and in the 13 other counties of the Commonwealth...until Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, when Republican Governor Charlie Baker announced he was appointing Taunton Mayor Thomas Hoye, a Democrat, interim Register of Probate in Bristol County.

The appointment was for the unexpired portion of DeRossi's term, which runs through 2020.  Hoye will have to run for the office next fall to hold onto it.  Most certainly he shall run.

The deadline for filing nomination papers for the fall 2019 elections in Taunton, including the office of mayor, was 5:00 p.m. on the day following Baker's announcement of the Hoye appointment, Tuesday, Aug. 6.

Immediately after Baker's announcement on Monday, Aug. 5, Taunton's Republican state representative, Shaunna O'Connell, announced she was running for mayor.

Democrats cried foul, claiming Baker had obviously given O'Connell a heads-up so that she'd be primed to obtain the signatures needed on her nomination papers for mayor and that other potential candidates would be disadvantaged, time-wise, in obtaining their signatures.

With typical hyperbole, Gus Bickford, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, said Baker's scheduling of the Hoye announcement was "the kind of tactic preferred by dictators."

Marc Pacheco, Taunton's Democratic state senator, said, "I clearly believe that there was an attempt to remove the voters from the selection of the person that would hold the seat and the office of the mayor."

Democrats accused Baker directly of elevating Hoye to clear the way for O'Connell to become mayor, but Hoye eventually let it be known that it was Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito who initially approached him and inquired as to his interest in Register of Probate.  This was, I believe, a significant data point.

If the timing did give an advantage to O'Connell, it was small and not decisive.

Only 25 certified signatures are needed to qualify for a mayoral election in Taunton.  Any half-good politician can gather the signatures of 25 registered voters in his hometown in half a day or less.

By 5:00 p.m. on Aug. 6, O'Connell was one of four candidates who submitted nomination papers with sufficient signatures; the others were Estele Borges, a member of the Taunton City Council, Mark Baptiste and Peter Bzudula.

O'Connell and Borges finished number one and two in the Sept. 24 preliminary election. In the Nov. 5 final, O'Connell beat Borges by a better-than-two-to-one margin, 3,224 votes to 1,507.

For discussion purposes, let's say Charlie Baker does not seek a third term in 2022, in which case Karyn Polito would be the odds-on favorite to be her party's gubernatorial nominee that year.  A former state rep from Shrewsbury, Polito is a shrewd politician, keen strategist, and prodigious fundraiser.

Let's say also that Polito easily doubled the value of the political IOUs she's holding here.

A popular, trusted leader in Taunton (Hoye) will be forever grateful to her for getting a better-paying, less-politically-risky job than mayor, while another such leader in the same community (O'Connell) will always appreciate that Polito made it a little easier for her to get her mayoral candidacy quickly off the ground.

No doubt Polito would have supported her fellow Republican in the Taunton mayoral race regardless of the circumstances or the opposition.  However, she would have perceived (and been comforted by) the negligible impact upon her of offending O'Connell's most likely opponent in that race, City Councilor Borges.  Borges, you see, had challenged O'Connell when she last stood for re-election as state rep, in 2018, and had lost to O'Connell by 26 percentage points.  Borges was likely to lose another contest with O'Connell undertaken so soon after the previous one.  Polito did not have to worry much about ticking off a future mayor.  


Register of Probate an Overlooked Gem in State Payroll Jewelry Case

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

If I believed in reincarnation, on my deathbed I'd pray to be a register of probate in my next life.

The job pays over $130,000 a year, has good benefits, and comes with the kind of pension one can no longer find in the private sector.  And a register of probate's term runs for six long years. That's like the longest time you get in elective office around here.

Consider also the job's low-low profile and how that automatically improves an incumbent's odds of being re-elected.

In Massachusetts, there are 14 registers of probate, one for each county. Do you think one person in a hundred in any county could tell you the name of his/her register of probate?

You disappear in plain sight on becoming a register of probate, meaning you duck the contentious issues of the day and avoid the prying eyes of media scandal mongers.  This job entails zero risk of offending large segments of the public.  How good is that.

I'm not saying registers of probate don't do much or are unimportant.  Their work, while lacking excitement, is significant and vital.

Thinking about writing this post, I looked up stuff on the Internet regarding the responsibilities -- the purview -- of a  register of probate.

One of the most succinct descriptions I found was from the archives of WGBH radio, 89.7.  In a September 10, 2014, report on "Bottom of the Ballot" races,  Edgar B. Herwick, III, wrote:

"Getting a divorce? Probate court.  Want to establish a will?  Probate court.  Collecting your inheritance?  Adopting a child?  Changing your last name?  Probate court."

I found a longer, good explanation in an August 22, 2018, interview by reporter Brian Dowd of the Martha's Vineyard Times with two candidates then running for the position in the Democratic primary in Dukes County, Acting Register of Probate Daphne DeVries and challenger Gail Barmakian, an attorney and select person in Oak Bluffs.  Responding to "Why are you running?", Barmakian said:

"The mission of the Probate and Family Court is to deliver timely justice, equal access and assistance with impartiality and respect, which begins at the Probate and Family Court Office.  The Register of Probate is, in essence, the face of that court, and is responsible for seeing that the duties and responsibilities of the office are carried out.  This includes ensuring that paperwork is in order and meets the criteria set out by rules and policy, managing the efficient flow of cases, prioritizing time-sensitive issues, handling matters that are emotional and troubling, with respect and impartiality, and helping to effectuate the just and speedy resolution of family law cases when possible.  The jurisdiction of the court is broad, and doesn't only address the probate of estates, divorces, and child-related issues.  It includes the real issues we see today: providing for elders who can no longer care for themselves; providing for the children of parents who cannot manage them; providing for unmarried couples and the issues of their children when the parents cannot agree; providing for estates for those who have passed away and the aftermath; providing for real estate matters when the owners cannot agree; and consideration of the law as it addresses domestic violence here in our community and throughout the Commonwealth.  As an attorney and an elected public official who is faced with addressing these problems, I believe my qualifications are best suited to fulfill the role of Register of Probate."

If I lived on Martha's Vineyard, I think I would have voted for Barmakian due solely to the breadth and cogency of that response.  I would have been in the minority.

Illustrating that it's hard to lose one of these jobs, Acting Register of Probate DeVries bested Barmakian in the primary, 2,210 votes to 1,636. In the November final, DeVries was unopposed.

BTW, you don't have to be an attorney to run for and serve as a register of probate -- yet another reason every jealous knucklehead can dream the register of probate dream.

Surprise! Deval Patrick May Lead Strike from the Center Against Warren.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The reason for President Trump's Ukraine caper can be summed up in 10 words:  Trump would rather run against Elizabeth Warren than Joe Biden.

Amazingly, Democratic primary voters may grant the president his wish -- but not if the Mike Bloombergs and Deval Patricks of the world have their way.

Yes, I said Deval Patrick.

There were reports just a few hours ago that our former governor is reconsidering his decision not to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, his good relationship with our senior U.S. Senator, Ms. Warren, notwithstanding.

Were he to declare, Patrick would immediately become a contender in New Hampshire's first primary.  He's well known there from eight years as the governor next door.

Patrick has to act fast: the deadline for entering the NH primary is this Friday, Nov. 15.  We'll know soon if he's in or out.

What Patrick obviously shares with Bloomberg (and millions of other Democrats) is a concern that Warren is like someone Trump would order up from Rent-a-Candidate, that is, she's the perfect size for the socialist clown costume Trump has ready for her in his armoire.

Now, I have great respect for Warren.  I love the way she clawed her way up from near-poverty in Oklahoma.  I admire her greatly for being super-intelligent, unpretentious, tough-minded and pretty much invincible on a Democratic debate stage.

So, I'll let someone else's words encapsulate why she would likely not stand a chance in November of 2020 against Trump.  Here's New York Times columnist Bret Stephens in an October 25 piece titled, "Elizabeth Warren Wants to Lose Your Vote":

"You don't have to think that fracking is an unalloyed blessing -- much less deny that tough safety standards are necessary -- to acknowledge its benefits.  You might also argue that curbs on oil and gas production are needed both to preserve the environment and accelerate a transition to renewables.  Fine.

"Yet it takes a peculiar sort of political audacity to pledge, as the Massachusetts senator did last month, to 'ban fracking -- everywhere.'  Warren also favors a ban on fossil-fuel exports -- another U.S. industry that has seen dramatic growth in recent years -- and a 'total moratorium' on new fossil fuel leases on federal lands, which generate billions every year in federal and state tax revenue.

"American Indian tribes also got about $1 billion from those leases in 2018.  Isn't the Warren campaign supposed to be about sticking it to richer Americans instead of poorer ones?

"That's a question that would-be Warren supporters might ask a little more insistently as she approaches front-runner status.

"Take health care.  As an ethical matter, it may be defensible for Warren to argue that Medicare for All is fairer than the current system.  As an economic matter, she could be right that overall costs will come down under her scheme.  And as a political matter, it isn't surprising that she has been less than forthright about the middle-class tax increases her plan will require.

"But what about the fact that Warren isn't merely proposing a dramatic change in the way 170 million or so Americans obtain health insurance?  She is advocating the abolition of an entire industry, one that employs approximately 550,000 people.  Whatever one thinks of health-insurance companies (and most Americans seem satisfied with the coverage they have), isn't it worth wondering what these half-million workers might do with themselves after being put out of work -- or, as voters, what they might think of Warren's designs for their future?

"Then there's big tech, another industry Warren doesn't like and promises to 'break up' by turning Facebook, Amazon and Google into regulated utilities.  For this task, involving some 800,000 workers and companies with about $500 billion in revenues, she has...a 1,700-word plan."

Democrats, I think, ought not give Trump what he most desires in a Democratic opponent.

That Deval Patrick feels that way -- and that he is seriously contemplating a leap into the race at this late date -- suggests that Warren's candidacy may never get stronger than it is today.