Ex-romantic partner of Massachusetts governor wins council OK to serve on state's highest court

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BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts panel charged with reviewing judicial appointments voted Wednesday to approve the nomination to the state's highest court of Gabrielle R. Wolohojian, a former romantic partner of Gov. Maura Healey.

The 6-1 vote assures Wolohojian, an Appeals Court associate justice, a seat on the seven-member Supreme Judicial Court.

Healey nominated Wolohojian to the post and has said their past personal relationship shouldn’t deny the state the benefit of having her serve on the high court.

Most members of the Governor's Council agreed.

“There’s no question in my mind that this nominee is qualified," Councilor Terrence Kennedy said during a brief discussion period before the vote. “I have never asked a nominee anything about their personal life and I never will.”

Another member of the council, Joseph Ferreira, said “whatever relationship she had with whomever is absolutely irrelevant."

The lone dissenting council member, Tara Jacobs, who represents the western part of the state, said she had concerns about the process that led to Wolohojian's nomination.

“My conception is that it was a very small and insular like-minded group lacking diversity in thought but also in regional representation," she said. “From an inclusion standpoint, it just felt very exclusionary in that you couldn’t have a more insider nominee.”

Jacobs also said Wolohojian “has breathed rarified air from the time she was young.”

“She intellectualizes the marginalized community’s struggle in a way that feels very much a bubble of privilege is attached," said Jacobs.

In her nomination hearing last week, Wolohojian was not asked directly by any of the seven Democrats on the council about whether she would recuse herself from cases involving Healey and her administration, saying such decisions are taken by judges a case-by-case basis.

“Recusal is something that I take very seriously,” she said last week. “I have absolutely no interest and never have in sitting on cases I shouldn’t sit on or not sitting on cases I should sit on.”

She also refused to respond to reporters' questions as she left the hearing. Wolohojian did not attend Wednesday's vote.

Healey defended her decision to nominate Wolohojian, describing her as a remarkable jurist.

“My personal relationship with Judge Wolohojian should not deprive the people of Massachusetts of an outstanding SJC justice,” Healey said at last week's hearing.

Healey also said she doesn’t think Wolohojian would have to recuse herself from cases involving the administration despite their personal history.

Wolohojian is the second nomination to the state’s highest court by Healey, the first woman and first open member of the LGBTQ+ community to be elected governor of Massachusetts.

Amy Carnevale, chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party, said the nomination process “epitomizes the real challenges the state encounters under one-party rule.”

“Unchecked rubber-stamp government results in poor policy and decisions, such as the approval of Wolohojian to Massachusetts’ highest court,” she said in a statement after Wednesday's vote.

Wolohojian, 63, would fill the seat vacated by Justice David Lowy. Last year Healey nominated then-state solicitor Elizabeth Dewar to the high court.

Healey and Wolohojian, who met when they both worked at the Boston law firm of Hale & Dorr, had been together for eight years when Healey began her first term as attorney general in 2015, according to a Boston Magazine profile.

Wolohojian and Healey lived together in a rowhouse in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston that also served as a campaign headquarters for Healey. The governor now lives with her current partner, Joanna Lydgate, in Arlington.

The Supreme Judicial Court is Massachusetts’s highest appellate court. The seven justices hear appeals on a range of criminal and civil cases.

Born in New York, and the granddaughter of Armenian immigrants, Justice Wolohojian received a bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, from Rutgers University in 1982; a doctorate in English language and literature from the University of Oxford in 1987; and a Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School in 1989.