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Police Chief Scott Disappointed by Beacon Hill Hearing

By Ed Oliver, Massachusetts News, April 30, 2003

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Holyoke Police Chief Anthony Scott

Holyoke Police Chief Anthony Scott tells MassNews he felt like he was at the Little Bighorn on Monday when he testified on Beacon Hill on behalf of his proposed Constitutional Amendment to allow voters to confirm judges every six years.

"I was disappointed. I really believe they are not going to positively pass this out of committee. That's the impression I got. They brought out their big guns: two judges, four attorneys, past president of the Bar Association, president of the Bar Association. They are protecting themselves and I think this is going to come out of Committee unfavorably."

Nevertheless, he said people need to call the members of the Joint House-Senate Judiciary Committee if there is to be any hope.

Chief Scott said he brought to the hearing about 7000 signatures from supporters of his Amendment.

He had asked his fellow police chiefs from the Western part of the state to be there at the hearing in support, but he said he was by his lonesome, "surrounded by Indians." He said he understands. Some of the police chiefs are friends of judges. Others were told by their mayors to stay away or lose their job. Scott praised his own Mayor Sullivan for having "cahones."

The many opponents of his Amendment falsely characterized it as a proposal to elect judges, said Scott. But he said a judge would not have to run a campaign or spend money under his plan. There would be no opponent to run against. Although appointed for life, the judge's name would go onto a ballot every six years for the voters to certify him or not. If a majority of those voters choose not to certify him after scrutinizing his record, then that judge has to look for another job.

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The judge can run an ad if he wants to say he's a great judge, said Scott, but it's not required and nobody can run against him. Likewise, if a fatherhood group wanted to take an ad out in the paper and say this judge is terrible when it comes down to family matters, they could do that, he said.

Opponents of Scott's Amendment also testified that voters are not informed enough to certify a judge, said Scott. That is an insult, he said, especially when the people are supposed to be informed enough to vote for president and all our other elected leaders. Under his plan, the judicial record would be published at the courthouse, in the newspaper and on television.

Scott was also criticized at the hearing for bringing up "anecdotal cases" of bad judicial decisions. But Scott said it isn't anecdotal for the victims of these repeat criminals.

There has been legislation filed every year since 1995 to make judges accountable, he said, but it has failed. He speculated it is because legislators do not want any problems later on, should they become judges themselves.

"Judges have forgotten that they are responsible like I am, and the District Attorney, for the health, safety and well being of their community," said Scott.

We have a "judicial oligarchy" in Massachusetts, he said. "Now what is an oligarchy? It is government by a few, or where a small group exercises control, especially for selfish reasons."

Mike Franco, co-chair of the Fatherhood Coalition, commented to the chief that dads are often treated by judges worse than the criminals he speaks of. He also asked for comment about domestic violence and how he perceives the problem as it relates to fathers.

Judges can ignore the law because they are appointed for life, he said. This goes against the framers who wanted the judiciary to be the weaker branch and accountable to the people at all times, he said.

"They answer to the Judicial Review Board. If you really believe that the Judicial Review Board holds judges accountable, I have a Big Dig I want to sell you," said Scott. "Judge Maria Lopez had over 65 complaints filed against her and they are still trying to discipline her right now."

Scott said this includes judges in Probate, Family, Housing, District and Superior courts, but he does not want to paint all of them with a broad brush because some of them are good.

Spoke to Fatherhood Coalition in Springfield

The Chief spoke to a meeting of the Fatherhood Coalition on Monday evening in Springfield. He told them that Massachusetts judges are "practicing social work from the bench" when they routinely release dangerous criminals with a slap on the wrist. The judges need to be held accountable, he said.

Mike Franco, co-chair of the Fatherhood Coalition, commented to the chief that dads are often treated by judges worse than the criminals he speaks of. He also asked for comment about domestic violence and how he perceives the problem as it relates to fathers.

Chief Scott, who is divorced and remarried, said he understands what fathers are facing in family court. In Louisiana where he comes from, men are guilty until proven innocent.

Scott told the fathers that since he has been here in Holyoke, the domestic violence unit has been very active. "209A's are being filed right and left," said Scott. "The way the statute is written, if the cop shows up at the house and there is the tiniest mark on the spouse, either husband or wife, and you don't do something, you are in serious trouble in this state as a police officer."

He believes Family Court judges should have a staff to deal with the social aspects of the trauma associated with divorce. It would help if the staff could properly evaluate cases, "because people lie." The staff could reinvestigate the incident because the cop doesn't have the time to investigate anything in-depth, he said. It would also help "if both people stand up and admit what they did."

Scott then said, "A lot of us, and I am talking about men, need to stand up and be honest. Take your lumps. If you were a rotten husband, admit it." If people were honest with each other, it would go a long way in dealing with the situation until we can deal with the judges, said Scott. "Because if they catch you in one lie, everything you say is a lie. It's just like a police officer. If you are involved in a shooting and you've got the tiniest bit of alcohol on your breath, and your shooting was 100 percent righteous, because of the hint of alcohol on your breath, you're wrong."

After some give and take with the audience about the percentages of domestic violence that men and women are responsible for, Scott said it can't be denied that men are responsible for a great deal of the violence and injury and they have to own up to that. As a result, the mindset of judges is that mothers make a better parent. He said he doesn't know how that will change other than by making judges accountable to the people for the decisions they make.

Afterward, Mike Franco commented to MassNews that the Fatherhood Coalition has about a half-dozen fronts they are working on and judicial reform is one of them.

"The chief's take on judicial reform parallels what we want to do," he said. "It will be a long hard road, like the chief said, but the Fatherhood Coalition has been in existence since 1994, so we understand that," he said.

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