With Mass. Chief Justice To Retire, Patrick Looks For Next Court Administrator

The chief justice of Massachusetts’ highest court is resigning from the job. Springfield native Roderick Ireland will leave the Supreme Judicial Court at the end of July.

In a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick, Ireland wrote that he was quickly approaching the mandatory retirement age of 70. And to make the transition smoother, he said he wanted to retire before the court’s new session begins in September.

Patrick praised Ireland as a wise, effective, compassionate leader of the judicial branch.

“He’s going to leave a legacy of improved performance and morale in the courts and big shoes to fill,” the governor said.

Ireland has served on the bench for more than 35 years. He became the first African American justice of the Supreme Judicial Court in 1997, following his nomination by then-Gov. William Weld. In 2010, Governor Patrick made him chief justice.

Patrick says he’ll conduct an expedited search to find a replacement, with a small team of advisors working to screen and recommend candidates. He says he’s not limiting the search to existing judges.

“I think the chief justice, in addition to being a strong legal intellect, needs to be a person who can administer the third branch of government,” Patrick said. “And I also think it’s important that we have a chief justice who actually understands what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a legal decision, because it can’t just be about abstraction. It has to be about how it’s put into effect on the ground.”

The nominee must be confirmed by the state’s elected Governor’s Council. Councilor Mike Albano says he’ll press for another nominee from western Massachusetts to replace Ireland.

“Of course you want the finest legal mind you can be find, but you also have to be cognizant of geographic considerations and I’m confident that Governor Patrick will do just that,” Albano said. “It’s certainly not going to guarantee someone from western Massachusetts, but we have outstanding talents out here in the legal community.”

State House News Service contributed to this report.