Jennie L. Caissie announced her candidacy for the Massachusetts Governor’s Council seat for the Seventh District. Caissie is an attorney with the Michael Caplette Law Office in Southbridge, MA. Caissie is also a part-time Special Prosecutor for the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office in Worcester County. This site contains more information about her.
Cassie was kind enough to respond to my questions. As with my interview with Francis Ford, some of my questions were inspired by the Boston Phoenix article “Meet Your Massachusetts Governor’s Council“, written by Chris Faraone, which heavily criticizes many aspects of the governor’s council. I highly recommend you read it as well.
And — once again — this humble blogger would like to thank both candidates for being so great about responding to her questions.
There is a perception in the media that members of the governor’s council tend to have poor meeting attendance. Do you plan on attending every meeting of the Governor’s Council? Since you will likely continue working outside of the part-time council commitment, will you make sure that your other work does not impact the time you need to spend on council business?
Yes, I intend to attend every meeting. In addition, I will keep the people in my District informed of my attendance. As a current Selectman in Oxford for 10 years and Chairwoman for the last 5, I am very proud of my attendance record. Likewise, as a Trustee at Worcester State College from 2002 to 2006, my attendance record was excellent. As an elected representative, I understand that I will be people’s voice on the Council. I will be committed to attending the meetings, showing up prepared and ready to ask the tough questions and to do the best job I can do for the people.
As far as managing my schedule to ensure I do the job as a member of the Governor’s Council, the ability basically boils down to desire and commitment. I started my public service as a Selectwoman at age 23, during that time I was studying for the Massachusetts Bar Exam, enrolled in an MBA program at Nichols College in Dudley, MA, a graduate assistant at Nichols College, an assistant Women’s Basketball Coach at Nichols College and working part-time at a law firm. This is the type of time management schedule I am accustomed to and enjoy. As a public servant, I am often called upon to attend several events outside of the weekly obligations of Selectmen meetings. For me, representing my constituents and community means more than just showing up at meetings. It means showing up prepared and ready to work hard for the people who trust you to do the job. Unless you are prepared for a meeting and ready to work, there is no sense in showing up.
There has also been criticism that the Governor’s Council rubber-stamps judicial nominees. Since the Judicial Nominating Committee (JNC) already looks into those nominees, what does the Governor’s Council bring to the judicial appointment process that the JNC does not?
The “rubber-stamp” criticism is not unique to the Governor’s Council. People in Massachusetts and throughout the country believe their government and elected officials are ignoring the will of the people.
The Governor’s Council has been dominated by one party rule for nearly two decades. One party rule, no matter what party it is, does not work for or serve the public interest. Judicial appointments become less about the selection of the best qualified candidates and more about the politics deals of the one party rule. So it is understandable where and how the “rubber-stamp” label came to be. Let’s face it, in Massachusetts, we have been overwhelmingly dominated by one party rule. So much so, that I do not need to name the party. Take the party affiliations out of it, and know that all eight (8) members of the Governor’s Council, which is the people’s direct voice in the judicial selection process, have been from the same political party since 1992. The “rubber-stamp” criticism may be an inevitable and natural result of that fact, no matter how altruistic the members have been in their deliberations.
Whether the criticism of the Governor’s Council is well founded or not, the Council has a public relations problem and they need to make the judicial confirmation hearings more accessible to the public, not just to those with the luxury of driving to Boston to watch a hearing, or for those asked to testify at a hearing. The hearings should be available through some media outlet, or at a minimum the transcripts put online, so the public can see who is asking the types of questions people want asked of candidates for judgeships before they are confirmed.
The Council, if operating as intended, serves an important purpose that the JNC does not. The Council is elected by the people in the eight districts throughout the Commonwealth. That is the accountability arm of the process that is so critical to ensure the judicial approval process is conducted with integrity. The JNC is appointed, not elected. Symbolically, the elected members of the Governor’s Council are the peoples’ guardians at the gates of justice, whether criminal or civil. The Council members are supposed to work hard to ensure the best, most qualified people are appointed to be judges and that they are asking the types of questions that matter to people in their daily lives.
One of the functions of the Governor’s Council is to advise the governor on pardons and commutations of sentences. What are the circumstances under which a pardon or commutation is justified? What do you think the role of parole is, especially in the case of commutation?
It is difficult to speculate as to what, if any, circumstances, in which a pardon or commutation would be appropriate. The victim’s or victims’ would be first and foremost in my mind and consideration. A request for a commutation of a criminal offense to a lesser offense is one that I would greatly scrutinize. Further, if the offense involved a violent act, or one against a child or disabled person, or one in which a person was injured or killed, it is very unlikely I would support a commutation, or a pardon for that matter. The sentiments of the victims and their families would weigh heavily in my decision.
In the Telegram and Gazette, you talked about the “need for conscientious judges when it comes to public safety.” Are you referring to any prior appointments that you would have opposed? If so, which ones?
Hindsight is 20/20 and I do not play Monday morning quarterback. I will tell you that a priority of mine will be to ask tough questions during confirmation hearings, particularly in the areas of victims’ rights, criminal sentencing for violent crimes, and especially those involving children. I will ask candidates questions that disclose their real feelings about victims’ rights. Nobody gets it right all the time, but when it comes to approving judges, we need to get it right most of the time.
I want to be clear that my passion about public safety and fundamental fairness when it comes to victims’ rights is something I have cared about long before I thought about running for Governor’s Council. My law article “Passing the Victims’ Rights Amendment: A Nation’s March Towards A More Perfect Union” was written and published over ten years ago.
Regarding the same quote, what are the items pertaining to public safety you think judges should consider?
Many people feel that our justice system is out of balance and that innocent people and victims’ rights are not protected. As a member of the Council, I will ask questions of judicial candidates to determine whether they are sensitive to victims’ rights, especially those of children and the disability. I am looking for candidates who will render decisions that err on the side of public safety.
I think candidates should be asked questions that reveal their real feelings about victims’ rights.
You also said that “anyone who serves as a councilor should have criminal law experience.” Do you mean as a prosecutor or as a defense attorney?
I work as a special prosecutor on select cases and in private practice as a defense attorney. Having criminal law experience from both sides of the coin is important and it serves the public interest. The Council approves district and superior court judges who will decide criminal law issues everyday they are on the bench. They will be deciding criminal sentences, bail issues and other matters that directly impact the public. In addition, the Council votes on commutations of criminal sentences and pardons. It is hard to imagine being a member of the Governor’s Council without any experience in criminal law. How would you know what qualifications are appropriate for a person who is being considered for a district court or superior court judgeship? These folks will be dealing with criminal law issues on a daily basis. How do you know what to ask them to ensure they are properly qualified, or do not hold extreme views on the rights of criminal defendants that could compromise public safety and the innocent public? If you have not practiced criminal law, either as a defense attorney, or as a prosecutor, you will have no idea what questions to ask, or what significance to put on the candidate’s answers.
Further, a significant portion of the trial court budget is allocated to criminal law issues. Taxpayers have a right to demand competent candidates are approved for judgeships, not politically connected ones.
The Governor’s Council also advises on the appointment and removal of notaries public and justices of the peace. Are you either a notary or a justice of the peace, and do you consider it a conflict if you are one and would also serve on the Council?
I am a notary public. No I do not consider it a conflict of interest. I do not charge for my notary services and never have. It is a service we offer to people in our community. Helping people out by notarizing a document is a public service. I believe it is a position of public trust that must be taken seriously. There have been a number of circumstances where I have heard about notaries public failing to perform their duties properly. While this is rare, it compromises the integrity of our entire system. It can not be tolerated in a single instance and removing dishonest notaries public will better protect the public trust. If a notary compromises their position, I will vote to remove them. Zero tolerance.
Why would you like to be on the Governor’s Council?
It is an incredibly important position that affects everyone in some way. The hardworking taxpayers of Massachusetts deserve a representative who will work as hard as possible to ensure the best men and women are selected to fill the judgeships in Massachusetts. I will intensely scrutinize any requests for pardons and commutations of sentences. I will not compromise on my values because of political pressure or to gain political favor with anyone, or any political party.
People have had it with the good ole boy politics and backroom deals. They want their elected officials to do the right thing and to speak to them openly and honestly. The people do not want elected officials who are bought and paid for, or so politically connected that they are “rubber-stamps.” (It is not hard to figure out why or where that expression came to be.) The public has an obvious desire and need for new blood, new ideas and fresh perspective. The people are fed up with the lack of accountability and transparency that has come from the arrogance of our rinse-repeat-rinse-repeat politicians. It is time for some fresh air in all branches of our government. I am 36 years old with no connections to the Council, or to political factions or politicians, I want to be an independent voice and breath of fresh air on the Governor’s Council.
If elected councilor, what specific ways would you inform the public about what the Governor’s Council does?
In this age of technology, the public should know how and why their elected officials vote on matters. I would first consult with an IT person and try to lobby for a website which was interactive and informative. In addition, there should be some coverage of the confirmation hearings, not just for those with the privilege or resources to attend the hearings. I will consider started my own blog to provide for coverage of the hearings. Turning cameras on should not be ruled out either. It has been my experience that when the cameras are turned on, attendance improves, the level of respect improves, the quality of the hearings improves because people have to show up, on time and prepared.
There is much that can be done, effectively and efficiently to keep the public, whom we are elected to serve, informed of what we are doing. It is all about accountability and transparency. People pay for government with their hard earned tax dollars. People want accountability and transparency and they deserve both.