By Lisa Redmond
LOWELL -- Gov. Deval Patrick's seven years in office have had a decided impact on the state's judiciary in one key respect: the overall age of the those sitting on the bench is younger these days.
The average age of state court judges appointed by Patrick since 2008 is 54; the average age of all judges on the bench since 1980 is 59, according to data supplied to The Sun by the Trial Court.
It's not that Patrick was intentionally trying to change the face of the court in any particular demographic, even though the liberal Democrat is a big proponent of diversity hiring.
"Governor Patrick's focus in making judicial appointments is to put forward experienced, qualified, diverse individuals who will carry out justice on behalf of the people of the commonwealth,'' said Jesse Mermell, spokesperson for the governor.
Younger judges can serve on the bench longer, a consequence that means Patrick's selections will be making legal decisions long after the governor's two-term limit is completed.
One of the youngest of Patrick's judicial appointments in 2013 was Gloria T. Tan, 39, who is a Middlesex Juvenile Court judge. Tan can serve as a judge another 31 years until she reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.
"I am not sure if it is an advantage or disadvantage (having younger judges),'' said defense attorney Roland Milliard. "The reality is they will serve longer as the mandatory retirement age is 70. On one hand, this provides for stability. On the other hand, litigants and attorneys will have to endure an impolitic jurist for a longer period of time.''
Newer judges seem to be "more skittish to pull the trigger'' on controversial cases, said attorney Patrick Richard. But judges who come from a background of spending time in state court tend to have a shorter learning curve regardless of their age, he said.
Lowell-area defense attorney Michael Najjar agrees.
"I don't think that 54 is too young,'' Najjar said. "What I would be more concerned about is the person's background. Was he or she in the trenches? Do they know what the lawyers who appear before them have to deal with? Was their prior experience in the corporate world, or do they have enough experience with the foibles of mankind and the difficulties faced by people in everyday life that application of legal principles is tempered by humanity?'' he asked.
Even with those reservations, Najjar said most judges catch on fast.
"Overall, notwithstanding our undeserved reputation as a group, almost all of the lawyers I have met are great people, and I have been very happy with the quality of our judiciary,'' he said.
About one-third of 176 state judges are women.
The governor made two appointments to the state Supreme Judicial Court: Margot G. Botsford in 2007 and Ralph Gants in 2009.
Age and experience means little when it comes to a judge's salary.
State judges, who are called "associate justices," can be 39 or 69 yet they still earn the same paycheck -- $129,694 annually -- regardless if they sit in district or superior court or have one year's experience on the bench or 20. The newest judge receives the same salary as the most senior judge.
In the first salary increase since 2006, associate judges will receive salaries of $144,694 as of Jan. 1 and $154,694 as of July 1.
The six associate justices on the seven-member Supreme Judicial Court, the state's highest court, earn $145,984 per year, while the chief justice receives a salary of $151,239. Their salaries will increase twice during 2014: As of Jan. 1, the pay for associate justices will increase to $160, 984 and then $175,984 on July 1; the chief justice will receive $166,239 on Jan. 1 and $181,239 in July.
There are 115 state judges between the ages of 40 and 59 sitting in courts from Middlesex to Hampden counties.
But once a judge reaches his or her 70th birthday, the birthday present from the state Trial Court is retirement.
About a dozen judges, some first appointed in 1995, are age 69 and just a year or less away from the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Even before he leaves office next year, Patrick could be replacing those judges depending on when their birthdays fall.
Sixteen judges are age 68 and have two years before they will be required to step down from the full-time position.
If Patrick seemed busy filling court positions, there will be no letup for his successor in November 2014. According to Trial Court data, there will likely be 67 judicial openings due to retirement during the new governor's first four-year term.
The following is a list of the number of existing judges and their ages: 25 are age 60; 17 are age 61; 16 are age 62; 33 are 63; 21 are 64; 20 are 65; 15 are 66; and 13 are 67.
Since 2007, Patrick has appointed 176 judges and clerk-magistrates to courts that include the Supreme Judicial Court, Appeals, Land, Probate and Family, superior, district, and juvenile.
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Among new faces in area courts
Gov. Deval Patrick has appointed 176 state judges to various courts since being elected in 2006. Some of the new faces in Middlesex's courts -- Fitchburg, Lowell, Concord -- are:
* Maureen H. Monks, Probate and Family Court, appointed May 2008;
* Mark E. Noonan, Leominster District Court, appointed June 2008;
* Kenneth King, Middlesex Juvenile Court, appointed January 2007;
* Janet Kenton-Walker, Lowell Superior Court, April 2009;
* Patrick J. Malone (clerk magistrate) Fitchburg District Court, October 2009;
* David Aptaker and Jeffrey A. Aber, Middlesex Probate and Family Court, September 2010;
* David Ricciardone, Lowell Superior Court, December 2010;
* Patricia A. Gorman, Middlesex Probate and Family Court, May 2011;
* Maura K. McCarthy, Leominster District Court, May 2012;
* Gloria T. Tan, Middlesex Juvenile Court, March 2013;
* Christopher P. LoConto, Fitchburg District Court, November 2013.