Appeals Court Judge Gabrielle Wolohojian addresses the Governor’s Council at a Feb. 21, 2024 hearing to weigh her nomination to the Supreme Judicial Court. (Chris Lisinski State House News Service)

Wolohojian confirmed for Supreme Judicial Court on 6-1 vote

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y Katie Lannan

BOSTON (WGBH) — Appeals Court Judge Gabrielle Wolohojian, Gov. Maura Healey’s former romantic partner, was confirmed on a 6-1 vote Wednesday, February 28, as the newest justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

The vote was conducted by the Governor’s Council, an elected panel that vets judicial nominees.

While Councilor Tara Jacobs, a North Adams Democrat, said her “no” vote reflected her continued concern “around the process and the implications and the experience that brought us here today,” other members asserted they saw the past relationship between Wolohojian and Healey as irrelevant.

“I have never asked a nominee anything about their personal life, and I never will,” said Councilor Terry Kennedy of Lynnfield.

Worcester Councilor Paul DePalo tied in the issue of reproductive freedom, saying he’d talked to Wolohojian about the importance of upholding rights and privileges in Massachusetts “that appear to be at risk on the national level.”

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“That is important to me, because I do not want the government concerning itself with a woman’s health care or her bodily autonomy,” DePalo said. “And I’ll take it a step further. I don’t want the government concerning itself with a woman’s past — emphasis on past — relationship choices.”

Wolohojian has spent 16 years on the Appeals Court bench, where she’s written more than 900 decisions. She previously worked at the Boston law firm Hale and Dorr, now known as WilmerHale, and served as independent counsel on the Whitewater investigation involving the Clinton White House.

She is the granddaughter of Armenian immigrants. Her confirmation hearing featured statements of support from members of the local Armenian community.

The vote was not a surprise; several councilors indicated at Wolohojian’s hearing last week that they supported her. The almost 4-hour hearing featured little mention of the nominee’s past relationship with Healey and no direct questioning around how she planned to handle SJC cases involving the governor’s office.

Councilor Marilyn Petitto Devaney, a Watertown Democrat, asked Wolohojian generally if she envisioned needing to recuse herself from any matters before the high court. Wolohojian replied that judges make those decisions on a case-by-case basis.

“I have absolutely no interest and never have in sitting on cases I shouldn’t sit on or not sitting in cases I should sit on,” Wolohojian said.

Devaney said Wednesday that she was “completely satisfied” with Wolohojian’s position on recusals, describing the judge as honest and respectful. She said she couldn’t think of anyone more qualified for the role.

During the hearing, Jacobs referred to Wolohojian’s ties to Healey as the “elephant in the room,” telling the nominee that she was struggling with the optics of Healey’s pick. Jacobs said she’d talked with Wolohojian previously “about the recusal question” but did not publicly press her for specifics.

“I wonder if the recusal question ever could pose a challenge at the court, where an otherwise split decision, if you were to recuse yourself, might end up tied and an injustice happened because you weren’t participating in a ruling,” Jacobs said. “And I really wanted to ask the governor some of these questions, just about the process that she went through.”

The Massachusetts Republican Party had urged the Governor’s Council, whose members are all Democrats, to reject Wolohojian. Mass. GOP Chair Amy Carnevale called it “highly inappropriate” for Healey to nominate someone with whom she had shared a long-term romantic relationship.

Healey has consistently said her history with Wolohojian shouldn’t deprive the court of a talented jurist.

“She was recommended by the prior administration for this position. She was once again recommended,” Healey said on Boston Public Radio on February 27. “I just happen to be the governor. I can’t apologize for having had a personal relationship with somebody who is supremely talented.”

Healey called Wolohojian’s intent to make recusal decisions on a case-by-case basis the “appropriate answer.”

Wolohojian will become the second Healey appointee on the seven-person SJC bench, where the other five justices were all nominated by former Gov. Charlie Baker.

The Governor’s Council unanimously confirmed Justice Elizabeth “Bessie” Dewar last month.

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