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Here's a Change: Judge Earns Praise

The blogosphere is much like the mainstream media in its coverage of judges. Our blogging skews towards members of the bench who distinguish themselves in less than exemplary ways (like, say, having porn on their computers) and is sometimes accompanied by calls for the judge to step down. But the reverse is happening in Massachusetts, where a popular judge's decision to step down from the bench has prompted legal bloggers to express remorse over the judicial system's loss. "The Massachusetts judiciary – and as a result, the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts – are about to lose one of liberty’s most effective and reliable friends," writes Harvey Silverglate at the blog The Free For All. He is referring to Superior Court Judge Isaac Borenstein, who last week announced his intention to retire in September, at the age of 58, after 22 years on the bench.

Early retirement is rare among state judges in Massachusetts, who have life tenure. But Borenstein told Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly that he wants to do other things with his life. "I want to be able to work on political campaigns. I want to be able to do pro bono work. … I want to go to Guantanamo and defend those cases. I want to come out openly on civil rights and civil liberties." This is not surprising for a judge known for the courage of his convictions. This was most clearly illustrated by his handling of the notorious Fells Acre daycare child abuse case, as MLW publisher David Yas writes at his blog, The AffiDavid, "where he defiantly stood up to the Supreme Judicial Court in granting new-trial motions where he felt that the accused in the abuse cases had not been given a fair shake." A 2005 MLW editorial called Borenstein and the other judges who were involved in that case "profiles in courage."

There is another reason the Cuban-born Borenstein is leaving the bench, one Silverglate says "follows an increasingly typical narrative." That, of course, is the salary, which at just under $130,000 does not square with Borenstein's son's $52,000 annual tuition at Carnegie-Mellon University. As Silverglate points out, public servants such as Borenstein find themselves between an economic rock and a hard place. "This trend is playing out around the country as our courts – both  state and federal – continue to suffer judicial flight due to the  inadequate salaries given to even our most seasoned judges." While legal bloggers Silverglate and Yas both say they will miss having Borenstein on the bench, they and others in Massachusetts look forward to his return to a career as an advocate.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on June 12, 2008 at 01:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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