Judge Hanlon gets mostly positive reviews in hearing

By 
Gintautas Dumcius, State House News Service
Apr. 1, 2009

Judge Sydney Hanlon: Judge Sydney Hanlon. AP PhotoJudge Sydney Hanlon: Judge Sydney Hanlon. AP PhotoDorchester District Court Judge Sydney Hanlon appears on her way to have the necessary votes for confirmation to the state Appeals Court.

Several members of the Governor’s Council, which screens the governor’s judicial nominees, expressed support on Wednesday for her nomination. Advocates for fathers’ rights accused Hanlon of abusing her power as a judge and unfairly dealing with domestic violence cases.

A Dorchester resident, Hanlon has served as a judge at the Dorchester District Court since 1990, when she was appointed by Gov. Michael Dukakis. She previously worked as head of the narcotics division with the state Attorney General’s Office, chief of the state’s first sexual assault unit when Rep. William Delahunt was a district attorney, and a stint in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston.

“I don’t think she’ll have any problem,” said Councilor Christopher Iannella, who presided over the three-hour nomination hearing. “You’re top shelf for me,” Iannella told Hanlon, while acknowledging “children’s rights” and time spent with parents was an important issue to him.

Councilors Michael Callahan, Carole Fiola and Thomas Merrigan, a former judge, also expressed support for Hanlon. Councilor Marilyn Devaney said she would take testimony from the fathers’ rights advocates into consideration when Hanlon’s vote comes up before council.

Her time on Dorchester District Court, one of the state’s busiest courts in dealing with gun, drugs and gang crimes, has offered her a “seat on the front lines,” Hanlon said in her testimony. “I think I have a sense of what works, how to interpret the law in a way that is faithful,” she said.

Her work on Trial Court guidelines for dealing with domestic violence cases “stands up today after 15 years,” she said. Hanlon also used $7 million from Justice Department under President Bill Clinton to set up a separate court for domestic violence cases.

Hanlon’s nomination drew praise from her fellow judges.

Dorchester District Court Judge Rosalind Miller echoed Hanlon’s view that the court is a “very busy place.” “The pace is fast, the work is challenging and no one’s work ethic surpasses Judge Hanlon’s,” Miller said.

Fathers’ rights advocates pointed to her work on domestic violence laws and guidelines, which they argued unfairly target fathers through restraining orders.

“Very frequently, the domestic violence laws are used to get fathers away from their children and there is no constitutional protection whatsoever to protect the father,” said Steve Patterson, a Boston resident involved with fathers’ rights issues. “Judge Hanlon has been one of the architects of this system that violates civil rights.”

He added: “There’s no standard of cause. A woman just needs to go to court and say, ‘I’m afraid.’”

Lawrence Watson, a Dorchester resident, testified to the council that he had been denied the ability to appeal restraining orders at Dorchester District Court.

Hanlon said the burden of proof falls on the person making the accusation and requesting the restraining order. “If it’s not there, you should say no,” she said of evidence.

Referring to Patterson’s comment about women going to court and needing to simply say, “I’m afraid,” Hanlon said, “That has never been the way I’ve administered the law.”

She said she has vacated restraining orders if they’ve been proven false and sentenced women for making false reports.

“I can only tell you I’ve worked scrupulously in my legal career to be fair,” she told councilors. “I stand by what we wrote in the guidelines and what we do in my courtroom.”

Joseph Ureneck, the chair of the Fatherhood Coalition who has appeared to oppose previous judicial nominees because of their backgrounds in prosecuting domestic violence cases, said he was opposing Hanlon for the same reason.

Ureneck’s appearance drew sharp words from Merrigan, who accused Ureneck of sexism because the previous judicial nominees he opposed had been women. Ureneck’s group had not showed up earlier this year to protest a male prosecutor from the Cape Cod District Attorney’s office with a similar background in domestic violence cases, Merrigan said.

“You’ve only showed up when there have been two women,” Merrigan said. “I don’t think you’re doing anything other than stereotype women in the way you complain that men are stereotyped.”

Ureneck said he did not have time to attend the Cape Cod prosecutor’s hearing and his group was a volunteer organization.

“I told you, I did not know about him,” he said. “Judge Hanlon is well-known to everyone concerned with restraining orders.”

A Kansas City native, Hanlon is a graduate of Brown University and Harvard Law School.