Dorchester 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 Governorâ€™s Council, which screens the governorâ€™s judicial nominees, expressed support last Wednesday for her nomination. Advocates for fathersâ€™ 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 Generalâ€™s Office, chief of the stateâ€™s first sexual assault unit when Rep. William Delahunt was a district attorney, and a stint in the U.S. Attorneyâ€™s office in Boston.
â€œI donâ€™t think sheâ€™ll have any problem,â€ said Councilor Christopher Iannella, who presided over the three-hour nomination hearing. â€œYouâ€™re top shelf for me,â€ Iannella told Hanlon, while acknowledging â€œchildrenâ€™s rightsâ€ 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 fathersâ€™ rights advocates into consideration when Hanlonâ€™s vote comes up before council.
Her time on Dorchester District Court, one of the stateâ€™s busiest courts in dealing with gun, drugs and gang crimes, has offered her a â€œseat on the front lines,â€ Hanlon said in her testimony. â€œI think I have a sense of what works, how to interpret the law in a way that is faithful,â€ she said.
Her work on Trial Court guidelines for dealing with domestic violence cases â€œstands up today after 15 years,â€ she said. Hanlon also used $7 million from Justice Department under President Bill Clinton to set up a separate court for domestic violence cases.
Hanlonâ€™s nomination drew praise from her fellow judges.
Dorchester District Court Judge Rosalind Miller echoed Hanlonâ€™s view that the court is a â€œvery busy place.â€ â€œThe pace is fast, the work is challenging and no oneâ€™s work ethic surpasses Judge Hanlonâ€™s,â€ Miller said.
Fathersâ€™ rights advocates pointed to her work on domestic violence laws and guidelines, which they argued unfairly target fathers through restraining orders.
â€œVery 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,â€ said Steve Patterson, a Boston resident involved with fathersâ€™ rights issues. â€œJudge Hanlon has been one of the architects of this system that violates civil rights.â€
He added: â€œThereâ€™s no standard of cause. A woman just needs to go to court and say, â€˜Iâ€™m afraid.â€™â€
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. â€œIf itâ€™s not there, you should say no,â€ she said of evidence.
Referring to Pattersonâ€™s comment about women going to court and needing to simply say, â€œIâ€™m afraid,â€ Hanlon said, â€œThat has never been the way Iâ€™ve administered the law.â€
She said she has vacated restraining orders if theyâ€™ve been proven false and sentenced women for making false reports.
â€œI can only tell you Iâ€™ve worked scrupulously in my legal career to be fair,â€ she told councilors. â€œI stand by what we wrote in the guidelines and what we do in my courtroom.â€
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.
Ureneckâ€™s appearance drew sharp words from Merrigan, who accused Ureneck of sexism because the previous judicial nominees he opposed had been women. Ureneckâ€™s group had not showed up earlier this year to protest a male prosecutor from the Cape Cod District Attorneyâ€™s office with a similar background in domestic violence cases, Merrigan said.
â€œYouâ€™ve only showed up when there have been two women,â€ Merrigan said. â€œI donâ€™t think youâ€™re doing anything other than stereotype women in the way you complain that men are stereotyped.â€
Ureneck said he did not have time to attend the Cape Cod prosecutorâ€™s hearing and his group was a volunteer organization.
â€œI told you, I did not know about him,â€ he said. â€œJudge Hanlon is well-known to everyone concerned with restraining orders.â€
A Kansas City native, Hanlon is a graduate of Brown University and Harvard Law School.