Former Mass. Sen. Jacques Approved as Mass. Workers’ Comp Judge

March 28, 2008

A former state senator has been confirmed to be a judge at the Department of Industrial Accidents, despite questions about her qualifications and concern about a political account she plans to maintain on the bench.

The Governor’s Council voted 6-1 to confirm Cheryl Jacques to a six-year term as an administrative judge. She will be paid $107,000 annually to hear workers’ compensation disputes between injured employees and their employer or the company’s insurer.

The lone “nay” vote was cast by Councilor Mary-Ellen Manning of Salem, who said Jacques was being rewarded for fundraising work on behalf of Gov. Deval Patrick. Jacques, the state’s first openly gay senator, donated $500 in August 2006 to Patrick’s gubernatorial campaign and also raised money on his behalf within the gay community and general public.

Councilor Marilyn Petitto Devaney of Watertown said the idea that Jacques bought her way into the appointment had “no validity.”

“Ms. Jacques did not have a crystal ball to know that Deval Patrick would be elected governor,” she said. “If she wanted to get a head start to her appointment, why didn’t she cover all bases and donate both to (Democrat) Tom Reilly and Deval Patrick?”

Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, who presided over the confirmation hearing, said Jacques was nominated on the strength of her legislative record and work as an attorney, assistant district attorney and assistant attorney general.

“There’s no quid pro quo,” Murray said.

Approval of Jacques’ appointment was delayed by one week over questions about a $127,000 political account left over from her Senate tenure. Criminal and appellate judges are prohibited from maintaining such accounts out of fear their fundraising or spending could create a conflict of interest, but state law exempts administrative judges from that ban.

In a letter to the council, Jacques said she planned to seek rulings from state officials about how to handle the money.

Jacques also wrote, “I can assure you that I have no intention of engaging in any political fundraising for my campaign account, nor do I intend to use my campaign account’s funds to make political contributions to political candidates during my tenure as an administrative judge.”

Devaney, who sought the delay, she was satisfied by the letter, as well as a differentiation in state law between types of judges. She noted Jacques’ responsibility would specifically be injured-worker cases.

Manning scoffed at Jacques’ explanation for keeping the money in the account.

“She knows damn well how to handle these funds,” she said. “She’s never stated she’s going to divest these funds, and her letter does not say that. She could have written five checks and gotten rid of that money by today if that was her intention.”

The Massachusetts Republican Party complained about the appointment, calling it “business as usual from Deval Patrick.”

“It’s sad that the governor has appointed an under-qualified Beacon Hill insider who donated to his campaign instead of making a concerted effort to find someone better suited for the position,” said party spokesman Barney Keller.

In winning the appointment, Jacques, 46, could see a boost to her state pension.

The Newton resident and former Needham legislator has credit for 16 years of state service, short of the 20 needed to qualify for the maximum state pension. That is typically 80 percent of the average of a retiree’s top three salary years.

If she serves out her new term, she would have more than enough time to qualify for the maximum pension, and at a salary nearly twice her former pay as a senator.

Jacques has refused all comment on her appointment and did not immediately return a call to her home on Wednesday.

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