By Colleen Quinn
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- Attorney Joseph Berman, whose nomination for a seat on the Superior Court has been shrouded in controversy, got another shot Wednesday to convince the Governor's Council he would make a good judge, apologizing for some impressions he may have left with council members during his initial vetting.
"I am grateful for today's second chance to show you who I am, what drives me, and how I have taken your concerns to heart," Berman said.
Berman waited quietly for nearly two-and-half hours before he first spoke while witnesses spoke for and against his nomination.
Gov. Deval Patrick withdrew Berman's nomination last week and resubmitted it in order to give his nominee another hearing. After his November hearing, a majority of council members said they planned to vote against Berman. Patrick delayed the vote and has tried to sway council members.
Councilors cited concerns about Berman's hefty campaign contributions to Democratic candidates, his representation of a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and his leadership role in the Anti-Defamation League - an organization that refused to recognize the Armenian genocide, and worked against efforts in Congress to acknowledge it, critics charge.
Some councilors questioned why he did not resign from his position as a board member of the New England chapter of the ADL because of the organization's stance on the genocide by the Turks that took place in the early 20th Century.
Witnesses spoke against Berman becoming a judge because of his leadership role in the ADL, the international organization that was founded in 1913 to fight anti-Semitism.
David Boyajian, who described himself as a member of the Armenian-American community, lambasted the ADL for its refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide and for "consciously and deliberately" working to defeat genocide resolutions in the U.S. Congress. He questioned why Berman, as a national and regional board member, did not speak out publicly against the ADL's stance on the Armenian genocide when he says he does not support it, and why he did not resign.
"Surely the New England ADL and its commissioners, including Mr. Berman, knew what the national ADL was up to. Did they ever speak out? No," Boyajian said.
Boyajian pointed out that the Massachusetts Municipal Association, and several Massachusetts communities, cut ties with the ADL's "No Place for Hate" campaign in 2007-2008 in the wake of the controversy that became an international affair.
During his first confirmation hearing, Berman said he thought about resigning, but decided against it because of the good work the ADL does. Boyajian said that was not good enough.
"Did Mr. Berman ever speak out publicly? No," Boyajian said.
"Only now are we hearing from Mr. Berman on the Armenian genocide issue just when he wishes to become a judge," Boyajian said.
Boyajian said the ADL must apologize to Armenians and recognize the genocide unambiguously. He asked the Governor's Council to reject Berman's nomination because he is a "top member of an organization that engages in genocide denial."
Councilor Christopher Iannella told Boyajian he understands his opposition to the nominee because of the history between the ADL and the Armenian community, but wanted to know if he had any personal knowledge of Berman's trial experience and demeanor. Boyajian did not.
"I look at character; I look at experience; I look at demeanor, I am not diminishing what you say," Iannella said.
Councilor Terrence Kennedy said he appreciates Boyajian's passion, but added he does not think it is inconsistent to recognize the Armenian genocide and to vote in favor of Berman at the same time.
"I think he was very clear, in his testimony last time, that he tried to get the policy changed," Kennedy said.
Councilor Jennie Caissie said she is concerned about "truthfulness and veracity" of a judicial nominee and questioned Berman's statement during the last hearing that he led an "insurrection" at the New England chapter to change national ADL policy. Caissie said Berman could not provide any verification that he actively worked to fight the ADL's stance on the Armenian genocide.
Councilor Robert Jubinville said, "I guess for me, it is about Mr. Berman." He added that "there are times when I should have spoken up about issues and I didn't, and I regret it."
Councilor Marilyn Devaney asked Boyajian if the national ADL has ever recognized the Armenian genocide. Boyajian said the national ADL has never "forthrightly" acknowledged the genocide, and continues to fight genocide resolutions in the U.S. Congress.
Devaney said she was called "ignorant" in editorials in the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. "I just want to make that clear, that I'm not ignorant," she said. Several council members defended Devaney, saying she was criticized unfairly.
Criticisms of the council made headlines in Boston newspaper editorials after Berman's first confirmation hearing. They were chastised for making his membership in the ADL an issue.
Berman is a Weston resident who is a partner at the Boston law firm Looney & Grossman. He graduated from Dartmouth College and received his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School. His practice focuses on commercial litigation.
Berman thanked the council for giving him another hearing, adding he respects the state Constitutional process that dictates how judges are selected and "for the indispensible role of the Governor's Council."
"I know I will be a better judge because of this process. This process has given me a chance for self-reflection and a recognition that I always have more to learn," he said.
He addressed concerns about political donations, his understanding of drug addiction, and philosophy of a judge's role.
Berman apologized for impressions he may have given some council members that he does not understand drug addiction. Since the first hearing, he said he educated himself more on addiction, reading a book recommended to him by Jubinville and spending time in a Newton drug court. He also took a course related to drug addiction.
During the last hearing, Berman was also criticized for hefty campaign contributions, approximately $110,000 during the past decade, largely to campaigns at the federal level. At the hearing, he was asked how much he gives to charity. Afterward, Berman submitted a list detailing his family's charitable contributions in the past three years, which total approximately $100,000.
"I wish that money did not play such a large role in politics, but it does," he said, adding he donates three times as much to charities than political candidates.
Iannella said campaign and political contributions are not a factor when he makes a decision. "The federal and state political contributions, I don't care. You're a wealthy guy," he said.
Iannella said what does mean something to him is that Berman took time to educate himself on drug addiction after the first hearing.
Several council members said they were more impressed with Berman's performance at the second hearing.
Berman again defended his decision to represent a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, saying it was a constitutional issue. No criminal charges were ever brought against his client, but he remained detained. "I wasn't doing it to make a point publicly," he said. "It was an important constitutional issue there."
Berman said he is passionate about the legal system. In 2004, he applied for a position on the district court, but the Judicial Nomination Commission did not advance his name.
The council will meet in again next week and while the council has over the years often voted on nominees a week after their hearing, the governor decides when a vote is taken on any nominee.
In January, more than 100 attorneys wrote to the council urging them to approve Berman's nomination. Among the lawyers was former governor William Weld, former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, and attorney general candidate Warren Tolman.