By Colleen Quinn
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- An appellate attorney whose clients appear before the Parole Board said she received a "disturbing" phone call from Parole Board chairman Joshua Wall's office after she was identified as someone who plans to speak out against him becoming a judge.
Attorney Ruth Greenberg told the News Service that general counsel for the Parole Board, Janise Noble Smith, called her in late July, saying the "the Parole Board has been made aware that I was planning to testify, and they would be interested in providing me any information I might find useful."
Greenberg said she thought it was inappropriate for the chief legal counsel of the board to call her during office hours about Wall's judicial nomination, and she felt threatened. She fears for her clients because many of the people she represents seek parole, Greenberg said.
Greenberg said she did not get a personal call from Wall, but said other attorneys did.
"Nobody said anything threatening to me, but the fact a government agency reached out to me and offered to provide me information felt like I was targeted . . . especially for my clients who have everything to lose," she said.
She said if Wall had called her himself on a Saturday morning, that would be different. "For general counsel to call me on a working day, when I have clients that come before Board of Parole is distressing," Greenberg said.
Last month, Gov. Deval Patrick nominated Wall to a seat on the Superior Court.
Wall was a Suffolk County prosecutor for 18 years, handling homicide cases, before he took over the Parole Board.
Greenberg, who has been an appellate attorney for more than 20 years, plans to testify during Wall's confirmation hearing before the Governor's Council - the eight-member panel that vets all judicial nominees - that she believes him to punitive and "unfit" to be judge.
"I have strong feelings that Mr. Wall is an inappropriate person to be sentencing young black people. He is punitive above-and-beyond what the Legislature has mandated, and I am concerned," she said.
Wall did not respond to requests for comment.
Smith, general counsel for the Parole Board, said the call was routine, and she often calls attorneys to provide information about board business.
"Calling lawyers about parole matters and providing them with information is part of my day-to-day responsibilities," Smith told the News Service in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Often attorneys seek parole rates, information about a particular decision, or regulations of parole, Smith said, adding she called Greenberg to provide information along those lines. "It was a friendly call, and she actually sounded happy to hear from me," Smith said.
Smith said the call, made on July 30, lasted 55 seconds, according to her phone log.
The two attorneys have known each other for more than a year, she said.
"We've had a working relationship, and a call from me, I didn't think would come out of left field for her," Smith said.
When she made the call, Smith said she did not know Greenberg was planning to testify against Wall. She said she heard Greenberg planned to attend the judicial confirmation hearing.
"I didn't know she was testifying against him, quite frankly," Smith said.
"First of all, the call, it wasn't about the hearing or testimony. It was about parole-related matters or needed information about the business of the board," Smith said.
Smith sent a letter of support to the Governor's Council on Wall's behalf. "I think he would be an exceptional jurist and a credit to the bench," she said.
Greenberg said she has never testified against a judicial nominee before, and does not think all prosecutors would make bad judges. "I have often supported prosecutors in their hopes to the judiciary. This is the only time in 20 years that I have spoken out against a nomination," she said.
She added, "I also want to say that I can only assume that Janise Noble acted at the direction of her boss. I know Janise Noble to above reproach."
Members of the Governor's Council said since the nomination was announced they have received an unusual number of phone calls and letters expressing disapproval for Wall's judicial bid, as well as support. Supporters say he is being unfairly criticized because he was a successful prosecutor.
Councilor Terrence Kennedy said he is surprised Greenberg would have any concerns over a phone call from Noble Smith.
"I have known attorney Noble for most of her life. It is not in her character, nor is she capable of making a threat veiled or otherwise," Kennedy said. "Attorney Greenberg can only be mistaken as to the meaning of her conversation with attorney Noble."
Councilor Robert Jubinville said he has received many calls from attorneys who say Wall tries to win cases "at all costs."
"I think you'd have to be living on Mars not to realize there is a strong outpouring of opposition to Mr. Wall's nomination," said Jubinville, who once defended a client against Wall.
Jubinville said he recently spoke with Wall about the negative sentiments. "He called me, we had a talk. I told him, basically what I am telling you, I have never seen this level of animosity and negative remarks on a candidate," he told the News Service. "This is very unusual. I said, 'You are going to have to address that.'"
Councilor Jennie Caissie, the only Republican on the panel, said she too has received a high volume of calls and emails from people both opposed and supportive of Wall's nomination. "I am reserving any judgment," she said.