Appellate Court Justice Fernande "Nan" Duffly got a bumpy reception Wednesday during the confirmation hearing on her nomination to the Supreme Judicial Court.
Governors Councilors Christopher Iannella and Thomas Merrigan raised concerns about her prior judicial work as the nine-member panel weighed whether to approve her elevation to the state's highest court.
Iannella quizzed Probate and Family Court Chief Justice Paula Carey about cases in which Duffly — while serving on that court — may have allowed children to be taken away from parents living in Massachusetts.
Carey seemed taken aback by the query, because the two did not serve on the panel simultaneously. Iannella did not offer any specifics.
And Merrigan said his readings of Duffly's subsequent decisions as a member of the Massachusetts Appeals Court suggested she was "substituting her judgment for those of the trial court judges."
He complained that Duffly had been posited as adding domestic relations experience to the SJC because of her tenure on the Probate and Family Court, yet he noted it had been more than a decade since she had seen the daily churn of such a busy — and messy — courtroom.
More deeply, Merrigan complained about appellate decisions that suggested Duffly was "microdissecting the record to come up with a different conclusion" than the trial judge.
While Merrigan also did not provide specifics, Carey replied flatly: "I don't see it that way." Duffly was scheduled to deliver a statement and answer questions later in the hearing.
In December, Gov. Deval Patrick nominated Duffly to replace Roderick Ireland, who was elevated from associate justice of the court to chief justice.
The governor lauded her "excellent judgment, keen insight, warm and collegial personality and a sharp, sharp intelligence."
Similar plaudits were offered Wednesday by Phillip Rapoza, chief justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, as well as Carey.
Rapoza, who has sat on the appellate court since before Duffly joined in 2000, cited her scholarship, temperament and personality before declaring, "For her, doing the right thing is paramount."
He also added that if either of his two sons were to appear before her as a judge, "I would be willing to trust the two most important things I have in this life — which is my children — to her good judgment."
Carey, meanwhile, recalled working as a trial attorney while Duffly sat on the Family and Probate Court.
"If I had a legal issue as a lawyer, she was the judge that I wanted to go to," Carey said of Duffly.
Duffly graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1973 and Harvard Law School in 1978. She has been a judge for 18 years, appointed to the Probate Court in 1992 and, for the past 11 years, serving on the appellate court.
Before she became a judge, Duffly was a partner at Boston's Warner & Stackpole, where she specialized in domestic relations cases.
The justice has also advocated for more female judges. While serving as president of the National Association of Women Judges, she started a task force on the retention and promotion of women in the legal profession.
This program aired on January 19, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.