Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Judith Cowin announced Monday that she will retire in April, giving Gov. Deval Patrick another opportunity to continue reshaping the state's highest court.
Cowin has served on the SJC for 11 years. She was nominated by then-Gov. Paul Cellucci in October 1999. She would reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges in April 2012.
"Everything has a season. It's time to do those things with family and friends that I have had to postpone or reduce because of the demands of the office," said Cowin, in explaining her decision to leave one year early.
Patrick will now have an opportunity to appoint a fifth member to the seven-person court.
Patrick's most recent appointment, Fernande "Nan" Duffly, was narrowly approved last week by the Governor's Council, which must approve all judicial nominations.
Duffly was nominated as an associate justice after Patrick in November elevated Roderick Ireland to be the SJC's first black chief justice. Ireland replaced Margaret Marshall, who retired.
Patrick previously appointed Margot Botsford and Ralph Gants as associate justices of the SJC, the oldest continuously serving court in the Western Hemisphere.
The panel gained national prominence in 2003, when it issued a decision that made Massachusetts the first state to legalize gay marriage.
A Boston native, Cowin served eight years as a Superior Court judge before she was nominated to be the third woman to serve on the high court. A graduate of Wellesley College and Harvard Law School, she also served 12 years as an assistant district attorney in Norfolk County.
"She has been an excellent justice and a most congenial and considerate member of the Court," Ireland said in a statement. "She will be greatly missed by her colleagues at the Supreme Judicial Court and on other courts."
This program aired on February 1, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.