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Elected Officials and Party Leaders Critical of State Rep. Chris Speranzo's Nomination to Berkshire County Judiciary

By Patrick Donges


Pittsfield, MA – State Representative Christopher Speranzo, of Berkshire County's third legislative district, was nominated by Governor Deval Patrick earlier this month to fill the position of clerk magistrate for Central Berkshire District Court.

A Democrat currently serving his fourth term, Speranzo makes just over $60,000 as a legislator. His appointment to the magistrate position, which has been vacant for the last two years, would carry with it a lifetime appointment and an annual salary of $110,000.

Last year, Speranzo faced criticism from the press after he did not disclose he was seeking the higher paying position while in the midst of his re-election campaign.

During a hearing before the Governor's Council on the nomination held earlier this week, councilors brought into question Speranzo's qualifications for the position and his decision to seek two public offices, one political and one meant to be neutral, at the same time. Councilor Mary-Ellen Manning was one of those who raised concerns.

"If we're going to put unemployed lawyers and minimally qualified people in important positions, we don't need to resort to political patronage to find those people."

"There are lots of similarly qualified people who don't also carry the baggage of being a sitting representative who has collected donations from his constituents while trying to transition into being a neutral."

At the June 22 hearing, Manning was joined by three other councilors who questioned Speranzo's qualifications. Before being elected, he served as city solicitor in Pittsfield for one year after serving for two years in the attorney general's office in Springfield.

Speranzo is also being criticized this week for having contributed to the campaigns of two of the members of the council; Berkshire regional delegate Thomas Merrigan, and Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, who serves as ex-officio chair of the council. Here's Merrigan.

"I have asked the Ethics Commission about the legality of it, and it's absolutely legal to do. I filed a disclosure reporting that $100 donation. It has zero influence on me."

Merrigan said he feels Speranzo is qualified for the position, but did admit that local concerns on his handling of last year's campaign were understandable.

"People are justifiably concerned and some very upset about how he carried himself in the electoral process. I just don't think that rises to the level to disqualify him."

Regardless of the possibility of impropriety in the selection process or the decision to seek both posts, political party leaders from both sides of the aisle are questioning the need to fill the clerk magistrate position.

Peter Giftos, executive director of the Berkshire County Republican Association, said the position seemed to be unnecessary.

"For two years they have not had a clerk magistrate. Why do we need a clerk magistrate when the two other people have been able to handle all the work?"

Members of the Governor's Council were also critical of the decision to pass over those two clerks in the nomination process.

Lee Harrison, chairman of the Berkshire Brigades Democratic organization, agreed that the position may be unnecessary, calling the current controversy a distraction from the issues affecting the district, and going so far as to also suggest the Governor's Council should be relinquished of it's duties of validating judicial nominees.

"It's a relic from the past that maybe served its purpose 200 years ago. It's just something we don't need in the 21st century."

Manning disagreed with that sentiment, saying that leaving judicial nominations to legislative committees would make the process even more politically charged.

Friday, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Ethics Commission said they do not discuss specific cases with the press, and would not confirm nor deny they had received any information on a potential violation.

The Governor's Council is expected to vote on Speranzo's nomination at their July 6 meeting; calls to Speranzo's Boston and Pittsfield offices were not returned Friday morning.