SWAMPSCOTT — Three of Gov. Deval Patrick’s judicial nominees, including a Swampscott resident and chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office criminal division, got the green light to be sworn in Wednesday.
The Governor’s Council voted 5-0 to approve James Lang’s appointment to the Superior Court, with Councilor Terrence Kennedy voting present. Lang has spent 20 years working in the federal courts.
During his confirmation hearing Dec. 5, Lang told the council he never thought about pursuing an appointment to federal court.
“My interest is in the Superior Court,” he said. “It is the work I have always been the most motivated by.”
After graduating from Boston University Law School, Lang started his law career in the Norfolk district attorney’s office working under former District Attorney William Delahunt. He decided to leave the district attorney’s office when Delahunt ran for Congress. He has worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office since 1993.
Lang said he sees the position of Superior Court judge as one that is engaged in the “pure practice of law.” As chief of the criminal division, he said he spends a lot of time on management and personnel responsibilities.
“I have harbored a desire for a long time in my career to be a judge,” Lang said. “I have always wanted to be a judge because there comes a time in one’s career where one wants to be the decision-maker, the final decider.”
A good judge is someone who is intelligent, has a good work ethic, extensive litigation experience “in the trenches,” as well as humility and a lack of arrogance, Lang said. “He is not afraid to admit when he doesn’t know something and seek assistance of the litigators,” he said.
Lang, who grew up in Pennsylvania and graduated from Cornell University, said he followed his college sweetheart back to Boston after graduation. He received his law degree from Boston University School of Law in 1985, while his wife, Stephanie, worked toward her medical degree.
In his application to the Judicial Nominating Committee, Lang answered a question about what has influenced the type of judge he would be by telling the story of his father, the son of a coal miner who died when Lang’s father was only 2 years old. Councilor Marilyn Devaney asked him about it during the hearing. Lang said he was inspired by his father’s life struggles. His father battled alcoholism most of his life.
“My father was a wonderful man and great father,” he said. “My mother did a great job getting us kids to understand this was a disease. He never lost the love and affection of his children. He got sober the last 15 years of his life. To me, it was a great story of courage and redemption.”
Councilor Jennie Caissie asked him about another answer on his JNC application where he described a difficult and disappointing case in his career. In 2003, there was a case involving a fatal boating accident that ended without the U.S. Attorney’s Office ever prosecuting the case.
The investigation languished for several years without a prosecutorial decision by the assistant U.S. attorneys assigned to the case. Lang oversaw the case. When the U.S. Attorney’s Office finally made a decision in 2008, the statute of limitations had run out. Lang said he and the assistant state’s attorney went to the victim’s family to tell them what happened. Because he oversaw the case, Lang reported himself to the Office of Professional Responsibility.
“I will tell you to this day I feel terrible about it,” he said. “I was passionate about advocating for the victims’ rights.”
During last week’s hearing, Councilor Charles Cippolini asked Lang about his potential pension if confirmed as a judge. He could receive a sizable pension from the federal government and county government, Cippolini said.
“It is not illegal, but it is an example of well-thought-out financial planning,” Cippolini said.
Lang said that was not his motivation for applying to be a judge.
“My wife is sitting over there and can attest that I have never made a decision based on our best financial interests,” he said. “That is not what I am about. I wish I was more attuned to those things. But I am not.”
At the start of the hearing, several witnesses testified on Lang’s behalf, calling him a compassionate man with exceptional legal skills and judicial temperament.
Attorney Robert Sheketoff said, “There are a few lawyers that I have met in the course of my 37 years of doing this that make me proud of being in this profession, and this is one of them.”
Superior Court Judge Timothy Feeley said Lang has the ability to make difficult decisions fairly and quickly.
“Decision-making ability — that is what we do as judges,” Feeley said. “Some are routine, some are difficult. Perfectionists need not apply to be a judge. There is not the time. We need to make decisions as fair and as right as humanly possible. It also needs to be efficient. Cases should move. He has the ability to make decisions fairly, carefully, but also quickly.”
Attorney Nancy Pellegrini, who works with Lang in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, became choked up when she described how she would miss working with him.
“The truth of the matter is I am going to miss him terribly, both on a professional and personal level,” she said. “But the bottom line is, I live here in the commonwealth. ... This is the kind of person you want on the bench. This is what you want our legal system to be.”
In addition to Lang, the council also confirmed Mary Ames, a private practice attorney with 14 years of experience in the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, for a Superior Court judgeship, and Robert Pellegrini, a supervising prosecutor in Dudley District Court, for a Worcester District Court judgeship.