Family law attorney eyes jump to Probate bench

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STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 3, 2014….Attorney Kathryn Bailey told members of the Governor’s Council Wednesday she sees people during the most emotional times of their lives when marriages are ending and relationships with children are forever changed.

“Life-altering decisions are made every day,” said Bailey, a lawyer focused on family law who was nominated last month by Gov. Deval Patrick for a seat on the Family and Probate Court in Worcester County.

Currently, Bailey is a managing partner at the Clinton firm Bailey and Burke, where she practices with her husband and father-in-law.

Family and probate court judges make decisions that affect families, particularly children, so “application of the law must go with practicality,” she said.

People these days often “co-parent” their children after a divorce and now have an expectation when they come to court to leave as a co-parent and not a visitor, Bailey said.

“My position is that parents shouldn’t be marginalized, or put on the defensive by being referred to as visitors. In order for a parent to feel they have a substantial role, they need to have the ability to co-parent their child,” Bailey said later in the hearing.

“Judges today are faced with things that judges 30 years ago couldn’t even have dreamed of,” Councilor Marilyn Devaney said.

Devaney asked Bailey a hypothetical question about a couple divorcing where the wife wants to preserve her fertilized eggs for a later pregnancy.

Bailey said the case would hinge on relevant facts and the circumstances when the couple decided to preserve the eggs. People have the right to have children and not be unduly restricted by government interference, and they also have the right not to have children, Bailey said.

“Absent an agreement, the purpose for which the request by one of the parties is being made to receive possession of something that has potential to be human life,” would be relevant, Bailey said. “I think that is all relevant to what determination would be made at the end of that process. It is a very difficult call.”

A Clinton native, Bailey, 43, grew up with her grandparents living next door, she told council members. She said she learned her work ethic from her parents. Her mother was a nurse who worked overnight shifts when her father – who held two jobs – was home to take care of the children. “As a child I remember both of my parents working long hours,” Bailey said.

An internship at the Committee for Public Counsel Services during her senior year in college sparked her interest in law, she said. Bailey received her bachelor’s degree from Assumption College in Worcester and her law degree from Massachusetts School of Law. She passed the bar in 1996, and a year later became a bar advocate for CPCS representing indigent clients.

Bailey said patience is one trait that helps her prepare her clients for court, and something she believes will make her a respectful, empathic and conscientious judge.

Witnesses speaking on her behalf described her as compassionate and smart.

Worcester Probate and Family Court First Justice Denise Meagher told a story about a case where Bailey represented a man who owed child support. Bailey settled the case by taking $1,000 from her retainer account that the defendant had paid to her, and gave it to the plaintiff to settle the matter. Meagher said she does not often see that, and was impressed by Bailey’s integrity, which she said makes her fit for the bench.

“That is a character trait; you don’t teach it; you either have it or you don’t,” she said.

Clinton District Court Judge Dennis Sargent, who was appointed to the bench last November, said he has known Bailey for 18 years, and has always been struck by her work ethic. Bailey once represented someone in Sargent’s family on a civil commitment for a substance abuse problem. She represented her client, but also understood the difficulties of the family, Sargent said.

“That compassion is something that will come with her to the bench,” Sargent said.

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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