BOSTON (SHNS) – Criminal defense attorneys and the parents of a college student who died after an altercation with Boston Police on Wednesday laid out reasons why they think Parole Board Chairman Joshua Wall should not be appointed as a judge.
For more than six hours Wednesday, Wall, a former Suffolk County prosecutor, listened to people enumerate his faults while others he asked to testify on his behalf described his intelligence and compassion.
Gov. Deval Patrick nominated Wall to become a Superior Court judge in July, and his nomination has been under fire since.
Governor’s Council members said they received 65 letters in favor of Wall’s nomination and an equal number in opposition.
Typically, the eight-member panel gets one or two letters, said Councilor Terrence Kennedy, who presided over the hearing. Wall did not have the chance to speak Wednesday, and the hearing will resume next Wednesday.
Wall called upon his former boss Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley to testify on his behalf, as well as retired Superior Court Judge Margaret Hinkle, and Judge Frank Gaziano.
Criminal defense attorney Willie Davis, who has practiced law for more than 50 years, spoke against Wall becoming a judge, saying “I do so because to me he has demonstrated an attitude of win at any and all costs.”
Ten years ago Wall was the prosecutor in Commonwealth v. Joseph Cousin, a murder case where an innocent 10-year-old girl named Trina Persad was killed in a gang-related drive-by shooting in Roxbury on a Saturday afternoon. Davis was the defense attorney opposing Wall.
The jury in the case returned a partial verdict, finding one of the defendants Marquis Nelson not guilty. Deliberations continued for Cousin.
During deliberations, Wall directed a criminal history check be done on all the jurors, which violated state law, according to Davis. State statute limits such inquires to the court, jury commissioner, clerks and assistant clerks of the court, Davis said.
“He knew that he was doing something that might affect the proceedings that defense could not do. And he knew, that while it was permissible for the prosecution to check criminal histories during a criminal investigation, that a criminal investigation was not his purpose. Instead, he was looking for a reason to abort the trial before the verdict was rendered because he knew that what had happened in the case of the co-defendant was likely to reoccur.”
Some of the jurors had misstated their criminal history, and a mistrial was declared.
“Josh Wall used improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction,” Davis said. “He should not be allowed to ascend to the bench where, in large measure, the exercise of discretion is quite often the order of the day.”
Davis had some praise for Wall, and described their relationship as friendly. “Everybody will agree he’s very smart. Everybody will agree he’s a damn good lawyer. Everybody will agree they don’t want to oppose him if they don’t have to,” he said.
One of the council members said they disagreed with Wall’s actions in the Cousin case, saying it is a mistake that concerns him about the nomination. “I made it very clear to Josh that is one thing I disagree with him on,” Kennedy said.
Wall became chairman of the Parole Board in 2011, replacing former chairman Mark Conrad, who was ousted when Patrick asked for the resignations of the majority of the board in the wake of the murder of Woburn Police Officer Jack Maguire by a paroled career criminal. Five parole board members who voted to parole Dominic Cinelli resigned. After the board was reconstituted, parole rates dipped, something that critics brought up during the hearing Wednesday.
District Attorney Conley said one of the best decisions he ever made was to appoint Wall as his first assistant in 2002. Conley said he repeatedly tapped Wall to handle the most difficult cases.
Before he was first assistant district attorney at the Suffolk County DA’s office, Wall was an associate at the Boston law firm Goulston & Storrs, and worked as an assistant attorney general in Rhode Island. He received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and his law degree from Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkley.
Conley said Wall has compassion for victims as well as defendants, and dismissed criticisms he has heard leveled at Wall’s temperament. He said Wall always conducts himself in a measured and collegial way. Those speaking against Wall barely know him, he claimed.
“This isn’t a man who is rude, who lacks judicial temperament. This is a man who is a fine gentleman and he will be a fine judge,” Conley said.
Councilor Michael Albano asked Conley about Wall’s role in the investigation of the death of a 22-year-old Southwick man who died in 2008, two weeks after he collapsed while struggling with Boston Police during a celebration of the Boston Celtics championship win.
Police arrested David Woodman, who was a senior at Emmanuel College, on a public drinking charge, and while in custody his heart stopped beating. Woodman’s parents, Cathleen and Jeffrey Woodman, stood in the back of the hearing room Wednesday before speaking against Wall’s nomination.
Conley said the young man’s death was a terrible loss, but the facts of the incident did not warrant charges against the officers involved. Wall was not the lead investigator, Conley said, and the only time he would have had interaction with the family was when the DA informed them of the decision not to prosecute.
Wall said little to the Woodman family, aside from expressing condolences, Conley said.
“I do not recall Josh in any way having a demeanor, or temperament that reflected anything other than sympathy for the family,” Conley said.
Conley said he made the decision not to prosecute.
“Hold it against me, if you must. But this is not something that should be held against Josh Wall,” he said.
Cathleen Woodman said they relied on Wall – who they understood to be the lead investigator – for information, but said she and her husband were dismissed and felt ignored. When they did meet with Wall on two occasions, he was callous and his responses were sharp and abrasive, making her afraid to ask questions, Woodman said.
“He was not the person who I hear his supporters describing,” Cathleen Woodman said, adding she has nothing to win or lose by opposing Wall’s nomination.
Her son was born with a congenital heart defect that had been corrected with surgery, Woodman said.
“Being attacked by six police officers, lifted three or four feet in the air and slammed to the ground stopped his heart from beating. That was the cause of his death,” Cathleen Woodman said.
She said the family felt maligned by the media and discredited by the police.
Jeffrey Woodman said his son had severe brain damage because of the lack of oxygen to his brain after his heart stopped. Police said they performed CPR, but the Woodmans said they do not believe police did because of the extent of the brain damage.
“We will always believe that there was a cover-up,” she said.
Jeffrey Woodman said he expected police officers to be charged. There are many holes in the story and no one was held accountable, both Woodmans said. Cathleen Woodman said she does not blame Wall for the damage her family has suffered since her son’s death, but the district attorney’s office could have held the police accountable.
“They (police) did it; they neglected him. And they covered it up,” she said.
Dr. Charlene Bonner, a member of the Parole Board who was appointed three years ago at the same time as Wall, said when he took over he had to restore public trust in the board and the morale of the people who work in the system. “It was no small task, and he has done that,” she said.
She said Wall implemented a risk assessment tool that had never been done before that helps the board make objective decisions. “I hope that you take the criticism and try to appreciate where it is coming from. And I hope that you try to take the value of the people who work with him,” Bonner said.
Bonner spent more than an hour testifying on Wall’s behalf, and was grilled about parole rates by Councilors Albano and Robert Jubinville. Jubinville challenged Bonner about the number of inmates paroled in recent years, and said there are many complaints about how long it takes for decisions to be written. Bonner did not have statistics for parole rates committed to memory. The board’s actions are relevant, Albano said, because Wall is up for a lifetime appointment to the bench.
Bonner said the board is not trying to hold people in jail, but wants to ensure people succeed if they are released. “Parole rates are going to ebb and flow,” she said. She pointed to a drop in recidivism rates.
Wall believes that people can be rehabilitated, Bonner said. Often, in cases that are not unanimous, Wall is on the side to parole someone, she said.
During a recent hearing, there was an inmate before the board who was “obviously mentally ill,” Bonner said. He could not articulate or advocate for himself, she said. Wall stopped the hearing and said “It sounds like you need some help,” and told the man he wanted to have an attorney from the Committee for Public Counsel Services appointed to help him. The man had been through the process many times before and never had that kind of advocacy, Bonner said.
A man who was released on parole 10 months ago said “I have heard a lot of misinformation here today.”
Donald Houston, who was sentenced to life in prison for second degree murder, spoke in favor of Wall becoming a judge. He said when he went before the board Wall asked the questions that no one else wanted to ask. Wall’s questions about his mental health and drug addiction helped Houston prepare to be released on parole.
“I want to speak the truth. He was very fair with me,” Houston said. “He could have easily said see you later. Parole’s a privilege.”
“I am just here to say I support his efforts, because I think he’s fair,” Houston added.
More than a dozen people testified during the day-long hearing. Criminal defense attorney Rosemary Scapicchio and prisoner advocate Leslie Walker testified they believe Wall is not fit to be a judge, while Bernadette Fernandez, the mother of a 10-year-old girl murdered in a drive-by shooting, spoke in favor of Wall becoming a Superior Court judge.
The confirmation hearing is scheduled to continue next Wednesday.