Gov. Patrick’s Appointment to Mass. Workers’ Comp Board Delayed

By | March 21, 2008

An expected vote on the nomination of a former senator to be a judge at the Department of Industrial Accidents was delayed this week after one member of the Governor’s Council accused her of lacking the necessary credentials and others expressed concern about a political finance account she maintains.

Instead, councilors agreed to postpone a final vote on the nomination of former Sen. Cheryl Jacques for one week.

Councilor Mary-Ellen Manning of Salem said she plans to vote against Jacques because she believes the former senator was nominated in return for raising money for Gov. Deval Patrick. Jacques, a Democrat who grew up in Needham, was the first openly gay state senator and remains a drawing card within the gay community, an active backer of Patrick’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign.

While Jacques has served as an assistant Middlesex County district attorney and an assistant attorney general, she has had little experience in the workers compensation arena and told the panel earlier this month she had been busily educating herself on the Department of Industrial Accidents.

It adjudicates such cases.

“My vote has no bearing one way or the other on the campaign account,” Manning said. “I’ll be voting on Cheryl Jacques’ qualifications for this office — which I found lacking.”

The Boston Herald reported that Jacques still had an open campaign account with $127,000 in it — money she would be free to donate to political causes. While most judges are banned from maintaining such committees to avoid conflicts of interest, administrative judges are considered quasi-judicial figures who are not banned from maintaining such accounts.

News of the account surprised two other council members, Marilyn Petitto Devaney and Thomas Merrigan, both of whom had previously expressed support for Jacques.

Merrigan said in supporting the delay, “While certainly my support for her remains, I think it’s important that we have something on the record that addresses that issue.”

Devaney said, “I want to know everything I should about a candidate. When there’s something out there I don’t know, I don’t leave a stone unturned.”

Manning also questioned whether Jacques’ potential pension factored into her nomination.

The 46-year-old has credit for 16 years of state service, short of the 20 needed to qualify for the maximum state pension. That is typically 80 percent of the average of a retiree’s top three salary years.

If her nomination is approved, Jacques would be paid nearly $107,000 annually for a six-year term, more than enough time to qualify her for the maximum pension. Her new salary would also be nearly twice what she received as a senator, giving a similar boost to her pension.

Jacques faced similar criticism previously when she resigned from the Senate on Nov. 13, 2003, to accept a new job as president of the Human Rights Campaign — a national gay rights group — but did not make it effective until Jan. 4, 2004. State law allows officials to claim a year of service even if they work just a single day in a new calendar year.

Jacques ended up leaving the Human Rights Campaign job after 11 months and has since worked as a lawyer and adjunct professor.

The former senator refused to answer any questions from reporters when she appeared before the council on March 5. She did not immediately return a call and e-mail seeking comment.

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