Incorruptible Mass

The Governor's Council -- The Appendix of Massachusetts

April 04, 2024 Anna Callahan Season 5 Episode 43
The Governor's Council -- The Appendix of Massachusetts
Incorruptible Mass
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Incorruptible Mass
The Governor's Council -- The Appendix of Massachusetts
Apr 04, 2024 Season 5 Episode 43
Anna Callahan

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Today we talk about today we talk about the Governor's Council -- what they do,  the unofficial tenure of the people who've been on there for decades, their (lack of) diversity and how this affects the lives of people who have been incarcerated here in Massachusetts.

Jean Trounstine and Harry Margolis join Jonathan Cohn and Anna Callahan chat about Massachusetts politics. This is the audio version of the Incorruptible Mass podcast, season 5 episode 43. You can watch the video version on our YouTube channel.

You’re listening to Incorruptible Mass. Our goal is to help people transform state politics: we investigate why it’s so broken, imagine what we could have here in MA if we fixed it, and report on how you can get involved. 

To stay informed:
* Subscribe to our YouTube channel
* Subscribe to the podcast (
* Sign up to get updates at
* Donate to the show at

Additional links from today's episode:

Show Notes Transcript

Please donate to the show!
Today we talk about today we talk about the Governor's Council -- what they do,  the unofficial tenure of the people who've been on there for decades, their (lack of) diversity and how this affects the lives of people who have been incarcerated here in Massachusetts.

Jean Trounstine and Harry Margolis join Jonathan Cohn and Anna Callahan chat about Massachusetts politics. This is the audio version of the Incorruptible Mass podcast, season 5 episode 43. You can watch the video version on our YouTube channel.

You’re listening to Incorruptible Mass. Our goal is to help people transform state politics: we investigate why it’s so broken, imagine what we could have here in MA if we fixed it, and report on how you can get involved. 

To stay informed:
* Subscribe to our YouTube channel
* Subscribe to the podcast (
* Sign up to get updates at
* Donate to the show at

Additional links from today's episode:

Hello and welcome to incorruptible mass. We are here to help us all transform state politics because we know that we could have a state that has policies that represent the needs of the vast majority of the residents who live here. And today we are going to be talking about the Governor's Council and we'll be talking about exactly what they do, how the sort of tenure of the people who've been on there for decades, why it's important and how this affects the lives of people who have been incarcerated here in Massachusetts, as well as other things, a little bit of the history.

We'll talk about sort of diversity and some of the problems, issues that have been happening. And we have two amazing guests which we will introduce in just a second. But before we do, I will have Jonathan introduce himself, Jonathan Cohn.

He him his joining from Boston. We've been active on electoral, progressive, electoral and issue campaigns here in Boston For over a decade now, which always feels wild to say. I am Anna Callahan.

She her coming at you from Medford. Super involved in local politics and state politics. Love all these interviews that we do with folks.

So excited to be here. And we have Jean Trounstine and Harry Margolis who are going to talk about the governor's council. Jean, can you introduce yourself a little bit about you and a little bit about the organization that you're with? Sure.

I'm Jean Trounstein. I've actually been, as I like to say, interrogating the criminal legal system for the past 30 plus years I've worked in prisons. I'm a writer. I am a professor. I have a new book out called Mother Love. You can go to Concord Free Press and get it free because they inspire generosity. And this organization is called “who governs the governor's council?” And another person, David Harris, and I will tell you why. But we really, we started this organization to, well, to interrogate the governor's council.

Wonderful. And Harry Margolis, can you introduce yourself? Hi, I'm Harry Margolis. I'm a longtime lawyer in the Boston area focusing on estate planning, elder law and special needs planning and have on the side been involved in politics and actually ran for governor's council about a dozen years ago.

And as we'll discuss, I'm kind of one of the quixotic candidates trying to take on these incumbents who keep getting reelected. And I've joined this effort and have been helping put together our website which you can look at dot.

Fantastic. So the first question we have is what is this governing council, what is it? Why does it exist? What do they do? Well,why don't I take that? So it's an eight member body that's elected. We'll talk about kind of how undemocratic these elections are.

In my view, that has some that's quite unknown but also quite important. So most people don't know what it is. And its main functions are to vet judges and to vet parole board members and also to approve the governor's selections for pardons,paroles, commutations of sentences.

And it's been around forever. So it dates back to the 17th century and colonial times, when it actually governed the colony. And the governor was one of the members of the governor's council.

And then over time, its role and power have been eroded to its current functions. But the fact that it exists at all is a real anomaly and an anachronistic anomaly, if I can say that, because it's the only. I believe New Hampshire also has a governor's council, which I think does virtually nothing and otherwise.

No other state in the union has this sort of body with these sorts of important functions. Wow. It's like a vestigial governing organ, so to speak.

Exactly. Well, you know, other states approve the governor's nominations with their legislatures, and we don't do that here.We send, actually, I'll just add one thing to what Harry said.

The pardons and commutations and the judges and all the deliberative officials have to go before the governor's council. Parole comes in in the sense that parole might have someone who goes up for commutation, and then the governor's council approves. Can you tell us about commutation? Like, what is so commutation and pardon? Pardon forgives the underlying offense.

Commutation changes the sentence. So if you are first, you get first degree. When you get a commutation, you become second degree.

And something like that allows someone to have an opportunity for parole. The governor's council really doesn't approve the paroles, but they approve the commutations that the parole board will hear and that they pass. So if somebody gets a commutation through the parole board, that person then has to be approved by the governor's council.

It's really kind of crazy because it has to go to the governor, the governor's counsel, the parole board. It's like so many things one person has to go through, and the governor's counsel is one of the last windows of. Okay, you get it? Yeah.

This is a very quick, basic thing. So you noted that there are eight members of the governor's council. So I just want to highlight that that means that any governor's council district is larger than a congressional district.

And that's what she says because we have nine congressional districts and then there are eight of these, which are just massive for anybody to even run in. Setting aside the fact that many people don't even know the race exists, no. It's really hard to get the word out, which, of course, I found when I ran for governor's council.

It's a huge area. You can't raise the kind of money that candidates for Congress raise. And you can't go door to door.

I mean, if you're running for, if you're trying to knock off an incumbent state legislator, you can actually knock on all the doors in that district during the campaign, but you can't do that. Each governor's council district is made up of five state senate districts. So is how they're constituted.

And the result is that the incumbents always win reelection so far and they can stick around as long as they want. And some of our current incumbents have been there for decades. So Chris Ayanella has been there for 31 years.

Terry Kennedy for 24, Marilyn Devaney for 26. So they've been there an incredibly long time. And I think, as Jonathan, you point out to us, Priscilla has actually been there longer because he was there for a while and then was off for two years and then got back on.

So pretty much, if you get elected to the governor's council, you can stay for as long as you like. Wow. So at least up until now, that's why we're working on this.

Great, great. And anything more that you'd like to say about why is this important? Why should people care who's on the governor's council? I would like to say that people, most people that I've talked to, educated people, politically active people,bright people, if I say, who's your governor's counsel? They don't know. No, they probably are.

Like, what's a governor's council? Well, the first thing is that the governor's council was always on the back of the ballot. And So people didn't turn the ballot over to see that race. Number one, that's one problem.

Number two, it's not like that many people are as public. You know, they don't necessarily have the funds to do enormous campaigning. I mean, they do campaigning.

I don't want to say they don't, but a lot of people just do not pay attention or know who these people are, and they have no idea that they approve. Like, for example, last year. Well, actually, excuse me, not last year, but when Baker was in office, thegovernor's counselors approved, this is an estimate, but it gives you an idea of what I'm talking about.

They approved 349 out of 350 people sent to them. They approved them all for anything. Right.

For all of the nominations, judges, everything. Oh, no judges. I'm talking really mostly it's judges who go before the governor's council, you know, parole board members and clerks of courts, all sorts of other things.

But it's mostly judges. Maybe 250 of those were judges. My point being that that's a pretty powerful position if you are the one who approves, you know, you're part of approving or disapproving.

And people don't realize that. And not to. I brought up two issues.

There's one they don't realize, but two they also don't understand. The governor's council has rubber stamps a lot of these nominations, which is not always good for us. Yeah.

No, it's striking to me when, as you noted, that it's like, and the governor's council with its eight members has been like, all of them being registered Democrats for a while and have an all democratic body, or at least ostensibly democratic body, approving 99 plus percent of the republican governor's judicial nominees is rather striking because it's like, I'm going to guess that we don't live like, as people might be aware, the courts are an area of contention in the case where people of different parties and even within the same party disagree on fundamental things about what court should be doing and for it to be that, let's say that much of a rubber stamp raises kind of, let's say, questions about the degree of vetting even happening. Well, I want to just add to that, Jonathan, that's such a good point. But, and there was a Republican on thegovernor's council, Jenny Casey, about three years ago, and now, you know, she's no longer there.

There's someone else in her place. But, but the point I want to make about that is that she also approved, you know, I think,Deval Patrick's nomination. So, I mean, there's a rubber, the rubber stamping is, you have to ask why? I mean, I have to ask why.

What are they getting? What's the, are there some kind of backroom deals we don't know about what's going on? It's very curious why, why that happens, especially when there are some people that, you know, you would think maybe you wouldn't necessarily approve. And also, as you mentioned, because there are, you know, Republicans. Well, I'll go one step further.

Prosecutors. A lot of the judges who come before, who Baker nominated were from a prosecutorial background. 60%.

Yeah. I mean, I point out that there is a process for nominating judges before they get to the governor's council. So there's a judicial nominating commission.

So they're already vetted, at least to some extent. And so there's probably at least a minimum ability and experience by all the candidates for judges, which I think is probably not as true for parole board and clerks to court. And so I think that the fact that they're all rubber stamped is maybe probably more of a concern than the judges are.

And I think the problem with nominating all these prosecutors may not be that any of the individual prosecutors are so bad, but then you have this kind of, this single experience among all the huge portion of the judges, which is really problematic. So it's almost as if there should be some sort of body, like, looking over and making sure that there's diversity, that there's something going on and sort of looking at those, oh, wait a minute. This is the body that is supposed to be doing that.

And I would love for us to talk a little bit about diversity on that body, as well as, like, of judges and, you know, the people that they rubber stamp. So. And as well as diversity among the population of people who tend to be incarcerated in Massachusetts and across America.

Well, I'll address the question just to the governor's council. In the last 400 years, there has never been a non white member of the governor's council. Oh, my God.

Wow. And I think one of the ways that. Thank you, Harry, for that, that I never put it even in my own mind quite like that.

So it sounded worse than I had ever put it. One of the things where that comes into play, I'll give you a little anecdote. So at a hearing, I've gone to a lot of these hearings because I write about the parole board and about the governor's council quite often.

And one of the things that happened when, I don't remember whose hearing it was, but I do remember at the time Juban Villewas, if you can help me out with his first name, I've just forgotten. Robert. Robert.

Thank you, Robert. Juventus. And he was from.

Harry might know district. I'm not. Yeah, not sure.

Empty right now, the district, because he went on to become a clerk magistrate, you know, and so. But he. There was a discussion happening about race.

And I will tell you, it was really embarrassing to hear some of the things he was saying about race. Embarrassing. I mean, almost verging to me on appalling.

Thank you. District three. Two.

District two. Oh, I can't. Okay.

District two. It was appalling. And that is not an isolated incident.

I mean, some of the language different counselors use. When Lucy Soto, Abbey, this was a, she was a parole board member. She got kicked off, literally kicked off the board and somebody else put in.

And she was from, she's a Latina from the western part of the state, I believe. And she was kicked off the parole board. Right.

Yeah. But at the governor's council, Marilyn Devaney, you know, made this issue of how, how it was, you know, she took on the idea that she took it almost like she was personally offended that a person of color had been kicked off the parole board. And here is Marilyn Devaney, who had voted against many people of color who, you know, it was, it was so hypocritical, Ithought, at that formative probably.

Yeah. And that is not, she would never say that that was true. She would dispute me.

But if we went back and looked at the hearings, which are now recorded, they weren't for many years. And Marilyn is somewhat responsible for making sure they were recorded. I will grant her that.

But you can see some of the things they say that are appalling. You can listen to the hearings that happened during COVID and I will say it's a great boon for me as a reporter to be able to actually hear things I've gone to and get the exact quotes.But anyway, back to your question, Anna.

So that's the diversity it comes out in how they question, the kind of comments they make, the comments they don't make,the way they kind of fawn over anybody who's been formerly incarcerated as if, I don't know, as if it's, they've never met a person of color before. I mean, it's embarrassing to me. Very embarrassing.

Yeah. And it sounds like that's one of the issues that you talk about as something that needs to, needs to change. Well, and one thing, quick thing with the mention of juvenile that reminds me of, and this also speaks to the way in which the office has a fairly low profile in the state, is that I was talking with somebody who only by my mentioning it to them, and this is person who votes in every election, regularly canvases for candidates, only then learned that they had been moved between districts because after redistricting there was a swap of Senate districts between Christopher Ionella's district and Bob Juvenville's district, where Christopher Ionella gained Mike Rush's gain, gained Mike Brady's district from Bob Dubinville and Bob Dubinville got.

I keep like mentioning that, but the swap of Mike Brady and Mike Roush's districts between those two. And so somebody who had always seen Bob Jubanville on their ballot and just assumed that they had Bob Jubanville again. Oh, no, you're actually in the Christopher Ayanala district was a total shock to them because if it's never contested and you're never actually looking at that part of your ballot in any meaningful way, nobody.

These aren't, the governor's counselors aren't typically coming around to events to talk to voters about what their job even does. That could easily lead so many people just entering when you do have a contested race without the work, educating people otherwise about it. A complete shock that who these people are on their ballot.

Yeah, right. Which is why they usually vote for incumbents or leave that part of the ballot blank and or choose people for other reasons, what town they're from, ethnicity, any sorts of factors that have nothing to do with their quality as a governor's counselor or what they bring to that job. Speaking of that quality, Jean, I was hoping to ask you a little bit about the behavior of the people who are on the governor's council and if there's anything that you are not completely satisfied with.

Well, I would say there are quite a few things that they do that I've noticed over a long period of time that haven't changed, that are getting worse. I will say getting worse. Interrupting, leaving the room when people are talking.

I mean, I find that being on their phones all the time, I mean, it's really embarrassing. When I came to testify once, as soon as I started testifying, both Kennedy and I leaned off, got up and left the room. And they're often on their phones.

I take pictures of them on their phones, and I think it's really important because I'm not there all the time. But I say if I'm not there, they've got to be doing that same thing. They're on the phones.

When people are testifying, they leave the room. They also ask questions that are based on sort of an assumption that they know everything. I'll give you an example.

I went to a recent hearing of a parole board member, and actually it's happened to two or three parole board members. And This is also Eileen Duff, who is leaving the council, but she did warn them how dangerous the job was. And it was like, what are you talking about? As if people were going to come to their house.

I'm not, I'm not saying there isn't some danger in being a parole board member. I'm sure there is. And I just, being a judge, I'm Sure there is.

There are threats, people, things happen. But, you know, to say that, do you realize how dangerous it is? And she does it in away. And a lot of the counselors do this.

Like they, you know, that they've been to so many hearings, lifer hearings, that they know all these things. I find it, there's not very much humility with governor's counselors. They don't act as if they have something to learn, as if these are really major roles that they're vetting people for.

They really don't. And they are major roles. These are really important things in our commonwealth.

So I find their behavior reprehensible, honestly. And they don't have rules to, they also grandstand. I should act.

I should say that that is another thing that, you know, and I love Paul Dipolo in many ways. But, for example, they have certain, they have certain causes they hold on to. And, you know, like, we have no one from the western part of the state, you know,so that's their version of diversity.

Right. Right. They, you know, they, they bring these kinds of, their concerns, their concerns to the council, the things that are most important.

Ferrara, who was a former policeman, every half the questions he asks about how do you relate to cops, you know, it's just over and over again, that kind of, that kind of stuff. Jean, as a joke, when you were talking about their behavior during hearings, I was so tempted to just like pretend to bring up my phone on the screen and start checking it or like walk off camera, come back like a minute later to just channel the, channel the chamber. But I would say if you can't see a lot of this, Imean, when they film the governor's council, what they do, they don't film the counselors.

They don't put the camera on the counselors. They only put the camera on the person talking. So over here on the side is so and so walking off or so and so leaving.

And you don't see that. It's not like they're meeting every day. Right? They only meet on once a week.

On Wednesdays. They only have hearings on Wednesdays. And they have a Wednesday at noon they have a meeting with the lieutenant governor, who is the tiebreaker, we should say, of the governor's council, and she runs a meeting where they, oh, this is also another thing that I found appalling.

They have a pledge of allegiance and then one of the counselors has a prayer. Every, every assembly they have a prayer. So That, let's just say it's Marilyn Devaney that day.

She might have a prayer for, you know, Ukraine, you know, or whatever. It pops into her mind that she decides to have a prayer for that day. They have a pledge of allegiance and prayer.

And I always think church and state women, and then they vote 17 hundreds, you know, 17th century, I mean, 15 hundreds.Look at that era. And then they vote.

And then they vote on the hearings from the last week or so. And they, and that is the extent, I mean, they do interviews people, but that's the extent of the work they get paid for for $36,000 a year. Yeah.

Well, let me just ask you guys if there are any final thoughts before we, we end and also what people can do. I mean,obviously, maybe knowing more about who your incumbent person is on the governance council and how many decades they've been there for. So I think it'd be great if people came and looked at our website But I think it's an important election year. As Jean said, there are two open seats at the moment, so that we're going to get at least two new governor's counselors.

And if you're in one of those districts, district two. And what is Eileen Duff's district? I don't know the number of it, but it's like, I Know it's mine. North Shore, Tewksbury.

The district, you have to look because the district, the districts list the towns, but there are a lot of towns that don't make sense together. So there are two where we're going to pick new, definitely pick new governors, counselors. So it's really important to see who's running.

There will definitely be a lot of organizations offering forums and these candidates getting the word out. So choosing good,new, hopefully diverse candidates would be great. And then that's also true where there have been incumbents who have been there for a while.

Stacey Borden is running against Christopher Ionella. There's a person of color running for Eileen Duffsea, at least in the primary. And there are other candidates running.

I know that Mara Dolan is challenging Marilyn Devaney. She is a white woman. But there are a lot of cases of challengers and you should look at that.

I mean, Stacey Borden, who runs it, was formerly incarcerated and runs a home of reentry for women coming out of prison,you know, really knows a lot about the system from a different point of view, certainly, than any of the governor's counselors now do. Yeah. One other point I'd like to make about the election is that it's that what matters, because we live in pretty much a one party state, is not the general election November, but the primary in September.

So that's the election you have to focus on. And then if you do find a candidate that you prefer, just spread the word to all your friends and family who may be in the district, because, again, people don't know anything about this. And if you can help spread the word, then more people will know.

Fantastic. Well, thank you so much. It has been wonderful to talk to you, and thanks, of course, for all the work that you're doing as well.

And, you know, we love it. Listeners, please let us know if there are any other people that you want us to interview. Send us your comments, send us your donations.

You don't hear about this kind of thing in, you know, the mainstream media. These are the details that we really dig into with folks like Jean and Harry who really know what they're talking about, have been doing this, worked for years and years, and we look forward to chatting with you all next week. Bye.