A vacancy on the federal court in western Massachusetts is a step closer to being filled. The nominee, Hampden District Attorney Mark Mastroianni, has testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington.
Mastroianni told the committee that the experiences in his legal career, first as a prosecutor, and then building a successful private practice as a criminal defense attorney before being elected Hampden D.A. four years ago, had prepared him to become a federal judge.
"Those experiences have taught me so much about the law and the respect for the opposing sides. Although it is an adversarial process fairness and integrity in the system is the common goal."
Mastroianni and two other nominees to federal posts were questioned for about 90 minutes Tuesday by members of the judiciary committee, which makes recommendations to the full Senate on whether or not to confirm the appointments. The questioning of Mastroianni was polite and non-confrontational.
Responding to a question from Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who chaired the hearing, Mastroianni said the most difficult decisions he’s faced as a D.A. involved bringing prosecutions where the victims of crimes are children or the very elderly.
"Part of the cycle of victimization, if you will, is when a victim comes into a courthouse that they are not familiar with and they've never been involved in the proceeding and they find themselves there on a regular basis and it is very intimidating for them. Our office does provide support for them in the role of their own special advocates."
Questioned by Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, Mastroianni defended a decision to prosecute a Springfield man for violating the state’s gun storage law, after the State Supreme Judicial Court upheld the law in 2013 over the protests of gun owners’ rights advocates.
" The Second Amendment is clear. Individuals do have rights to have firearms and I recognize and respect that as the law of the land. States do have authority to impose other regulations that affect the safety of their citizens."
Mastroianni said his wife and their three daughters along with a sister-in-law and several nieces and nephews were at the hearing. Also, at least five Massachusetts district attorneys were present in a show of support.
" It is quite an honor that several other elected district attorneys from Massachusetts are here to support me in this."
Massachusetts Democratic U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke in support of Mastroianni. She told the committee he had been vetted by a screening committee of lawyers and retired judges and she had recommended Mastroianni to President Obama who nominated him five months ago.
" I look forward to his approval by this committee and his swift confirmation by the full Senate."
If confirmed, Mastroianni would become the U.S. District Court judge in Springfield and succeed Judge Michael Ponsor who took part-time status in 2010.
" The vacancy has strained the federal judicial system in western Massachusetts," said Warren.
An earlier nominee to the federal bench in Springfield, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Kinder, withdrew after almost two years passed without the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduling a confirmation hearing.
If Mastroianni becomes a judge, Governor Deval Patrick would appoint someone to fill out the remainder of Mastroianni’s term as Hamden D.A, which runs through the end of this year.