Tom Hallahan

Thomas Hallahan is a candidate for Governor’s Council in the 1st District. Tom works as a tenured professor teaching courses in education policy and social justice. He also works as a policy consultant for the Department of Public Health and MassHealth. Tom has a long history of involvement with numerous non-profits doing work in the areas of youth engagement, substance abuse, mental health, AIDS, health care policy, equity/access to education and the arts. He serves on the board of directors for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and is a member of a number of NGOs doing work in the areas of inclusive education & disability rights in Cambodia and South Africa.

As we have done with a several other candidates, we conducted an email interview with Dr. Hallanan.

Why would you like to be on the Governor’s Council? What is it about your background and experience that will make you a good councilor?

At this point in my personal and professional life, I was prepared to run for a state-district position. I had been considering the Governor’s Council – District 1 seat over the past two years, but knew Carol Fiola and her work on the Council were appreciated by her constituents. When I heard at the end of March that Carol was not seeking re-election, I decided to throw my hat into the ring. I believe my record as an elected public official as a Dukes County Commissioner, as well as that of an association leader with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) will attest to the level of commitment and due diligence that I bring to everything that I do.

I believe my professional and public service experiences working with and on behalf of those most marginalized within our society will bring a unique perspective to the Governor’s Council. It is important that the Council have a broad-based perspective of the critical social issues that impact our state’s citizens. My track record speaks to these issues.

Many of the candidates for Governor’s Council are attorneys, or other court professionals who tout their experience working with the court system on a regular basis. Your experience in social service and education gives you a different perspective. How will this benefit the Governor’s Council?

You are correct. The work that I do, and have done, deals with the human product of some of our society’s failed systems, may it be in obtaining an equitable education or adequate healthcare. I am a tenured college professor teaching in the areas of inclusive education, education policy, and social justice. Additionally, I provide hearing healthcare services to inmates from across the Commonwealth through the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital (LSH) in Jamaica Plain. It is through my teaching and clinical work that I am reminded of the correlative relationship amongst factors of poverty, poor health, school dropout rate, and substance abuse with incarceration. I believe this perspective will offer insight (and perhaps enlighten) into these critical issues that are so very important in the work that the Governor’s Council does.

You have said that it is important that the Council have a broad perspective on critical social issues affecting the poor, the disabled and the incarcerated. How can the Governor’s Council best affect these issues?

First and foremost, by practicing their due diligence in the final-review process for each of the Governor’s judicial appointments and not simply rubber stamping all nominees. Although the Judicial Nominating Committee (JNC) conducts a thorough, blind review process of all nominees, the Council is the last opportunity for the public to have input into this very important process. It is essential that nominees bring portfolios that include an awareness of the issues affecting those most marginalized within our society. The Council should review previous decisions of the nominees and give credence to those which have indicated such an understanding (i.e. alternatives to incarceration such as access to treatment, etc.).

There is a perception that some members of the Governor’s Council tend to have poor meeting attendance. Do you plan on attending every meeting of the Governor’s Council? Since you will likely continue working outside of the part-time council commitment, will you make sure that your other work does not impact the time you need to spend on council business?

The Council meets on Wednesday at noon at the State House. My present, and foreseeable, schedule will allow for me to attend every meeting. I have a consistent record of attendance at the Dukes County Commissioners meetings on the Vineyard, as well as the ASHA Board of Directors whose meetings are held regularly in Rockville, MD.

In recent years there has been some criticism of appointment of several judges, for example the appointments of Cheryl Jacques, James Barretto and Maureen Monks. Are there any recent appointments you would not have voted for?

At this point in my campaign, I have not had the opportunity to review the records of the Council and the recent appointments they have made. It is my intention to be at the State House this week for this specific purpose. I would be more than happy to provide a more detailed response after this review.

I have followed Cheryl Jacques over the years and have always been impressed with her work and dedication, may it be as a State Representative/Senator or later with the Human Rights Campaign in DC.

Some judicial nominees have been activists for particular causes, or have represented only certain classes of clients (e.g. former prosecutors, lawyers who represent defendants in liability cases, disproportionately women or men). The public has an interest in appearing before judges who are unbiased. Do you think a candidate’s background can affect the public’s perception that a judge can be unbiased in cases where they were once activists or representatives for a certain side of the issue?

The Council should attempt to approve nominees whose experiences are reflective of that of our citizens.

Would you approve a judge you thought could be unbiased if their background could give the public doubts about their impartiality?

A nominee’s track record should speak for itself, not the public’s perception of the nominee. If the process is completely transparent and accessible, then the Council will have fulfilled its obligation to the public.

One of the functions of the Governor’s Council is to advise the governor on pardons and commutations of sentences. Under what circumstances are a pardon or commutation is justified?

This is a very difficult question to answer directly, since it will be case-specific. To project what cases would be justified or not, would be unrealistic. However, like judicial nominations, pardons and commutations undergo a detailed process, too. The power to grant executive clemency, including pardons and commutations, is that of the Governor. The Council serves to offer advice and consent to the Governor. All petitions for executive clemency are reviewed by the Advisory Board of Pardons (a.k.a. Massachusetts Parole Board), who submit their recommendations to the Governor. The Advisory Board of Pardons ensures that:

  • The requirements for clemency are met
  • Conduct investigations about petitioners
  • Determine whether a hearing should be held
  • Conduct hearings, if necessary
  • Finally, make a recommendation to the Governor

Do you think there is a need for the Governor’s Council to be more active in informing the public about what it does? Do you think the council should be required to keep a web site where votes are recorded, and to issue an annual report?

Definitely, the Council should have to operate under all aspects of the Open Meeting Laws. In addition, all meeting minutes, decisions made, and voting records should be made available on the State’s web site for ease of accessibility.

The current 209A restraining order law, and the new anti-stalking law gives judges a huge amount of discretion in deciding on restraining orders in ex-parte hearings where they don’t get to hear both sides of the case. What characteristics should a judge have to be able to apply the 209A process fairly?

As we know, the new law passed unanimously by the State Legislature. It will be called Chapter 258E and does not replace Chapter 209A. It is meant to offer a separate and additional avenue of protection for our citizens. Historically, there were a number of issues with Chapter 209A and this new law intends to close the ‘loopholes’, expanding the reach of restraining orders, by lifting the relationship limitation. Under the new law, it does not matter how the individuals involved are related to each other or what the pattern of abuse is. Naturally, this expansion of the previous law could result in wrongful actions taken against the accused. However, we know the old process wasn’t working as effectively as it could have, resulting in serious consequences for victims. Is Chapter 258E the answer? It is too early to say. Of course, the use of this law will vary depending if it falls within the civic or criminal court domains, or both.