- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - Gov. Deval Patrick’s nominee to be the state’s top judge was praised for his fairness, compassion and even temperament during a confirmation hearing Wednesday.

Ralph Gants, currently an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, sat silently through five hours of testimony that included plaudits from the man he hopes to succeed.

“He is an independent thinker, but he values the opinions of others,” said Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick Ireland. “He keeps an open mind and is not afraid to change his opinion if the evidence backs a different result.”

Ireland plans to retire in July after serving as chief justice since 2010.

Most of the testimony before the Governor’s Council was in support of Gants‘ nomination. The eight-member council, which reviews and votes on judicial nominations, planned to question the justice on specific rulings when the hearing resumes May 28.

Joe Ureneck and Patrick McCabe, representing the Fatherhood Coalition, faulted Gants - and the high court as a whole - for past rulings on divorce and custody matters. The only other witness to oppose confirmation was a Needham resident who complained the SJC had not properly enforced violations of state wage laws.

A 59-year-old native of New Rochelle, New York, Gants served as a special assistant to the FBI in the early 1980s and later as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office. A Republican governor, William Weld, appointed Gants to the Superior Court in 1997 and Patrick, a Democrat, named him to the high court in 2009.

“He’s very modest and humble, and remembers where he came from,” said Barbara Rouse, chief administrative justice of the Superior Court.

Gants issued rulings that helped protect thousands of homeowners from foreclosure, and ordered a more stringent review of a Boston University lab that planned to study some of the world’s most virulent diseases while serving on a business litigation session of the Superior Court, Rouse said.

Some councilors suggested they might question Gants about his work with the FBI and as a federal prosecutor, referencing the case of convicted Boston mobster James “Whitey’ Bulger, once an FBI informant. There was no indication that Gants had any involvement in the Bulger case while working for the agency.

Max Stern, a prominent Boston defense attorney who said he had dealings with Gants in his roles as both prosecutor and judge, praised his impartiality and knowledge of the law.

“With Ralph Gants, it was only ‘how do I get it right?’” said Stern.

Ireland, who made history as being the state’s first black chief justice, also took a lighter tone by noting Gants‘ love for the Boston Red Sox and his self-deprecating humor.

“He is often the butt of his own jokes and I think he could have been a comedy writer if he was not so passionate about the law,” he said.