For the first time in the history of the Massachusetts a clerk magistrate has been removed from his position for reasons other than mental incompetence or criminal behavior. Robert Powers the clerk magistrate of the Barnstable District Court has been removed from his position by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
A clerk magistrate is one of the most important positions in the courthouse. A clerk magistrate is appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Governor’s Council for a lifetime position. A clerk magistrates’ salary is 95% of a judge’s salary. The duties of the clerk are to ensure elements of the crimes are met before a person can be arraigned on criminal charges, collect costs and fees assessed by judges, conduct small claims hearing among many other duties.
Early this year Clerk Magistrate Powers was brought up on formal charges of being unfit for duty. Specifically Powers was chronically late to work, often arriving after 9:30 when court opened an hour earlier, being rude to litigants and failing to routinely and diligently perform his duties as a clerk.
In removing Robert E. Powers as the clerk of the Barnstable District Court, a special tribunal was convened and testimony was heard. A prosecutor was appointed and Powers was defended. Testimony was given. After the hearing the judge in the tribunal decided that Powers needed to be removed from his position but need the approval of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
In removing Powers, the Supreme Judicial Court stated that the clerk is the public’s first interaction with the court system and the public must have trust in the system. Clerks are important to the function of justice and are being held to a higher standard. It should be noted that the Administer of the Trial Court opposed this decision and urged the court not to remove Powers from the position. Yet, the Court felt that variety of complaints against Powers justified his removal.
Attorney Patrick Donovan is criminal defense attorney in Massachusetts. Attorney Donovan has appeared in the Barnstable District Court for both felony and misdemeanor crimes.