Joe Sollitto is bowing out this year from the Dukes County Superior Court clerkship he has defended half a dozen times in 42 years of service. With the Democratic primary Sept. 4, two contenders from that party have risen to contend for Sollitto’s position — attorneys T. George Davis and Charlie Morano. A third unenrolled candidate, Anthony Piland, also aims to be the next clerk. Piland does not face a primary, and will sail straight to the November election.
Davis, 64, is a graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center who has lived on the Vineyard full-time since 1997. He’s practiced law for 31 years, and runs a general practice specializing in civil litigation and administrative law. He’s served four years on the Oak Bluffs finance committee, and two years on the personnel board.
Morano, 68, is a graduate of the New England School of Law who has lived on the Vineyard since 1996. He’s practiced law for 41 years, and runs a private practice focused on criminal, civil, real estate, personal injury, and administrative law. He was a Cape and Islands assistant district attorney for 11 years; two of those years he was assigned to the Vineyard. He also served as a special assistant district attorney for child support enforcement.
Both Davis and Morano spent several years coming to the Vineyard before moving permanently.
How would you appraise the performance of the outgoing clerk and what, if anything, would you do to improve upon his legacy?
Davis: Joe Sollitto has done an exceptional job, and has served the community well for more than 40 years. I want to continue his legacy by overseeing an office that operates with the same degree of fairness, impartiality, and dedication. This office interacts with so many people in so many ways, whether it’s a case before the court, or as a jury member, or a small claims dispute, passport applications, or appealing traffic or parking violations. Joe set a very high standard, and I expect to build upon that foundation by introducing systems such as mediation that improve the case flow and help people reach a faster resolution to their disputes.
Morano: I have known Joe Sollitto for my entire career, and consider him a good friend. He has done a great job as Clerk of Courts, and frankly, I wouldn’t have run if he weren’t retiring. Joe is dedicated to his position, and quietly does the job in an outstanding manner. He is also an amazing source of courthouse and Vineyard history, as well as Massachusetts political history. He is respected by everyone he comes in contact with, whether it is the chief Superior Court judge or a young first-time juror. I intend to preserve and continue his legacy. If there is anyone who deserves to have his portrait hung in the courtroom, it’s Joe Sollitto.
Civil cases make up the bulk of the Dukes County Superior Court workload. What technological improvements, personnel adjustments, or other efficiencies might you make to improve the function and fluidity of the civil process in Dukes County?
Morano: Civil cases are governed by the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure and time standards issued by the Administrative Office of the Trial Court. The 85 Rules of Civil Procedure strictly provide for everything from form of actions, pleadings, and motions to rules for depositions and discovery, trial rules, and judgments. Taking advantage of all technological improvements that are available within the resources provided by the commonwealth is a no-brainer, and I would advocate for those resources. For instance, scanning older cases into an electronic format is currently in progress, to provide electronic access to more information. My goal is to have all available cases scanned and online for public access. As far as personnel goes, I believe the Superior Court Clerk’s Office personnel presently does a fine job, and would remain the same barring any retirements or resignations. If there were such an occurrence, I would seek to have a tech-savvy attorney appointed as assistant clerk, if that position were to become available.
Davis: More than 80 percent of the Superior Court cases are civil, not criminal, and they are often complex matters that can literally take years to resolve. I would seek to bring some sort of court-facilitated mediation services, a step several other counties have taken with great success. It has proven to be a popular option for all parties because it greatly reduces the stress and financial burden of these cases. In terms of technology, plans are already underway to implement electronic filing of court documents, an overdue upgrade that will greatly improve the court’s functions.
Has the county courthouse become too antiquated? Does it still meet the needs of those it serves?
Davis: The courthouse in Edgartown has served this community continuously since before the Civil War, but it is no longer adequate to serve as the sole facility housing all our courts, the District Attorney’s office, and the Registry of Deeds. Most egregious is the fact that there is no handicap access to the courtroom, which denies people their fundamental right to participate and observe court proceedings. There are many other issues, including the lack of adequate office space, the lack of overflow courtrooms, and the lack of private meeting space, and I believe the county should make it a priority to acquire or rent additional space.
Morano: The Dukes County Courthouse was opened in 1853, and although some major improvements have been made in the past few years, there are still some issues that need to be addressed. What needs to be understood is that the trial court is a tenant of the county, which owns the building. Recently an Americans with Disabilities Act–compliant handicapped ramp was installed and air conditioning was installed in the main courtroom, both of which were sorely needed. ADA-compliant access to the courtroom, however, is still a work in progress. I will advocate strenuously for ADA access to the courtroom, as the current condition is literally blocking the access to justice that our community deserves. Space in the courthouse has always been an issue. For example, there is no lockup for prisoners, and four courts regularly work out of our single courtroom (Superior Court, District Court, Probate Court, and Juvenile Court). The Land Court also occasionally sits in Dukes County. Hopefully soon there will also be sittings of the Housing Court in Dukes County as well, which I will also advocate for. This makes cooperation between and among the various courts and agencies that occupy the courthouse essential.
Closing argument: If a resident of each Island town were in the jury box, along with a resident of Gosnold, what would your closing argument be for getting their vote?
Morano: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury.” I have probably said these words a thousand times in my career, but always on behalf of the commonwealth or a client. The Clerk of the Superior Court has a fundamental role in the judicial system. It is a neutral role. Duties range from managing the administrative, clerical, and day-to-day operations to making sure all records and filings comply with the rules of procedure. Managing the jury system itself is an important part of the job. Knowing how many jurors to call for a particular type of case is essential. We have limited availability of jurors in Dukes County, and believe it or not, we can run out. My experience with jury trials and my knowledge of court personnel will allow me to estimate the correct number of jurors to call for a particular case, thereby conserving jurors and resources when necessary.
A unique function of the Dukes County Clerk of Courts is to potentially act as a cross-designated assistant to the District Court Clerk-Magistrate, Liza Williamson. If so designated, the Superior Court Clerk would review the issuance of criminal complaints, arrests, and arrest and search warrants that originate in the town of Oak Bluffs. This is due to Ms. Williamson’s conflict arising out of her marriage to a lieutenant at the Oak Bluffs Police Department. If the Superior Court Clerk on-Island is not so designated, it could lead to these matters being heard by a District Court Clerk-Magistrate on the mainland. I am confident that my extensive criminal law background would afford me the opportunity to be designated for these duties. The Superior Court Clerk also has a public relations function, interacting with jurors, witnesses, lawyers, police officers, parties, and others who come into contact with the court, whether for a judicial matter or an administrative matter, such as obtaining passports or being sworn in for various positions. Having practiced law for over 40 years and having the bulk of that practice occur right here at 81 Main Street, the Dukes County Courthouse, I feel that I am the most qualified person to perform these duties and to best serve the County of Dukes County and its people.
So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, please vote for Charlie Morano on Sept. 4 for Dukes County Clerk of Courts, and I thank you in advance for your support. I will not let you down.
Davis: I believe I have the knowledge and experience in civil litigation that is by far the lion’s share of the job, and the temperament and judgment that the office requires. Additionally, Martha’s Vineyard is complex. It’s not monolithic. I believe my volunteer work, whether in town government, or at various local nonprofits filling in the gaps, has given me an appreciation and respect for the wide range of individuals and communities that make up our Island. I believe both my legal experience and my community work will enable me to build on the strong foundation at the Clerk’s Office, and expand it to fit changing community needs, and through all of my endeavors I will ensure that the Clerk’s Office will provide a fair, efficient, and open process for all.