Davis and Piland vie for superior court clerkship

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Anthony Piland (left) and George Davis square off to replace Joe Sollitto as clerk of courts.

Either Anthony Piland, a physician assistant from Tisbury, or George Davis, an attorney from Oak Bluffs, will replace Joe Sollitto after his 42 years of service and oversee the Dukes County Superior Court. Sollitto was only the seventh clerk in the court since 1859.

Both candidates for the clerkship have long professional careers and some level of graduate education, and both have performed volunteer community service on the Vineyard. The candidates agree the Dukes County Courthouse suffers from antiquated facilities, especially in regards to handicap access, and have said they would work with the state and the county to improve the building. Where Davis and Piland strongly differ is on the necessity of a legal background to properly perform the duties of the clerk of the court.

Piland, a former Air Force staff sergeant, chairman of the Vineyard Habitat for Humanity selection committee, and SailMV board member, said it’s a misconception that the elected position requires a law degree.

“I think a lot of emphasis is placed on lawyers getting these positions,” Piland said. “[I]t’s a public position that is open to anyone who is qualified. There are a lot more people who are qualified for public service than attorneys.”

Piland went on to say the commonwealth trains new superior court clerks in everything they will need to know.

“You need somebody that’s impartial, that’s honest, that’s going to be ethical and really work hard for the public,” he said. “[A]n important piece of the job is actually taught to you by the trial court institute up in Boston.”

Outgoing clerk Solitto said the state will provide some form of mentoring and guidance to the new clerk. He also said he would be happy to help whoever is elected by providing advice.

“I was surprised, frankly, that he’s running, because he’s been [at] the hospital,” Davis said of his opponent. A longtime attorney and former member of the Oak Bluffs finance committee and personnel board, Davis contended a legal background of some type is essential to the clerkship. “He doesn’t have any legal training or experience,” he said, and went on to say he thought it “odd that someone who’s not a lawyer” or “who’s not experienced in the court system in any way” would seek the position of superior court clerk.

“Legal [experience] does help,” Piland said, “however I think the administrative part is very important.”

Piland characterized the clerkship as largely administrative, and said his skill set is deep in administrative work. As a staff sergeant in the Air Force, Piland cut his teeth in paperwork organization and various management duties. In his current job, Piland manages high document volumes, trains staff, and has a number of specialized administrative duties.

Davis suggested Piland may be underestimating what the job entails.

“The brunt of the work is communicating with and dealing with judges and attorneys about active cases,” Davis said. “And to be able to do that you’ve got to be able to talk the language, know the process; you have to understand how the cases progress from initiation to completion — resolution one way or another — I think it’s a little naive to think he can just walk in and just do the job cold.”

“It biases the election to a certain degree,” Piland said of the preconception he believes many have about the clerkship requiring a law degree. “There’s not even a residency requirement for this position. Most people don’t know that.”

“It’s no coincidence,” Davis said of his past Democratic primary opponent, Charlie Morano,” that the focus of his campaign and my campaign was that we had the right experience for the job. And that’s because experience … in the court system, one way or another, it’s vitally important.”

Davis won a landslide victory against Morano. Piland, an unenrolled candidate, faced no primary competition.

Piland said he wants a more modern clerk’s office — one that connects with and informs the local community and employs common technology.

“That office, it needs to come into the 21st century,” he said. “They’re still on pen and paper for a lot of the way that they do their filings. A lot of the rest of the state is e-filing cases.”

Piland also hopes to better inform the public about how the court system works, if elected, and to make sure they know about other services the clerk’s office can provide, like processing a passport application.

Davis also said the clerk’s office needs a fundamental technology upgrade. He noted nobody can even leave the clerk’s office a telephone message, because it lacks an answering machine.

“[Piland] talks about how he would interact with the public,” Davis said. “Most of the job is not interacting with the public … If you’ve never tried a case and an attorney calls you with an issue about having to try a case and you don’t have any idea what [the attorney] is talking about, you’re the weak link in the chain of the efficient administration of justice.”

Asked if he would have any compunctions about calling out a peer in the system — for example, a judge or attorney — for unethical conduct, Piland said he wouldn’t, and would be immune to favoritism.

“I think one of my key strengths is that I’m not easily swayed,” he said. “I’m just that type of person. I’m not part of the system. I’m not part of the status quo … I don’t know anybody in that sense. I’ve been here 10 years so I know people, but not in that realm to where I could be influenced … You know I’ve worked in the ER many years, and you get those patients — you can tell the person who’s trying to sway you to write a prescription or something. You just don’t do those things. It’s all about ethics and really about character. That’s just my nature. I’m just not the kind of person who can be bought.”

Piland went on to point out that Edgartown District Court Magistrate Liza Williamson stepped up to call out ADA Laura Marshard for judicial misconduct.

“You know if something is wrong, you can’t continue to allow those things to happen,” he said. “So you have to speak up. It’s uncomfortable — the good thing about me, I’m not part of that system so I don’t have that familiarity with them. If I see something wrong, they’re not my friends. I haven’t known them for 30 years or 20 years — fresh eyes, fresh perspective. If I see something wrong, I’m going to speak up.”

Asked if he would put the spotlight on unethical activity in his arena, Davis said he would. He described it as an “ethical obligation everyone has.” He went on to say, “You want to keep everything as clean and transparent as possible so everyone gets the justice they deserve.” From Chappy to Cuttyhunk, the residents of Dukes County will decide which candidate will be clerk No. 8 on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6.

  • Anyone who would have you believe knowledge of court procedures, rules of evidence, Constitutional due process, essentially everything attached to trying cases before the Superior Court (different than District Court, by the way), is less important than “organization skills”, hasn’t a clue how the job of Superior Court Clerk operates in real terms.
    George Davis is the most ably qualified candidate to come into this race without question. The idea of getting some ‘hand holding’ from the respected Mr. Solitto, and training from the Commonwealth seems like a terrible idea. The Clerks position is about a lot more than identifying the obvious physical failings of that aged building.
    Voting for George Davis is about the clearest choice in the whole election.

  • And further, the also respected Liza Williamson didn’t “step up” to do anything. It was her absolute ethical and lawful duty to address such misconduct, where ever it is noted. That wasn’t an optional exercise for her, but a sworn duty relative to her oath of office. To suggest otherwise suggests a shocking unfamiliarity with what actually occurred.
    Lastly, the inference “familiarity” down at the Courthouse somehow breeds nefarious actions among the “familiar”, remedied only by a “fresh face” is blatantly insulting to the ethical, diligent workforce within the Courthouse. Even worth an apology from Mr. Piland.

    • Just curious? Is this the same person who was selling “Island honey” insulting people and calling them unethical?

  • George is QUALIFIED & TRUSTED! He just campaigned for this seat against another experienced lawyer in a primary and George won! I agree with Mr. Davis who says Mr. Piland’s running for this seat is “odd” ! I would go further to say it is bizarre! Best of Luck to both !

  • There is no requirement to have practiced law to fill this seat. If your idea is to just keep doing what (voting) has always done….well, you get what you pay for. I love the idea of thinking outside the box.

  • @ 3D: Everyone in this office statewide is either a former lawyer or spent many years working in a courthouse before filling the seat. Apparently, the state would like to make it a requirement that the seat be filled by a lawyer, but the process is too complicated, so they made a law requiring that the Clerk’s assistant be a lawyer (which was a much easier process). What does that tell you?

  • 3d, tell me about it. Laws need to be put into layman terms so we all understand it. Lawyers have a huge advantage in the courts.

  • I totally agree. And for that matter, I don’t think we should have licensed doctors working in the hospital.
    I’m willing to bet my plumber can handle a vasectomy as easily as he replaces faucets in my bathroom.
    What about airline pilots?
    I’ve always wanted to fly a plane.
    Why can’t I strap myself into a jumbo 740 and take off.
    Yippee yahay cayooo………

    • The clerk of courts isn’t savings lives like doctors. That’s somewhat of an irrational response. On the other hand…did you know youdont have to be a lawyer to be a judge? Chew on that. The clerk of courts job isn’t rocket science people!

  • Some of the comments here are simply misguided efforts trying to support an unqualified candidate who may be filled with good intentions, but is not the best candidate for the Clerk of Courts position by a long shot. A clerk of courts does, indeed, have the ability to make legal decisions. Those decisions impact peoples’ lives. An informed and educated decision by a clerk of courts matters to those who are before him or her. A clerk of courts, among other duties, holds hearings and makes rulings as a magistrate, which is part of the job. It is much more than helpful that this clerk of courts understands contract law, for instance, when hearing a case. In order to properly perform the job, this legal knowledge is necessary in order to make fair, informed decisions that are based on a thorough understanding of the law. When the primary campaign was ongoing, there was no discussion over whether or not one had to be a lawyer, it was a question of which lawyer, George Davis or Charlie Morano would be selected by the voters. In this election for November 6, we now have a choice of someone who is a lawyer, and has been a lawyer for more than thirty years, with his focus on Superior Court cases that are helpful since this position is for a Superior Court clerk of courts, and who won a hotly contested primary by a landslide against another lawyer, or a choice of someone who has no legal training or experience at all. 4D states that the clerk of courts isn’t saving lives like doctors, and that the job isn’t like rocket science. So the argument has transformed into why someone doesn’t need to have any adequate experience for the job, and they can be trained on the job. The impact and role of a knowledgeable clerk of courts on litigants and the community should not be diminished the way it is happening prior to this election in order to carve out a strategy for a professionally unqualified candidate. I’m not sure why anyone on the island would choose someone who has no legal experience over a highly experienced attorney who has a perfect temperament to perform this job. These arguments that you don’t have to be a lawyer have only arisen because Anthony Piland, who is a physicians assistant at the hospital, wants this job and he is not reconciling with his obvious lack of qualifications or experience. I believe that the people of the island will vote wisely, just as they did in the primary election in September. If Mr. Piland is interested in working in the court system, perhaps he could apply for a more appropriate job within the court and work his way up to one of the top, most important positions in that court after gaining some relevant experience. The Massachusetts Court Management Advisory Board recommends that all clerks of court in Massachusetts are lawyers, and they have made that recommendation for good reason.

  • There is absolutely no question that George Davis is the most qualified, dare I say the “only qualified?” candidate for this important position. While I get that George’s opponent works at the
    MV Hospital, would any of us allow him to perform surgery on us or a loved one? I didn’t think so.
    Case closed.
    Sincerely,
    Francis A. Ford
    Former Clerk of Courts for Worcester County
    Edgartown, MA

    • @ 4D: I’m still waiting for you to answer my earlier question about the last time you saw a judge who hadn’t been a lawyer first. You seem to think anyone and everyone is qualified for these important jobs, and now you’re arguing with a former Clerk of Courts about the qualifications for the job he actually held. What am I missing here?

    • You are failing to distinguish between a practical requirement, and a legal one. Those are very different things.

      For example, there is no legal requirement that an appointed judge has a law degree or any experience. In theory you could appoint a random person to a lifetime judgeship, or even onto the USSC. But practically that is not usually a wise idea, for reasons which should be obvious.

      This is a similar case. I have no doubt that both candidates are smart and competent. And because the requirements are so loose, it is clear that they both meet the *legal* requirements to be Clerk of Courts.

      But as a PRACTICAL matter, the Clerk of Courts position requires the constant application of judgment and expertise to handle interactions with attorneys, judges, and the public. As a PRACTICAL matter, that expertise is required from Day 1. As a PRACTICAL matter, that expertise involves high-level familiarity with statutes, caselaw, and legal practice.

      Therefore, as a PRACTICAL matter, only George Davis has the education and experience to provide the services which are needed.

  • Robin Canha – your last sentence says that Massachusetts Recommends it not demands it. So I’m unclear as to why you feel so strongly about it?

  • 4D, no further comments to you are warranted. The case has been made. I’m not interested in the least in engaging with you any further.

  • Last chance MV to think for yourself. I am not advocating one person over another. What I am saying is you don’t need to be a lawyer to have experience in deciding what is the right thing to do. The arguments that “only a lawyer or only a politician or only etc…” has the ability to do the right things and then dismiss someone who doesn’t have a diploma on the wall is a definition of doing the same thing and expecting different results.

    • You don’t have to be a doctor to have the ability to do the right things, but I want doctors and nurses performing my surgery, and not well meaning amateurs, but that’s just me.

  • I find it unfortunate that a candidate could be hiding behind a fictitious name in these posts. Even if one wants to make an argument that one doesn’t have to be a lawyer to be a clerk of courts, the Massachusetts Court Management Advisory Board recommends that the clerk of courts be a lawyer. The only reason that the clerk of courts position description does not state it must be a lawyer is because it would require a change to the Massachusett constitution. The Massachusetts State Legislature has made it law that the first assistant clerk in the courts must be a lawyer. The first assistant clerk works under the clerk of courts. It stands to reason that the clerk of courts that supervises the first clerk should also be a lawyer so that the first clerk under the clerk of courts is not more knowledgable with respect to the law than the clerk. Think of all the people in the courthouse who have worked there for years who did not apply for this job because they had the good sense to know that they were not qualified. There are two candidates running, and while one is focusing his campaign on the theme is that you don’t have to be a lawyer to do this job, the other candidate is supremely more qualified to step into this role of clerk of courrs, and that is indisputable. It may be time for the Commonwealth to tackle this glitch in the system and make the change to the constitution so that the qualify of the clerk of courts position is not at risk like this. Hopefully what is going on here for the Duke’s Country Clerk of Courts position will be the final motivator to take action to amend the Massachusetts Constitution in order to protect the professional quality of incoming clerks of courts.

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