Vineyard judge faces calls for removal

Dozens of parents from Dukes and Norfolk counties allege harmful rulings.

Gov. Deval Patrick swears in Patricia Gorman as an associate justice of the Middlesex Probate and Family Court in 2011. —

Thirty-four people have submitted petitions to state lawmakers seeking the removal of First Justice Patricia A. Gorman, a probate and family court judge who presides on Martha’s Vineyard, alleging she has put children at risk in several custody disputes. 

A Boston lawyer who signed one of the petitions told a legislative committee hearing in October that Judge Gorman “knowingly issues rulings that enable the physical and sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults.”

The calls were amplified on social media. Some 320 people have signed an online petition calling for Judge Gorman’s removal, alleging that she “has placed hundreds of children and disabled adults back into harmful and life-threatening situations with their documented abusers.”

Judge Gorman presides over cases in Dukes County Probate and Family Court, at the top of Main Street in Edgartown, handling disputes over divorce, paternity, child support, custody, and parenting time. 

She shares the caseload with another judge, First Justice Susan Jacobs, and the court sometimes hosts visiting judges, according to the Dukes County court clerk. Judge Gorman also sits in Norfolk County Probate and Family Court in Canton, about 15 miles southwest of Boston.

Erika Gully-Santiago, a deputy public information officer for the Massachusetts court system, told The Times that Judge Gorman would not comment about the calls for her removal. 

Divorce cases are often highly fraught proceedings, with children, homes, and bank accounts at stake. Child custody battles can be especially stressful, and legislators frequently hear complaints about family judges. 

Removing judges is extremely rare. Since 2018, two state judges retired after the Supreme Judicial Court suspended them indefinitely without pay, state records show. Another judge was “publicly reprimanded” for political posts on his social media account.

Two members of the legislature, Rep. Dylan Fernandes of Falmouth, and Rep. Jay Livingstone of Boston, filed bills on Jan. 19 and 20 last year to remove Judge Gorman. 

But the bills are effectively dead. Neither will face a vote this legislative session, which runs until the end of this year, and thus would need to be resubmitted next year for possible action.

The bills, one for Dukes County and the other for Norfolk County, were filed by request, which means the two lawmakers didn’t sponsor them, but filed them on behalf of the 34 people who signed petitions. 

Fernandes acknowledged that his bill was unusual.

“It’s the only by-request bill that I can recall filing on behalf of a constituent on the subject,” he told The Times. “It’s likely that there have been others filed through the years by other reps, but it’s not something you see a lot of.”

Livingstone declined comment. 

There are three ways to remove a state court judge: by the Commission on Judicial Conduct (CJC), a state agency that investigates allegations of judicial misconduct; by the governor, with consent of the Governor’s Council, an advisory group; or by impeachment and subsequent conviction by the state legislature. 

The nine-member Commission on Judicial Conduct doesn’t have the authority to remove a judge on its own. It investigates complaints of judicial misconduct, and makes recommendations to the Supreme Judicial Court. 

In 2022, the last year for which data are available, the commission investigated 51 out of 757 complaints it received, according to its annual report. A third of the complaints investigated were against judges in probate and family court, an unusually high percentage. Only 12 percent of the state’s 411 judges are in probate and family courts. 

Two-thirds of the 51 complaints alleged inappropriate demeanor. Half alleged denial of full opportunity to be heard. Some 29 percent alleged bias or prejudice, and 8 percent alleged failure to follow law, or incompetence. 

None of the complaints filed in 2022 resulted in any kind of discipline. 

In this case, Bill H.1484 asks “the Governor (with the consent of the council) to remove Justice Patricia A. Gorman” from the Dukes County Probate and Family Court. 

Bill H.1652 requests “the Governor to remove First Justice Patricia A. Gorman” from the Norfolk County Probate and Family Court, and also asks that “both houses of the legislature hereby request the governor to remove” her under Article I of the state Constitution.

Under that article, judicial officers can be removed by the governor “upon the address of both houses of the legislature” if no longer acting in “good behavior.” 

Both houses of the legislature referred the bills to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary on Feb. 16, 2023, and committee chairs Rep. Michael Day of Stoneham and Winchester and Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Middlesex and Worcester held a 32-minute hearing at the State House in Boston on Oct. 3. 

Eight women testified against Judge Gorman. They asked the committee to vote to pass the bills to the full legislature. No one testified on the judge’s behalf. 

“Reports from approximately 100 Judge Gorman victims and survivors, including myself, indicate that Judge Gorman knowingly issues rulings that enable the physical and sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults, berates domestic violence victims and their families, blatantly disregards mandated reporter concerns, and predetermines what evidence she allows with comments that have chilling effects on the right to be heard, such as, ‘You’re going to lose, I’ve already made up my mind,’ usually against the women or the protective parent,” Paola Rossetti, a Boston attorney one of whose family members had a case in front of Judge Gorman, testified. 

Other speakers alleged that Judge Gorman at times had disregarded records from the state Department of Children and Families (DCF), police reports, pictures of abuse, text messages, court-appointed monitors’ reports, and visitation center records. 

After a hearing, the joint committee can pass the bill to the full legislature with a recommendation, or the proposed measure can be sent out to further study. Most bills sent to study never go anywhere. 

Both bills on Judge Gorman were sent out to study. 

“Judges start from the premise that parents should have ongoing relationships with their children at the time of separation, and judges will find a way to make that happen, either by keeping the status quo in place, or [will] develop a plan that will least disrupt the children’s lives,” said Maritza Karmely, a Boston attorney who teaches family law and trial advocacy at Suffolk University Law School. 

The exception, under Massachusetts law, is in cases of child abuse. The law allows a presumption that custody should be denied if there’s a documented history or incident of abuse. 

The judge makes the decision based on evidence given in court, or in meetings in chambers.

A reporter from The Times interviewed two of the petitioners who support the removal of Judge Gorman.

Former Islander Debra Metell, who had her divorce and custody trial come to an end a few months ago after years in family court, alleged that Judge Gorman put her children in unsafe situations.

Judge Gorman allowed Metell’s ex-husband supervised visits with their two children with a supervisor approved by the court and both parents, according to court transcripts, and after one of those visits, Metell complained to police that both kids suffered abuse.

A social worker from the state Department of Children and Families told a court hearing on Dec. 28, 2021, that the abuse took place, and said that the children’s “immediate safety was believed to be in danger by visiting with [the father],” court transcripts show. 

Judge Gorman allowed the children to continue to visit with their father at a court-approved visitation center, according to court records.

“I have no worries about anything happening with them, and I have no worries about any allegations made about [the] father’s contact. So what I’m saying is get those visits started now,” Judge Gorman said in the hearing, according to court reports.

Metell filed a complaint against Judge Gorman with the Commission on Judicial Conduct after the 2021 court hearing, alleging that she engaged in judicial misconduct. 

The commission dismissed her complaint on Sept. 22, 2022, but Judge Gorman recused herself from Metell’s case two months later without explanation. Judge John Casey, chief justice of the Probate and Family Court in Massachusetts, then took over the case. 

In February this year, he granted Metell full legal custody of her two children. She has primary physical custody, and the father has parenting time Monday afternoons and Sundays during the day, court records show.

Police were never able to prove child abuse. In an email to Metell on Jan. 30, 2024, Oak Bluffs Police Detective Jillian Sedlier-Clarke said, “There is reason to believe that something happened, just not enough evidence to prosecute anyone at this time.”

In Norfolk County, Shannon Barnes of Canton, who represented herself, has fought for full custody of her daughter for more than 10 years. 

In January 2018, a different family court judge granted Barnes permanent full custody, saying that any visitation by the father would be at Barnes’s discretion, court records show.

Several months later, Barnes’s ex-husband asked the court for increased parenting time. By then, Judge Gorman had taken over the case. 

Despite the previous judge’s ruling, she issued an order allowing the ex-husband supervised visits in a court-approved visitation center, or with a court-approved monitor not at a center, according to Norfolk County court records. 

Her final ruling, issued Sept. 9, 2019, granted the girl’s father unsupervised visits, which started for a few hours a day and gradually became overnight. After the sixth week, the father was granted unsupervised overnight parenting time every Saturday night, according to court documents.

After one such visit in December 2019, Barnes reported to the police in Quincy that her daughter, 9 years old at the time, had been abused. The father was subsequently charged with two counts of indecent assault and battery of a minor, a felony crime. He pleaded not guilty. 

Barnes then filed a motion asking Judge Gorman to terminate the father’s rights of visitation. But the judge was not sympathetic at a court hearing, she said. 

“She ignored everything,” Barnes said. “The tears were just coming down, coming down. She wouldn’t even let me speak.”

Judge Gorman allowed a temporary restraining order against the girl’s father for six months, pending results of the criminal trial.

Barnes appeared before Judge Gorman again in February to argue for a permanent restraining order against the father, regardless of the criminal trial outcome. 

“I was really trying to be heard, and I had [a] paper typed up to read to her that I had prepared for months … and she just would not hear,” said Barnes. “She got angry at me, she started raising her voice, just from me trying to be heard.”

Judge Gorman extended the restraining order against the husband for six months. On Feb. 22, a Quincy District Court jury found him not guilty of all charges, according to court records.

A month later, Barnes filed a motion for Judge Gorman to recuse herself from the case. 

“EVERYTHING has been ignored for over four years pending his criminal trial, and even before that, many important factors that should have been used in determining custody and visitation from 2015-2019 was completely dismissed in making the final judgment,” Barnes said in a sworn affidavit. 

Judge Gorman will continue to hear the case in September.

Judge Gorman received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, in 1990, and her law degree from Boston College Law School in 1994. She practiced family law in Canton for 16 years at Gorman and Greenburg, a small law firm she co-founded. 

In 2011, Gov. Patrick Deval appointed her associate justice of the Middlesex County Probate and Family Court to fill a vacancy. She was later named first justice in the Norfolk County Probate and Family Court, and is the administrative head of the court. She also hears cases at the probate and family court in Dukes County.

She is a former president of the Massachusetts Association of Women Lawyers, the first women’s bar association in the country.


Note to readers

The MV Times will follow any developments in the requests for Judge Gorman’s removal. Our news team would like to hear from Island residents who have appeared before the judge for any insights they are willing to provide. Please contact


  1. Hmmm– nothing here to indicate party affiliation.
    I know that bothers some people.

  2. Why is it that in family court matters, the parent advocating for the safety of a child is the one most likely to be rejected – in every state or jurisdiction in the country? Why is it that the officials persistently advance the interest and pleasure of adults over children? Why is it that the adults are the ones who don’t have to prove anything – it’s the children who have to,prove they are harmed.

    • It’s a sad country we live in. My daughter and my abuser has more rights than we do. Even the criminal case was more for him to protect his rights than my daughters. So many things couldn’t even be brought in as evidence. It’s shameful. As a victim of this Justice it has been made very clear that she hates victims and praises abusers.

    • Family court is a corrupt industry not a place where families needs are considered. Judge Gorman is not unique.

      The US sits alone as a country that prioritizes parental rights over the safety and well being of child and spouse. UN is following.

      Fathers rights movement has turned family court into a theatre/circus. The consequences will impact future generations, increasing likelihood of generational violence, increased dependence and taxing of state agencies.

      Follow the $$$.

  3. The US is alone in prioritizing parental rights over the safety of a child or spouse. The UN has convened a number of times, produced studies and working groups, the US stands at the murky bottom. Like most unimaginable truths, the root cause is the priority placed on the US dollar. Where there is $$ there is power.

    The CJC in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ignores legitimate violations of judicial cannon. Unless a judge commits a crime outside the courtroom, there is no accountability on their behavior. There are no psychological requirements, no reviews of their work, and no performance evaluations for judges for sitting on the bench.

    The impact of ‘judicial discretion’ on generational violence, our collective public health, our public safety and the impact on additional state and federal agencies from transitional assistance, to legal assistance/first responders, to food stamps, financial supports are egregious.

  4. One of the many mistakes Deval Patrick made while he was in office and this woman could stay there until she’s 70 years old. This is what liberal judges do try having someone evicted from your house who stopped paying rent months ago and if you forcefully try to make them leave, you’re the one that’s in trouble.

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