BOSTON – As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney issued no pardons, limited lobbying by would-be judges and sought to create a judicial nominating process based solely on merit.
Despite his best efforts, the Republican presidential hopeful finds himself enmeshed in just the kind of "law and order" controversy he had hoped to avoid. A judge he appointed in 2006 freed a convicted killer who is now charged with murdering a newlywed couple last week.
Romney has defended his decision to appoint Kathe Tuttman to the Superior Court while calling on her to step down, saying she showed poor judgment in freeing Daniel Tavares Jr.
A major rival, Rudy Giuliani, is using the Tavares case to argue that Romney not only showed poor judgment himself in nominating Tuttman but is soft on crime.
"He had an increase in murder and violent crime while he was governor," Giuliani said. "So it's not so much the isolated situation which he and the judge will have to explain."
THE FACT CHECK:
When Romney took office he made a series of decisions — some public, some private — to reform a judicial nominating process that critics said was rife with cronyism, while insulating himself from charges of being soft on crime.
He tightened rules for political donations and put limits on personal lobbying efforts for those hoping to be named judges.
He also created a 21-member Judicial Nominating Committee and established a "blind" review process during which the names of candidates would be removed from their applications.
But two years into his term, Romney found himself under fire for not nominating enough women and minorities to the bench. Of the 19 nominations made by Romney by early 2005, 17 were men and only two were minorities.
Romney blamed his own nomination commission for taking too long to recommend candidates.
The friction between Romney and the commission intensified that year after he sidestepped a key provision of one of his own executive orders when trying to fill a juvenile court vacancy.
The provision would have required the candidate to have been approved by the Judicial Nominating Commission during the prior 18 months. The nomination was later withdrawn.
In his last year, Romney nominated four women to the bench, including Tuttman, saying they had "the capability, the qualifications and the experience to be fair and balanced jurists."
The administration noted the four would bring to 36 the percentage of women Romney nominated to judicial office.
Privately, Romney also had decided to issue no pardons or commutations as governor. Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said Romney didn't want to overturn the decision of juries.
One of those denied a pardon was Anthony Circosta, a decorated Iraq war veteran who pleaded guilty at 13 to shooting another boy in the arm with a BB gun. Circosta, who needs a gun license to become a police officer, was twice recommended for a pardon by the state Board of Pardons. He was twice denied one by Romney.
Two decades early the presidential hopes of another Massachusetts governor, Democrat Michael Dukakis, were scuttled in part over the case of Willie Horton, a felon serving a life term for murder who raped a woman after escaping from a weekend furlough program.
While the Horton incident looms large, the case is very different.
While Dukakis oversaw the state Department of Correction, which ran the furlough program, Romney only appointed Tuttman as judge and had no role in her decision to free Tavares.
"The governor does not have any authority over judicial appointments after they are made," said Daniel Winslow, a former judge and Romney's legal counsel for his first two years.
As to Giuliani's claim that Romney "had an increase in murder and violent crime while he was governor" — statistics compiled by the FBI paint a more complex picture.
While the number of murders in Massachusetts climbed from 142 in 2003, Romney's first year in office, to 186 in 2006, his last — an increase of 31 percent — overall violent crime dropped nearly 5 percent during Romney's tenure.
Much of that decline is based on a drop in aggravated assault, which fell 7 percent. Rapes also fell 3 percent. Robberies rose less than 1 percent.