Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants made special remarks prior to oral arguments on February 14 recognizing retiring Supreme Judicial Court Justice Margot Botsford.
Remarks by Chief Justice Gants Recognizing Justice Botsford
Seven Justice Courtroom
John Adams Courthouse
February 14, 2017
What can I say upon the retirement from the bench of a Justice who has been my mentor and my good friend since my second day as a Judge on the Superior Court more than nineteen years ago; who is as fine a writer and thinker as has ever served on this Court; who has been the most thoughtful editor of her fellow Justices' opinions; who in her gentle way has influenced nearly every corner of the Judiciary, and who hates to be the center of attention? Losing Justice Botsford is like a basketball team losing a player who scored thirty points and twelve assists per game. She scored points by taking on the most challenging cases, but it is her assists that will be the hardest to replace.
I am not the only Justice whom she has mentored. In the Spring of last year, when I learned that this Court was going to lose not only Justice Spina, but also Justices Cordy and Duffly, I begged Justice Botsford not to retire at the end of the Court year as she had intended. I knew how important her example, her guidance, her humor, and her wisdom would be to the three new Justices. Although I was prepared to cry real tears, I did not need to. Justice Botsford stepped up to help with this challenge as she has helped with so many challenges facing the Judiciary in her 26 years on the bench. Not only did she stay, and serve as a mentor for her suite mate, Justice Budd, but she took the lead in creating the first ever education program for new SJC Justices, a sixteen-hour course taught in eight sessions, which we will have the opportunity to offer again in September for our newest two Justices.
Equally importantly, she exemplifies the culture of this Court -- a Court that is rigorous but respectful, that focuses on the big picture but also on the precise choice of words, a Court where the Justices listen to each other and work collectively to craft opinions that attempt to solve challenging legal and practical problems. I think our three newest Justices will agree that their success in these past few months owes a great deal to her presence.
Her role as an educator and mentor has not been limited to helping SJC Justices. Former Superior Court Chief Justice Barbara Rouse told me, "It was a testament to her generous nature and collegial manner that almost every Superior Court Judge thought of Judge Botsford as his or her mentor." As the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Flaschner Judicial Institute, she was instrumental in the creation of many judicial training programs, including the all-court implicit bias program last year. She has been a leader in the creation of the Trial Court J to J Mentoring Program that the Dean of the National Judicial College told me last week was in his estimation the gold standard for judicial mentoring in this country.
The Botsford law clerks speak of her with pride, reverence, and a smile. Among Justice Botsford's many talents is the ability to read and write letters, words, and numbers backward. One of her law clerks gave her a clock with backward numbers as a farewell gift, which graces her lobby. I am told law students interviewing for a law clerk job are required to read that clock, no doubt as a test of whether they will know the law backwards and forward. Her work ethic and perseverance are legion. One law clerk recalls that when Justice Botsford was sitting with her reviewing edits to a draft opinion, the Justice suffered a nose bleed, but that did not stop her from finishing her edits.
Her work in education was not limited to the mentoring of Justices, Trial Court Judges, and law clerks. As a Superior Court Judge, in the case of Hancock v. Commissioner of Education, Justice Botsford concluded in a 318-page decision that students in four school districts -- Brockton, Lowell, Springfield, and Winchendon -- were not receiving the level of education that the Commonwealth has a Constitutional duty to provide. Chief Justice Margaret Marshall described Justice Botsford's findings of fact as "a model of precision, comprehensiveness, and meticulous attention to detail . . . [that] will stand as a compelling, instructive account of the current state of public education in Massachusetts." Although the SJC declined to adopt her conclusion that the Commonwealth had failed to meet its constitutional obligation, there can be little doubt that her critique of public education helped to prod the Commonwealth to improve the quality of education for every child in this Commonwealth.
In view of all that she has accomplished in education, it is more than a little ironic that Justice Botsford abandoned her plans to become a teacher following her graduation from Barnard College after only six weeks at the Harvard School of Education. Instead, she went on to obtain a law degree at her beloved Northeastern University School of Law. Upon her graduation, she served as a law clerk to SJC Justice Francis Quirico, whom she describes as "one of the most patient, humble people I've ever known." After having a "cup of coffee" at the law firm of Hill and Barlow, she was hired by Attorney General Francis Bellotti to join his Government Bureau, the training ground of so many great lawyers and judges. It was there she became reacquainted with Steve Rosenfeld, who later became her partner at a small private law firm and her partner in life. She soon returned to the public sector as an Assistant District Attorney in the Middlesex DA's Office under the leadership of Scott Harshbarger, yet another great training ground. After sixteen years as an attorney in public and private practice, she was appointed in 1989 by Governor Michael Dukakis to the Superior Court, where she served until Governor Deval Patrick appointed her to the SJC in 2007. Chief Justice Rouse said of Justice Botsford, "If I had ever been given the opportunity as Chief Justice to send to Central Casting for an ideal Superior Court Judge, Margot Botsford would have gotten the nod. A Judge's Judge, a lawyer's Judge, and a litigant's Judge all rolled into one."
I am slowly moving through the five stages of grief at her departure from this Court, and I know that everyone at the Court shares that grief. I take solace in knowing that there will be yet another chapter in her life in the law and that she will continue to be a mentor, an educator, and a wise advocate.
I will end with the description of Justice Botsford given by her long-time assistant, friend, and confidante, Joyce Hurley, who wrote, "Her consideration, her caring, her interest in others, her humanity knows no bounds." Justice Botsford, in case you cannot tell, I, along with the Justices and everyone in our Supreme Judicial Court family, will miss you dearly.
Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants made special remarks prior to oral arguments on May 2, May 3 and May 5, recognizing retiring Supreme Judicial Court Justices Francis X. Spina, Robert J. Cordy, and Fernande R.V. Duffly.
Remarks by Chief Justice Gants Recognizing Justice Spina
Seven Justice Courtroom
John Adams Courthouse
May 2, 2016
Former Chief Justice Edward Hennessey defined judicial temperament in the following way: "Perfection, if the judge seeks it, requires knowledge of the law and faithful application of the law; diligence and efficiency; unfailing courtesy without sacrifice of firmness and decisiveness; evenhandedness, while retaining a jealous regard for the individuality of every person; restraint, eternal restraint, particularly as to both the quality and quantity of speech; courage and strength in the face of criticism. Above all, integrity in all of its nuances." Although his tenure on the court did not overlap with yours, Chief Justice Hennessey's definition could have been written with you in mind.
You chose to serve the public during much of your distinguished legal career through your work at Western Massachusetts Legal Services, at the Berkshire County District Attorney's Office, and on behalf of a multitude of pro bono clients. Beginning in 1993, the judiciary was the beneficiary of your considerable talents. You served with great distinction on the Superior Court for four years, on the Appeals Court for two years, and on the Supreme Judicial Court for the past 17 years. Each and every day, you have faithfully pursued and advanced the best ideals of the law and the legal profession. You have done so in the most humble fashion. You are always the first to give credit to others, and the last to claim credit.
You personify the ideal of “judicial excellence” espoused by Chief Justice Hennessey. You treat everyone with respect and consideration. Your opinions are models of clarity, no matter how complex the issues and how confusing the facts. You never forget that judicial opinions must be understood by the parties and the public -- and that our opinions must provide guidance to the trial judges who implement our rulings. Your careful craftsmanship is evident in all of your decisions, large and small.
To date, you have written 409 majority opinions for this Court, as well as 36 thoughtful and important concurring and dissenting opinions. You are the author of leading cases in dozens of diverse subjects. The range of your talents is demonstrated by your ability in recent court years to decipher the property division of Native American land on Martha's Vineyard in the 19th century, and to craft a just resolution for thousands of criminal defendants who have been affected by the misconduct of a chemist employed at the Hinton Drug Laboratory.
You have been the unsung hero in enabling this Court to fulfill its many and often daunting responsibilities. As I have said before, the Justices of this Court call you 'Saint Francis' for good reason. When an especially difficult opinion needs to be written, or a delicate administrative matter needs to be addressed, you always volunteer and then thoughtfully resolve the matter with ease and grace. You have also taken the lead in many of the non-glamorous but essential operational functions of the Court. Issues regarding information technology, case metrics, personnel, and the Thorndike library may not be the stuff of press releases, but you recognize that their successful resolution is necessary to a smoothly functioning court, and have willingly given them your time and careful attention.
You have worked tirelessly to improve the profession. When you say, “I love being a lawyer,” you mean it, and you want others to have the opportunity to mean it. You have been a superb ambassador from the bench to the bar. You have worked with bar associations, the Board of Bar Examiners, the Board of Bar Overseers, the Office of Bar Counsel, law schools, and countless court committees to underscore the importance of ethical lawyering and of public service. Through your longtime leadership of the Court’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services, you have underscored the obligation of lawyers to make life better for those who struggle in poverty or near-poverty.
You are a trusted advisor and mentor to court staff and to those lawyers fortunate enough to have clerked for you. During your tenure at the Appeals Court and the SJC, you have had 22 law clerks, including one who has had the privilege of working with you for 15 memorable years. They will be forever grateful to you for being given the opportunity to be a member of Team Spina. Looking back, your law clerks report that they will remember not only your great judgment and your common sense approach to resolving innumerable thorny problems and tricky issues, but also your hearty laughter, your keen interest in their lives, and your unflagging enthusiasm for all things Berkshires-related. You often told your law clerks that you wanted them to "find their own voice." This advice, coupled with countless other words of wisdom and guidance, has been instrumental in their development as lawyers and public citizens.
Many here may not realize that you majored in music at Amherst College, although perhaps if we read out loud your opinions with that in mind, we would have seen it. I am thrilled that in retirement you will return to the keyboard of your piano, and continue to be a source of harmony in the lives of others.
I would like to close with the words of the person at the SJC who perhaps knows you better than anyone here, having served as your devoted assistant since your first day at the Court. Joyce Hurley writes, "Justice Spina has worked at the Court for nearly 17 years, but that is not what makes this man. His heart does . . . . He is a giving man without limit . . . . Whenever his name is mentioned, a smile appears on everyone's faces." One need only to look out at this audience to see the truth in Joyce's words.
Justice Spina, you are a wonderful colleague and friend, and truly the heart and soul of this Court. We will miss you dearly.
Remarks by Chief Justice Gants Recognizing Justice Cordy
Seven Justice Courtroom
John Adams Courthouse
May 3, 2016
What do you say about a Renaissance man who was born hundreds of years after the Renaissance? You met your wife, Peggy, on the rugby field. You began your legal career representing criminal defendants as a member of what was then called the Massachusetts Public Defenders Office. You then put on your eye shades and prosecuted tax cheaters for the Department of Revenue. You moved on to prosecute those engaged in public corruption, first as Associate General Counsel for the then-nascent State Ethics Commission, and then as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, eventually replacing Mark Wolf (later Judge Wolf) as chief of the public corruption unit. You were a partner in two prominent Boston law firms, Burns and Levinson and McDermott, Will & Emery, both of which, miracle of miracles, still exist despite your departure. Between these two law firm stints, you served as legal counsel and trusted advisor to Governor William Weld. You somehow still found the time to be an adjunct professor of law, teaching first at Harvard Law School, where you received your law degree, and later at the New England School of Law, where you received an honorary degree. And I have yet to mention your extraordinary fifteen-year career as a Justice of this Court. (I promised myself that I would forebear from mentioning that you were a starting offensive guard for the undefeated Dartmouth College football team in 1970 that not only won the Ivy League championship and the Lambert Trophy but was ranked fourteenth in the country in Division 1, and the record shall reflect that I adhered to that promise.)
In your "day job" of serving as a Justice of this Court, you write with elegance and clarity. You are both a great generalist and an expert in many subjects; from complex business disputes to cutting edge topics in criminal law and procedure, you possess a command of -- and passion for -- the intricacies of the law. And every now and then, an opinion has permitted you to articulate the importance of an independent judiciary. For example, in a case establishing a judicial deliberative privilege, you relied on the words of John Adams, Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw, and others when you affirmed that judicial independence means freedom from every form of compulsion or pressure. Your sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the separation of powers and of checks and balances has helped us to work effectively and cooperatively with the executive and legislative branches of government.
Your work ethic can be described in two words: apparently indefatigable. As a new Justice, I had the privilege of sitting next to Justice Cordy on the bench (and I still have that privilege today). I cannot express my feelings of inadequacy to glance over (then to my right) and see that Justice Cordy, with his illegible scrawl, had jotted notes not only on all the briefs, but he had copies of the key cases that were cited, and they, too, contained his scrawled notes.
We are fortunate that you served as a Justice on this Court during the four years when this historic building was being renovated, because you bear a large share of the credit for the success of that renovation. You manifest your love of this courthouse in all of the countless tours you have given to attentive audiences. Regardless of whether they are students from Massachusetts schools or dignitaries visiting from around the world, you explain with the same infectious enthusiasm the direct line that led from the Magna Carta in 1215 to the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, and articulate why the rule of law is the greatest protector of human freedom ever conceived.
You have served not only as a Justice of this Court but as an advocate of justice throughout the world. Through your work with the Judicial Advisory Board of the American Society of International Law, the United States State Department, and others, you have traveled far and wide to work with (and eat with) the judiciaries of many other nations who aspire to the rule of law and an independent judiciary. You have traveled to more countries than Marco Polo, and have justly developed an extraordinary international network of friends, colleagues, and admirers.
Closer to home, you have been a tireless advocate of increasing the public's understanding of the important work of the judicial branch of government through your longtime leadership of our Judiciary-Media Committee. As chair of our Rules Committee, you have overseen changes in rules, practice, and procedure both in the courts and in the legal and judicial profession. You have played a key role in administering the many institutional and management reforms that ushered the court system into the 21st century, and you will continue in that role after your retirement as chair of the search committee that will embark on the formidable task of finding a worthy successor to Harry Spence after he retires as Court Administrator in April 2017.
You are beloved by your colleagues, court staff, and your law clerks. It is a testament to your collaborative nature and mentorship that when asked to contribute to this dedication, current and former law clerks turned out in droves to share their cherished memories. They remarked that your steadfastly principled jurisprudence and your willingness to adapt your thinking as the case evolved are hallmarks of a superb justice. You leave a legacy of unwavering support of those around you, a genuine love of the law, and a grateful flock of Cordy Corner clerks spread around the Commonwealth and the country. They admire your energy and enthusiasm, are awed by your brilliance, appreciate your constant good humor and quick wit, and are delighted by the personal interest you take in everyone. You are unfailingly considerate, and are a wonderful mentor and role model.
We are so fortunate that you chose to spend fifteen years of your wonderfully varied and successful legal career here at the Supreme Judicial Court. As someone who has known you as a friend and colleague, and who has been blessed by your mentorship, since I first joined you in the U.S. Attorney's office in 1983, I am still in denial regarding your departure. Your dynamic presence on this Court will be sorely missed.
Remarks by Chief Justice Gants Recognizing Justice Duffly
Seven Justice Courtroom
John Adams Courthouse
May 5, 2016
At your swearing-in ceremony when you became a Justice of this Court, you treated us to an inspiring performance of the lion dance by the Gund Kwok Asian Women’s Dance Troupe. I am told that the lion dance brings good luck. For the SJC, it did; we have had the good fortune of benefitting from your talents for more than five years.
Your life in the law was informed by your unique life experience. Born in Indonesia to a Chinese mother and Dutch father, you and your family fled anti-Chinese discrimination when you were just one year old. You spent your early childhood years in the Netherlands, until your family immigrated to this country, sponsored by a church group. When you arrived in the United States at age six, you knew no English. A brilliant and fast learner, you quickly mastered English and excelled at your studies. You attended Harvard Law School, where you served as Executive Director of the Legal Aid Bureau. You were the first woman and the first person of color to become a partner at your law firm, then known as Warner and Stackpole. An accomplished trial lawyer, you worked equally hard on behalf of the firm's paying clients and its pro bono clients, and you strongly encouraged other lawyers to join you in doing pro bono work.
Your judicial career began when you were appointed to serve as a judge of the Probate and Family Court in 1992. After eight years as a trial judge, you were appointed to the Appeals Court in 2000 and, in 2011, to the SJC; you are the first Asian-American judge to serve on each appellate court. Indeed, when one reads the accolades you have received throughout your extraordinary career, one word stands out: trailblazer.
You have been a national leader in the legal profession and in the judiciary, working to achieve equal justice for all, and encouraging women and persons of color to make their mark in the law. You have given countless hours to the Women's Bar Association, the Asian American Lawyers Association of Massachusetts, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, and the American Bar Association. Your colleagues in the National Association of Women Judges quickly recognized you as a leader, and you served as the first Asian-American President of that association in 2007-2008. Just last year, the American Bar Association recognized your extraordinary achievements when it honored you with its prestigious Margaret Brent Award, which recognizes the accomplishments of women lawyers who excel in their field and pave the way to success for other women lawyers. I note that you are the second Justice of this Court to have received the Margaret Brent Award, and you are in very good company; Chief Justice Margaret Marshall was the first. I had the pleasure of being at your award ceremony in Chicago, and I can attest that pride and love for you just filled that room.
In bestowing its award, the ABA noted that your parents' experiences helped you to understand that what you achieve is made possible with the help and support of others, and that this is a debt that must be repaid. You have repaid it, with generous interest. You have worked with legislators and governors throughout the nation to place more women and persons of color on the bench. I am astonished by the number of judges and lawyers who consider you their mentor, and what they say about you should be an enduring source of pride. I will read only a sampling of what judges and attorneys in Massachusetts have said about Justice Duffly:
- Judge Gabrielle Wolohojian of our Appeals Court: "I want to grow up to be just like Nan: smart, chic, energetic, and kind -- a powerhouse."
- Judge Karyn Scheier of our Land Court: "Nan always makes time in her busy life to support her sisters in the law through quiet loving acts of kindness when they most need support."
- Attorney Karen Green: "Nan . . . has shown up, spoken up, looked up, teamed up, refused to give up, and lifted others up for years."
- Judge Mary Lou Muirhead of our Housing Court noted that the Book of Proverbs aptly describes Justice Duffly: "Who shall find a valiant woman? Who shall find a woman of strength? A pearl of great price is she. Her friends all have confidence in her and benefit from her wise counsel."
All of us on this Court try to be role models and mentors. But your success in that arena puts you in your own special class. Your law clerks and so many others all comment on your extraordinary willingness to listen with empathy and offer wise counsel about matters large and small, both personal and professional. They call you an "intuitive, patient, and intelligent teacher," a "fantastic personal mentor," and a "totally human jurist." You are committed to helping young lawyers succeed in their careers while being involved parents. As one remarked, "over the course of my clerkship, I witnessed numerous young women who knew Justice Duffly through former clerkships, law practice, or even just hearing her speak on a panel, stop by chambers to have coffee or lunch with Justice Duffly and to seek her advice." For many decades into the future, the courts and the legal profession will benefit from your commitment to nurture future leaders, especially women and persons of color.
Your colleagues on the SJC enthusiastically endorse these accolades. You are a most talented, generous and thoughtful jurist. As a Justice of this Court, you have written 109 majority opinions and five concurring and dissenting opinions. You treat every case as if it were the most important of your career; your clerks call it "total immersion," and admire your steadfast commitment to "getting it right." You focus always on the legal issue at hand, but also on the consequences of our law on the people affected, whether it be a noncitizen criminal defendant deciding whether to plead guilty, or the children suffering through their parents' divorce. You have made a mark in many areas of the law, but we have often relied on your expertise in probate and family law to guide our deliberations in that complex, specialized, and rapidly-changing area of the law. Indeed, there is a near-audible sigh of relief when the probate and family bench and bar see your name as the author of an appellate decision regarding family law.
You have also been a national leader in shaping standards of conduct to guide a 21st century judiciary. You believe that judges should be able to participate in appropriate community activities to advance public understanding of the judiciary, and to foster confidence in the administration of justice. You shared your vision of a modern judiciary with the American Bar Association, which incorporated it into its influential Model Code of Judicial Conduct. When this Court appointed a committee charged with crafting a new Code of Conduct for Massachusetts judges, you volunteered to serve as this Court's representative. Our 2016 Massachusetts Code of Judicial Conduct now embraces your recognition that the profession and the public benefit when judges are independent but not isolated.
I will end, as did your video at the Margaret Brent award ceremony, with the words of a woman named Kiong Tien Vandenberg, who, by a happy coincidence, is also your mother. She said, "Good for you and well done. It was what I expected." We expect, in fact we know, that we will miss your wisdom, your friendship, and your generosity of spirit. Thank you for your wonderful service to this Court, to the judiciary, to the bar, and to aspiring women and persons of color throughout this Commonwealth, this nation, and this world.