In honor of Veterans Day, this piece features just a few of the hundreds of Trial Court judges and employees who have proudly served in the armed forces. While space limits us from writing about all of you, we would like to thank you all for your service to the country and the courts.

You might be surprised to learn how many people working alongside you have served our country. Their careers in the military often bring them to their work in the courts.

“The court system and the military are similar in that they are both highly complex, hierarchical organizations.” observes Superior Court Judge Shannon Frison, who was drawn to serve in the military because it allowed her to pursue her legal career and be physically active. “Both the courts and the military can be quite insular. People on the outside often don’t understand the protocol or the formalities of how each system operates,” she says.

As a Major in the Marine Corps, Judge Frison served a four-year tour of duty as the Chief Trial Counsel and Chief Legal Assistance Officer at New River Air Station in North Carolina, an all-helicopter base. Her military career spanned eight years, and included tours as a Military Justice Officer for Marine Corps bases and stations at Okinawa, Japan; at Quantico, and the Naval Air Station at Pensacola.

Judge Frison with Secretary of the Navy Mabus
A Judge and a Major: Judge Shannon Frison with Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus at the Pentagon in 2014. Judge Frison was assigned to the Pentagon for two weeks at the Judge Advocate Division. Judge Frison notes that Secretary Mabus, also a native of Mississippi, has been instrumental in recruiting and retaining more women in the Navy and Marine Corps.

Veterans Court Program Director Edward Callahan is the third generation of his family to serve in the military. This Trial Court position was created in 2014 by statute. Mr. Callahan enlisted in the Army in 1999. He was deployed in November 2003 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. He spent 12 months in Tikrit and Mosul, operating on a mobile recovery team and as the communications non-commissioned officer (NCO) for his unit.

After leaving Iraq in 2005 as a Sergeant, Mr. Callahan went to law school. In 2012, he became the prosecutor for the state’s first Veterans Treatment Court in Norfolk County, working with Judge Mary Hogan Sullivan. First Lieutenant Callahan will report in January for five-month JAG (Judge Advocate General) basic officer training in North Carolina.

Probate and Family Court Judge George Phelan spent five years active duty and 24 years reserve duty. In 1990, he was deployed in the first Persian Gulf War as a Major in the Army’s JAG unit. In 2007, he returned to Iraq as a Colonel, serving with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division. His background as an attorney led him to focus on the rule of law pertaining to women’s rights and domestic violence, “to try to elevate women and give them an equal playing field,” he says.  

Judge Phelan at an Iraqi factory.
On a mission: Judge George Phelan in Iraq, 2008. Judge Phelan had just returned from doing quality control at one of his team's projects designed to give economic opportunities to Iraqi women. The project put 200 women to work in a factory manufacturing school uniforms for 190,000 children. The uniforms were distributed to over 480 schools in Baghdad.

Judge Phelan frequently sees litigants impacted by war in his courtroom, “When soldiers return home and struggle to be good fathers and good spouses. I know that maybe something happened to them that they couldn’t handle,” he says. “I remember being in a vehicle that blew up. If not for a few inches here or there, it could have been a catastrophic event for me.”

Boston Municipal Court Judge Franco Gobourne has thus far spent over 18 years in the military, and has been a Private, a Sergeant, and a Commissioned Officer. He feels that the service and motivation behind his military and judicial careers are very similar: “Both involve taking an oath to serve,” he says. “And both jobs inspire me to give back and serve the community and the country that has given me many blessings and many opportunities. It’s the same feeling being on the bench as being in the military -- to help the community as best we can, given our authority.”

Judge Gobourne signed up to be an infantry paratrooper in the Airborne 82nd immediately after graduating from high school in the late 1970s; he completed a four-year enlistment and was honorably discharged. Judge Gobourne enrolled in college, but after he depleted his veterans education benefits he had to postpone college, and enlisted with the Marine Corps. He served four more years active duty as an infantryman in the Marine Corps, where he participated in a deployment in response to the Beirut bombing of the Marine Corps Barracks.

In 2005, Judge Gobourne answered the call to serve again, and enlisted with the Massachusetts National Guard as a Military Police Officer. In 2007, he deployed to Iraq with his Guard unit, and was stationed outside of Bagdad. Today, Judge Gobourne continues to serve his country as a drilling JAG officer, and went to Afghanistan as a JAG in 2013. As a member of the Reserves, Judge Gobourne has conducted training at different bases around the country and the world, most recently instructing military police officers in Mexico.

BMC Central Judge Eleanor Sinnott presides over the veterans session at the Brooke Courthouse. A first generation Korean-American, Judge Sinnott is the first member of her family to join the military. “I enlisted because I wanted to serve and because I love this country and the freedoms that it gives us,” she says.

Judge Sinnott was a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. She received a Joint Commendation Medal for her work with Special Operations Command Korea. Prior to joining the bench, Judge Sinnott spent over 10 years in the Navy Reserves while working as the Chief Counsel for the Massachusetts State Police and at the Executive Office of Public Safety.

Judge Sinnott in uniform in Korea, 2001.
In uniform: Judge Eleanor Sinnott in 2001 at the Korean Special Operations Base in Korea.

Judge Sinnott credits her experience working with the joint command of Navy SEALS, Army Green Berets and Rangers with her appreciation of the talents and sacrifices of our military. This motivates her to continue helping veterans by coordinating services across multiple state agencies for the veterans she sees in the Boston Veterans Treatment Court, which she started in January 2013.  

After leaving the military and working in private practice, Judge Sinnott felt that becoming a judge would give her the best opportunities to make a difference in the public sector. Still, she says that being a judge is “The only job I’ve ever had where the longer I’m in it, the harder it gets. You start understanding more and more of the nuances – the decisions you make are very weighty.”

Margaret Oglesby, the Chief Probation Officer for Northampton Superior Court, served in the National Guard for 28 years, deployed as a Company Commander, and retired a Major in 2009. Awarded a Bronze Star for her service in Afghanistan, she has helped countless veterans over the years, first at the Springfield District Court and today in Northampton. She feels strongly that Trial Court judges and employees who are veterans can connect with court-involved veterans in unique ways.

Chief Probation Officer Margaret Oglesby at orphanage
Chief Probation Officer Margaret Oglesby in 2003 at an orphanage in Afghanistan. Major Oglesby frequently delivered school supplies and other donated necessities to three orphanages near Kabul during her time there as a Company Commander.

With less than one percent of Americans having served in the military, it’s common for veterans to feel that no one understands what they went through. “No one wants to talk about their experiences,” says Ms. Oglesby. During her time as a Probation Officer at the Springfield District Court, Ms. Oglesby recalls telling one veteran-probationer: “’What you’re thinking is: ‘I think I’m crazy – but if I tell anyone, they’ll know I’m crazy!’” She remembers the probationer “totally put his guard down and said, ‘How did you know that?!’ That’s when I told him that I had served, too.”

Challenges of coming back. “Coming back is more difficult than going there,” says Mr. Callahan. “No one who goes over comes back the same, in ways both good and bad.” He’s overcome his own reintegration issues, crediting support from his military family, and by staying in touch with his fellow soldiers.

Judge Phelan left Iraq on Christmas Eve 2009, and by mid-January was a new judge, sitting on the bench for the first time. As a member of the Reserves, and later aligned with a State Department mission, Judge Phelan was not part of a military unit, and therefore returned stateside alone. With no formal re-entry protocol in place, he remembers that it took some time to “slowly readjust” to civilian life. But the judge is quick to add that it’s easy for returning soldiers to become overwhelmed by what they saw and did while on active duty.

“Some people can compartmentalize their experiences, waiting for the memories to become less overwhelming, so they can process them later. It depends on the individual and their own life experience,” Judge Phelan says.  

“I went through the difficulties of transitioning home, especially after my first deployment to Iraq,” recalls Judge Gobourne, who has served multiple tours. “Coming back is always difficult, although coming home after my second deployment was easier, because I knew what to expect.”

Got your six. Ms. Oglesby has told court-involved veterans she works with that she’s “got their six” – military slang for “I’ve got your back.”

“As a soldier, you have to have somebody behind you that you trust,” she explains. “That concept does not leave your mind, even when you transition back to civilian life. It was significant for me to talk to other vets – so you feel what you went through was not in vain.”

For her part, Ms. Oglesby says the nine months she spent as a Major in Afghanistan changed her forever. She goes to church regularly, which she calls her form of therapy. She doesn’t watch war movies, having seen enough of the real thing firsthand. She vividly remembers the 2010 tornado that touched down near the Springfield District Court, comparing the storm’s aftermath to “the chaos of war.” And she is diligent about staying connected to other veterans in and outside of the court, serving on the Board of Trustees at the Soldiers Home in Holyoke.

Bridging the military-civilian divide. Veterans treatment court teams acknowledge each probationer's service and the discipline it took to serve in the military. “The camaraderie of the court really helps,” Judge Sinnott explains. “The sessions almost act like a unit – participants are very supportive of each other. They can all connect with each other because they’re familiar with the military and its culture.”

Mr. Callahan says the veterans treatment sessions mirror the structure of the military by giving probationers accountability and the cohesion of working in a unit. He also believes the sessions remind the probationers of what they accomplished while they were in the service, and what they are capable of achieving in the future.

“If the wound is not physical, it is psychological. Either way, we must take care of our veterans,” says Ms. Oglesby. “It’s not even an option – these people put their souls and lives on the line for our country. They are all precious to me.”

Are you a veteran? You can check and change your status in SSTA. Over 200 employees currently working for the courts have chosen to self-identify as having some veteran status, either on active duty or identified as veterans. Employees can check to see if their veteran status is indicated correctly by clicking on the “Personal Information Summary” link in Self Service Time and Attendance (SSTA). Contact your payroll clerk to correct your profile.    

Trial Court Veterans

Active Reserve 
   Justices of the Trial Court1
Active Reserve Total17
Desert Storm Veterans1
Disabled Veterans2
Inactive Reserves12
Other Protected Veterans90
Retired Military7
Vietnam Veteran & Vietnam-Era Veterans73

How you can help: Veterans Info and Resources e-Folder on Your Computer Desktop. With the right support services, the court system can be a venue for positive change in the lives of many veterans and their families. If you become aware that a court user or defendant has a history of military service, please be sure to notify the Probation Department in your court, so that they can be offered the appropriate assistance. 

As part of these ongoing efforts to help court-involved veterans, the Trial Court has installed a folder on every computer desktop filled with resources for Trial Court judges and staff. The folder, labeled "Materials on Veterans and the VALOR Act," is on your computer desktop. The folder contains videos and other materials designed to familiarize all Trial Court judges and employees with some of the issues facing veterans as they transition back into civilian society; particular legal remedies that may be available to veterans under the VALOR Act and other statutes; and some of the many resources available to help them.