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Charlotte Anne Perretta

Associate Justice memorial

89 Mass. App. Ct. 1139 (2016)

A special sitting of the Appeals Court was held at Boston on June 29, 2016, at which a Memorial to the late Justice Charlotte Anne Perretta was presented.

Present: Chief Justice Kafker; Justices Cypher, Green, Trainor, Katzmann, Vuono, Wolohojian, Hanlon, Carhart, Sullivan, Maldonado, Blake, Massing, Kinder, and Henry; Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Gants; Supreme Judicial Court Justices Spina, Cordy, Botsford, Duffly, Lenk, and Hines; retired Supreme Judicial Court Justice Judith A. Cowin; retired Appeals Court Chief Justices Christopher J. Armstrong and Phillip Rapoza; and retired Appeals Court Justices Rudolph Kass, Raya S. Dreben, George Jacobs, Elizabeth A. Porada, Mel L. Greenberg, Kenneth Laurence, R. Marc Kantrowitz, William I. Cowin, David A. Mills, R. Malcolm Graham, and Francis R. Fecteau.

Maura Healey, Attorney General, addressed the court as follows:

May it please the court, Maura Healey appearing for the Commonwealth. Chief Justice Kafker, Justice Cypher, Justice Vuono, it is truly an honor to appear before you today as we recognize and celebrate the distinguished legal career of your former colleague, Justice Charlotte Anne Perretta.  I know members of Justice Perretta's family are here with us today, including her brother Michael and sister-in-law Katherine.  It is an honor to be here among so many well-respected members of our legal community, law clerks, distinguished judges and members of the Appeals Court.

We have all come together to pay tribute to Justice Perretta, a dedicated jurist and a pioneer for women in the legal profession.  Justice Perretta's journey to the Appeals Court began in Hartford, Connecticut, where she was born in 1942.  She attended the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, New Jersey, and received her Bachelor of Arts in 1964.  She then attended and graduated from Suffolk University Law School in 1967.

In 1978, when the Legislature expanded the Appeals Court from six judges to ten, Governor Michael Dukakis appointed Justice Perretta, together with Justices John Greaney, Raya Dreben and Rudolph Kass, to fill the four new vacancies.  Justice Perretta took the oath of office on December 21, 1978, thus becoming the first female justice of this court, and only the second female appellate judge in Massachusetts.  She was joined only days later by Justice Raya Dreben, and together, these two blazed new trails and set the highest standard for excellence.  Justice Perretta was also the second youngest person to be appointed to the Appeals Court, at only 36 years old.

Over her 31 years on the Appeals Court, she worked with every other Justice -- all 54 of them -- who had served up until the time of her retirement in 2009.  She moved up the ranks of seniority from the most junior judge to senior associate justice in 2003, after Justice Fred Brown retired.  She held that position until her retirement on October 2, 2009.  During that time, she wrote almost 1,700 decisions:  576 published opinions and almost 1,100 summary dispositions.

Through her work and her many years of service, Justice Perretta earned the deep respect of her colleagues through her intellect, collegiality, work ethic, and wonderful sense of humor.  As her contemporary, Justice Rudolph Kass, recalled, Justice Perretta "was very good at her craft, and she was conscientious about it. She was smart, she was experienced, and she was funny . . . a pleasure to be with."

Her groundbreaking role made her an inspiration and role model for women in the legal profession.  She took time to encourage and advocate behind the scenes for younger female colleagues.  As former colleague and Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Barbara Lenk has said, "She wanted other women to succeed."

Justice Perretta had a noteworthy legal career prior to her appointment to the Appeals Court bench.  After graduation from law school, she joined the Massachusetts Defenders Committee -- the predecessor to the Committee for Public Counsel Services -- working on post-conviction matters.  In 1969, she joined the Boston law firm of Crane, Inker & Oteri, where she specialized in appellate work and argued numerous cases in the Supreme Judicial Court and the newly formed Appeals Court.  In 1975, she co-founded Keating, Perretta & Pierce, focusing on trial and appellate litigation.  She later practiced with Attorney Ronald Wysocki in Boston.

Throughout her career, Justice Perretta taught and mentored law school students, young lawyers, and newer judges.  She was also a member of the adjunct faculty at New England Law School for many years, where she taught trial practice.

The court will honor her by placing this portrait on the wall in this courtroom.  In the words of former Chief Justice Phillip Rapoza, "We should recall her for what she did with the opportunities that judicial service gave her.  In addition to being a role model for women in the legal profession, she was a brilliant legal scholar, a conscientious jurist, a mentor to new judges, and in every respect a caring colleague. She was a role model for us all."

Justice Perretta occupies a special place in the history of this court.  On behalf of the Commonwealth, I respectfully move that this memorial be spread on the records of the Appeals Court.

Brian G. Callahan, Esquire, addressed the court as follows:

Thank you and good morning Chief Justice, Justices of the Appeals Court, members of the judiciary, Attorney General Healy, fellow law clerks, Appeals Court staff, and Justice Perretta's family.  It is bittersweet to be here today in the Appeals Court, honoring the memory of Charlotte Anne Perretta.  We all remember Justice Perretta as a great appellate judge and trial attorney.  But more importantly, Charlotte Anne Perretta was a wonderful, wonderful human being.

As a trial lawyer and particularly as a judge, she was keen, even handed, pragmatic, and brilliant.  She cared deeply about the law and how it affected people.  People's rights were paramount, and Justice Perretta believed that she and the system had to get it right.  For many, the Appeals Court was the last stop, the last chance to get it right if somewhere along the line the system had, perhaps, gotten it wrong.  No matter the outcome, litigants and their counsel deserved respect from the bench and all those involved in the system.  Justice Perretta gave everyone the  benefit of the doubt, and everyone got a fair shot.

But make no mistake about it -- she knew when a lawyer was being disingenuous.  Years in the courtroom as a trial lawyer gave her a keen sense of knowing who had done their homework, and she did not "suffer fools lightly."

Justice Perretta gave away what she knew without a charge.  She was a sharer.  She was a teacher, whether it was at New England Law School or at one of the many trial seminars that she taught.  If you were her law clerk, you knew you were lucky.

At her core, Justice Perretta was a trial lawyer:  she loved the law, and was always full of practical advice.  Everyone was her student.  Although some of her students tried her patience . . . .

On one occasion, she assigned an appeal involving G. L. c. 265, the assault and battery statute, to a temporary law clerk.  The appellant was challenging the application of the assault and battery statute.  Justice Perretta thought the legal issue was very straightforward.  After a week or so, she asked the law clerk how the research was going, and the clerk indicated that he would have a draft memo "soon."  He just needed a chance to research the legislative intent.  Justice Perretta was incredulous:  "Do we really need to go to the State house to know that we can't hit people?"

Beyond her legal acumen, Justice Perretta was a wonderful person.  She was generous, kind, fun, funny, and loyal.  She shared her stories, her knowledge, and her opinions.  But she also shared her friends, and she was a good friend to many -- many who are here today.

Of the traits I loved the most about the judge was her wonderful sense of humor!  I think that's why she loved Peter Muse and Bev Shea McDonald so very much -- they matched her in wit and would have great laughs together.  She loved to laugh.  Sometimes she laughed from the bench, and sometimes the whole bench laughed with her!

I remember one particular case during oral argument.  A case arrived from west of Route 128.  It was about a "filly" (not the cheesesteak).  The plaintiff had loaned the defendant some money pursuant to a promissory note.  The defendant used some of the money to buy a mare.  Soon thereafter, the defendant defaulted on the note.  A year or two later, the mare had a filly.  The plaintiff then sued for the mare and the filly.  The lower court ruled that the plaintiff could recover the mare, but not the filly.  So the plaintiff filed an appeal in this august court.  At oral argument, Justice Perretta, in her calm manner, looked up from the plaintiff's brief and, with a straight face, said, "So let me get this straight:  if it were a chicken, you would want all the eggs?"

Justice Perretta loved life, loved the law, and loved to listen.  She counselled countless young lawyers, encouraged her law clerks to get "outside of themselves" but to stay together like a family, and showed us how to be a great lawyer and jurist purely by her graceful, witty example.

Fr. Michael Himes, in his "Last Lecture at Boston College," said, "I've come to think that if there is one single virtue, it's integrity.  By integrity, I don't simply mean honesty.  I mean the word literally.  It's the quality of being an integer, an entity.  It's what happens at your wake when your spouse talks with your pastor, who talks with your business partner, who speaks with your next-door neighbor, who talks with your children, who speaks with your doctor, and they all know that they knew the same person.  You weren't a series of masks worn for different relationships.  You were complete."

Charlotte Anne Perretta did not wear masks.  We all knew the same wonderful, generous, kind, funny, brilliant woman, and today we are grateful for her.

Judge Mary Elizabeth Heffernan addressed the court as follows:

Thank you so much, Chief Justice Kafker and the Justices of the Appeals Court, for organizing this wonderful memorial and portrait dedication.  My name is Mary Beth Heffernan, and I am the Presiding Justice in the Newton District Court as well as the Quincy Drug Court.

I would not be standing here addressing you if it were not for my parents -- my mother, Angela, is here with me -- former Senator Patricia McGovern, and Justice Charlotte Anne Perretta.  I am honored beyond words to offer some thoughts on behalf of my Justice Perretta law clerk colleagues.

Charlotte Anne Perretta was my friend.  She was a mentor to many; an amazing, talented jurist with an exceptionally keen legal mind; and loyal to a fault.  Above all, Justice Perretta was a truly genuine human being.

She exclusively hired law clerks from her alma mater, Suffolk University Law School (well, perhaps one or two outliers did sneak through!).

Justice Perretta was a true feminist, firm in her support for women yet not fierce.  A pioneering member of the Women's Bar Association, she was a staunch supporter of Appeals Court staffers (most of whom were women, including her beloved assistant and friend Beverly).  In fact, she refused to use the appellation of "Esquire" when referring to attorneys, because, back in the day, it was never allowed to apply to women.  She was also an exceptional teacher and for years team-taught trial practice and advocacy with her dear friend, retired Judge John Curran, at New England Law School.

She was very proud of her Italian-American heritage.  I remember the year that she was honored for her many accomplishments by the Justinian Society.  I accompanied her to the dinner, and at the conclusion of her remarks, she was presented with a beautiful bouquet of roses which she immediately clutched to her chest with her customary enthusiasm and delight.  Unfortunately, that is where the flowers remained, as she had to retreat from the stage, bowing and scraping, flowers adhered -- the roses had thorns which clung steadfastly to her lovely sequined dress and had to be removed with careful precision.

Justice Perretta was a delightful judge for whom to clerk.  We often repaired to the old Maison Robert for wine -- really good French wine -- after work when the legal issues required a more robust discussion.  She also would spontaneously suggest a trip out of the courthouse for ice cream or coffee.

Her writing was exquisite and thoughtful.  She was very talented at culling the essence of the parties' arguments, carefully applying the law in order to arrive at clear, crisp and cogent opinions.  I remember well the lobby strewn with her pages, handwritten, cut and scotch-taped for Beverly to type -- and this was well into the era of personal computers!

Justice Perretta cared deeply about the parties that appeared in front of her.  She always remained cognizant of the human beings that resided behind whatever complex and sometimes heartbreaking issue on which she was required to rule.  As an example, she volunteered to assist the court with its backlog of cases involving children and families who were involved with DSS (now DCF), and whose cases required meticulous attention to parental rights and attenuated concerns.

I was able to visit Charlotte as she was dying in the hospital.  She drifted in and out of consciousness; her loving brother Michael was very close by.  I did not know if she heard me, but I began talking with her as I held her hand.  I told her how much she meant to me and so many other women.  That she was a strong loyal thoughtful mentor to so many of us.  That she and Pat had helped shape me into the person that I was.  I kissed her forehead, and she opened her eyes.  With some effort, she raised her index finger, pointed to her heart once and then pointed at me several times.  That was Charlotte:  always taking none of the credit, always giving away the praise.  She was my friend.

I would like to read a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay in honor of Justice Perretta and this day.

Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, -- but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love, --
They are gone.  They are gone to feed the roses.  Elegant and curled
Is the blossom.  Fragrant is the blossom.  I know.  But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.

Thank you.

Justice Vuono, speaking for the court, responded as follows:

Chief Justice Kafker, thank you for inviting me to speak on behalf of the Appeals Court in response to Attorney General Healy's motion.  It is an honor to comment upon the life of such an extraordinary woman, and it was a privilege to know Justice Charlotte Anne Perretta as a colleague and a friend.

The purpose of this memorial and tribute, like the ones that have preceded it, is twofold:  first, it gives us the opportunity to express our gratitude for the contribution of the Justice whom we are honoring.  And second, by chronicling those contributions and noting the character and attributes of the Justice, as the Attorney General and others have done so eloquently and elegantly this morning, we make a record, a permanent accounting that will be available for generations to come.  In this way, lawyers, judges, other public servants, and the Justices' relatives who will not ever know Justice Perretta as we did can continue to learn from her example.

Justice Perretta passed away on April 10, 2015.  She was seventy-two years old.  As you have already learned, she served on the Appeals Court for thirty-one years, and was the first woman appointed to this court.  She was followed very soon thereafter by Justice Raya Dreben.  All of the Justices subsequently appointed to this court, particularly the women Justices, could not have been more fortunate to have these two luminaries show us the way.  They each assumed a leadership role, in part because they were the first women appointed to the Appeals Court, but mostly because of their intellect, their scholarship, and the force of their personalities.

Justice Perretta was born in Hartford, Connecticut.  She attended college in New Jersey and then, fortunately for the citizens of Massachusetts, she came to Boston and enrolled at Suffolk University Law School, where she received her law degree in 1967.  Eleven years later, she was appointed to the Appeals Court.  She was not just a rising star in the legal community.  She was like a comet, streaking across the sky:  a trail blazer in every sense of the word.

Three years ago, the Appeals Court celebrated its fortieth anniversary.  In connection with the various festivities, we held a special sitting of the Appeals Court to honor Justices Perretta and Dreben.  The portrait mentioned by the Attorney General was unveiled at that time.  Then Chief Justice Phillip Rapoza asked me to say a few words about Justice Perretta.  I was thrilled to do so, not only because of my admiration for her but because it gave me a chance to question her about the choices she had made and how they had come about.  You see, Justice Perretta was modest to a fault.  She would not talk about herself or her accomplishments.  But she was a traditionalist, and she was loyal -- fiercely loyal -- to the court.  In sum, I knew that she would accommodate my request knowing that I had a direct order from the Chief to interview her.

I shared some of what I learned from Justice Perretta during that special sitting.  Those of you who were in attendance may remember that Justice Perretta, who also was on the bench, interrupted me, not once but twice, to "set the record straight."  However, in my defense, I did not misspeak.  The problem was that Justice Perretta believed that she was receiving too much credit.  She was not comfortable with praise.  She preferred to praise and encourage others, which she did and did often.

I learned that Justice Perretta decided upon law school because she was interested in politics and she thought that a law degree would provide her with a good base from which she could embark on a political career.  But shortly after commencing her studies, what intrigued her the most was how law is practiced, and thus, she jumped right in.  By her third year in law school, she was working at the Attorney General's office in the criminal division in their honors internship program.

Also, you now know that upon graduating from law school, she joined the Massachusetts Defenders Committee, where she worked exclusively on postconviction motions.  In most cases, her clients were incarcerated, and she often visited the various correctional facilities, including MCI-Cedar Junction, which at that time was referred to as "Walpole."  I asked her what that was like.  Before I relate her answer, let me tell you what I anticipated the answer to be.  I expected to hear Justice Perretta say, "Well, there were no women around, it was a pretty tough crowd, and I really had to prove myself."  I thought she might talk about what a challenge it was for her.  But her response was somewhat different.  She said, "Well it was a little scary a first, but only because it was new.  After that, it was just part of the job.  After all, I had to see my clients to know what they wanted."

At first her answer surprised me.  I soon realized that I should not have been surprised at all, as her answer was truly a reflection of Justice Perretta's essential character.  She was nothing but direct, no nonsense.  She was never one to seek attention or maintain a high profile, which curiously enough raised the question, how did it come about that she would be chosen for such a high-profile position -- and at such a young age.  And so, I asked Justice Perretta that very question.  In her response, she quipped, "Oh well, there was nothing to it really; I just submitted my name."  Obviously, that is all that was needed, as her reputation for extraordinary competence and diligence had already been established.

After working with the Massachusetts Defenders, Justice Perretta joined the Boston law firm of Crane, Inker & Oteri, where she specialized in appellate work and argued numerous cases before the Supreme Judicial Court and the newly formed Appeals Court.  Chief Justice Christopher Armstrong remembers that she was a zealous advocate and, although she held her own, was quick to laugh.  He recalled that she was "likeable" and then, when she joined the Court and he and the other Justices came to know her, he described her as "exceptionally likable."  Chief Justice Phillip Rapoza echoed these sentiments.  In announcing the news of Justice Perretta's death, he said, "She was an excellent lawyer and an exceptional judge, as well as an incredibly decent human being.  Charming, witty and funny, she was a joy to be around.  Caring, considerate and loyal, she was a friend that few of us deserved, but that all of us wanted."

As we look at Justice Perretta's early legal career, it is apparent that she was always dedicated to public service.  By any measure, there can be no doubt that by serving on the Appeals Court for over three decades her service to the public is unparalleled.

During her tenure on the bench, in addition to dedicating herself to the work of hearing cases and writing decisions, Justice Perretta paid enormous attention to the court staff, whom she considered some of her closest friends on the court.  Indeed, when it came time to plan a party for her retirement, I recall that Justice Gabrielle Wolohojian wanted to plan something special.  Justice Perretta would have none of it.  She was intractable.  A compromise was finally struck.  Justice Perretta agreed to a party, but only if all the staff were invited.  They were, and she was very happy about that.  The affection and respect she had for the staff was reciprocal.

Justice Perretta also cared for the court as an institution.  Years ago, she teamed up with colleagues from the Connecticut and Rhode Island appellate courts and started the New England Appellate Judges Conference.  She took on extra assignments, including the screening of all cases involving what was then known as DSS, the Department of Social Services.

It was a pleasure but also a challenge, in the best sense of the word, to sit with Justice Perretta.  She prepared for oral argument meticulously, and more often than not knew the record and certainly the cases better than the litigants.  She had an uncanny ability to zoom right in and force one to focus on the issue.  She made sure that the parties were heard with courtesy and respect notwithstanding the merit of the argument.  Justice Perretta cared deeply, not only about the lawyer standing in front of her, but even more about the person or entity he or she represented.

Justice Perretta once said that it was important to write a decision for the losing party, so that the person would understand why he or she did not prevail. In other words, Justice Perretta did not focus on writing for posterity; she wrote for the parties.  And because she did so with such persuasiveness, many of her decisions have become seminal cases which are cited over and over again.  In the words of Justice Rudy Kass, "Charlotte's decisions have staying power."  Justice Perretta was a master of the craft of writing.  Justice John Greaney, who served with Justice Perretta on this court for a total of ten years as both a fellow Justice and then as Chief Justice, said, "She, in my opinion, was one of the finest, brightest, and most pleasant appellate judges that I ever served with."  She was never abrasive.  During semble after oral argument, if Justice Perretta did not agree with a position taken by another judge, her style was not to offend but to suggest a different course -- to ask whether a certain case or treatise had been considered.  In this way, she shaped many decisions even when she was not the author.

It has also been observed that Justice Perretta was the longest serving appellate judge in the State when she retired, having worked alongside every judge in the history of this court until 2009, and she was a mentor to us all.  Perhaps she recognized the immeasurable value a mentor can have in a woman's career through her own experience as a mentee of Justice Ruth Abrams, the first woman to be  appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court.  Justice Perretta was a founding member of the Women's Bar Association in Massachusetts, an organization that has provided women lawyers with support, opportunity, and community.

Her dedication to mentoring was no doubt a primary reason behind her decision to teach for many years as an adjunct faculty member at New England Law School.  There she taught trial practice, and years later, her students, now lawyers, recall her advice on how to be an effective and ethical lawyer.

When the Justices sit in this courtroom, Justice Perretta's portrait reminds us not only of the friend we have lost or the great jurist that she was, but that sly smile, that look, reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously, to do the work before us in a collegial manner, to approach our cases the way she did, with compassion, patience, an abiding respect for the law, impartiality, and wisdom.

Mr. Chief Justice and fellow members of the panel, I recommend that the Attorney General's motion be allowed.

The Chief Justice delivered the decision of the court, allowing the Attorney General's motion to spread these proceedings on the records of the court.

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