Ralph D. Gants

Chief Justice memorial

490 Mass. 1337 (2022)

A special sitting of the Supreme Judicial Court was held at Boston on September 29, 2022, at which a Memorial to the late Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants was presented.

Present: Chief Justice Budd; Justices Gaziano, Lowy, Cypher, Kafker, Wendlandt, and Georges.

Chief Justice Budd addressed the court as follows:

Good afternoon.  On behalf of the Justices, I am pleased to welcome you to this Memorial sitting for the Honorable Chief Justice Ralph Dreyfus Gants.  September 14 was the second anniversary of Chief Justice Gants's sudden and unexpected passing.  Ordinarily, we would have had this ceremony well before now, but, as many of you know, we decided to postpone it until the COVID-19 pandemic had eased to the point at which we could have at least a hybrid ceremony with at least some guests able to be here in person.  We so appreciate all of you who are here in the court room, as well as those of you who are joining us remotely.  We are here to celebrate the life and legacy of a great jurist and a great human being.

I want to especially welcome the family of Chief Justice Gants, including his wife, Professor Deborah Ramirez, and their children, Michael and Rachel, and his brother, Fred Gants.  We are also glad to welcome here today the many colleagues and friends of Chief Justice Gants, including former Chief Justices Margaret Marshall and Rick Ireland, as well as retired SJC Justices Judy Cowin and Margot Botsford.  I also want to welcome retired Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula Carey; Chief Justice Mark Green and Justices and staff of the Appeals Court; Chief Justice Jeff Locke; Court Administrator John Bello; all of the Chief Justices of the Trial Court Departments; and all of the current and former justices of the Trial Court.  I also want to welcome former Governor Weld, United States Attorney Rachael Rollins, Senator Jamie Eldridge, and members of the Governor's Council in attendance today.  And last but not least, we welcome the former law clerks of Chief Justice Gants.

As it turns out, today is Chief Justice Gants's birthday.  He would have been sixty-eight, and that is a stark reminder that he was taken from us far too soon.  But it is also fitting for us to gather together on this day to honor him and to reflect on how his wisdom and warmth continue to guide and inspire us today.  This afternoon's speakers will describe how Chief Justice Gants brought extraordinary qualities of heart and mind to everything that he did, combining keen intellect with profound empathy, endless energy, and great good humor.  I, like so many of you, feel fortunate to be able to say that he was both a mentor from whom I learned so much and a dear friend.

The court now recognizes Attorney General Maura Healey.

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

Good afternoon, and may it please the court:  Maura Healey, Attorney General, on behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  As the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it is my honor to present, on behalf of the bar of the Commonwealth, a memorial and tribute to the late Chief Justice Ralph Gants.

Chief Justice Gants served the Supreme Judicial Court with great distinction from January 2009 until his death in September 2020, first as an Associate Justice and then for more than six years as Chief Justice.  He also served for more than eleven years as an Associate Justice of the Superior Court.

Chief Justice Budd, Justice Gaziano, Justice Lowy, Justice Cypher, Justice Kafker, Justice Wendlandt, Justice Georges:  it is truly an honor to appear before you today as we recognize and celebrate the distinguished life and career of Chief Justice Gants.  It is an honor to be here with so many well-respected members of our legal community.

I also would like to recognize members of Chief Justice Gants's family who are here with us today, including his wife, Deborah Ramirez; his brother, Fred Gants; as well as his children who are with us in spirit:  Rachel Ramirez Gants and Michael Ramirez Gants, as well as many friends and other family.  We come together today to pay tribute to Chief Justice Gants -- a brilliant justice known for his keen intellect, wellspring of compassion, and deep commitment to access to justice.

Chief Justice Gants was born in New Rochelle, New York, in 1954, to Helaine Dreyfus Gants and Gustav Gants.  A graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Chief Justice Gants also received a Diploma in Criminology at Cambridge University in England and was awarded honorary Doctor of Law degrees from New England Law and the University of Massachusetts School of Law.

Chief Justice Gants launched his legal career as a law clerk to United States District Court Judge Eugene H. Nickerson.  He then served as a Special Assistant to FBI Director William H. Webster.  Chief Justice Gants later served as an Assistant United States Attorney in Massachusetts and Chief of the Public Corruption Unit.  He then joined the Boston law firm formerly known as Palmer & Dodge, and he practiced law there until Governor William Weld appointed him to the Superior Court in 1997.

Chief Justice Gants served for over eleven years with distinction as Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court, and in 2008 was Administrative Justice of the Superior Court's business litigation session.

In 2009, Governor Deval Patrick appointed him to the Supreme Judicial Court.  And in 2014, Ralph D. Gants became the thirty-seventh Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court when he was sworn in by Governor Patrick.

In addition to being a mentor, Chief Justice Gants was also a teacher, having taught at Harvard Law School, New England Law, and Northeastern University School of Law.  He also served on the Board of Directors of the Conference of Chief Justices, where he chaired the Access and Fairness Committee.  Chief Justice Gants was the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the 2016 Haskell Cohn Award for Distinguished Judicial Service, the 2017 Massachusetts Bar Foundation Great Friend of Justice Award, the Boston Bar Association Citation of Judicial Excellence, and the Suffolk Law School Public Service Award, to name a few.

Beyond his numerous academic and professional accolades however, many colleagues remember Chief Justice Gants for the depth of his commitment to access to justice.  As Chief Justice Margaret Marshall recalled, Chief Justice Gants "cared passionately about the interests of the public, especially people who needed to have access to the courts.  His interest was always with the public.  He asked, 'Are the courts serving the public?'  That meant litigators, lawyers, and people who went to the court to obtain justice."

He served as co-chair of the Access to Justice Commission and advocated for equity and expanded legal representation for the most vulnerable in our communities, calling for a right to counsel in eviction proceedings and for a Statewide expansion of the Housing Court.  He continued his work to stem the tide of evictions and displacement resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, which he considered "the greatest access to justice challenge of our lifetime," right through the day he died.

Chief Justice Gants cared deeply about the future of the judiciary and the future of the criminal justice system, challenging the wisdom of mandatory minimum sentences and eyewitness identification procedures.  Former Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow described him as "fearless about facing historic injustices."  In 2016, Chief Gants partnered with Dean Minow and commissioned a study of racial disparities in our State courts.  The completed study, released just days before Chief Justice Gants's death in 2020, demonstrated that Black and Hispanic or Latin defendants received longer sentences than white defendants.  It found that they were disproportionately represented as defendants before our criminal courts.

At every turn, Chief Justice Gants focused on how the legal system affects people's lives.  He consistently worked to expand access to justice and racial equity.

And like many of you, I remember him as a person of true vision, kindness, and empathy.  In 2015, when I took the oath of Attorney General, it was Chief Justice Gants who administered that oath at my swearing-in.  I was grateful to approach the podium, together, with a person whom I had long admired for his faithfulness to the Constitution and to serving the people.

It is with great fondness and deep appreciation for his service and his commitment to justice for all that we remember Chief Justice Ralph Gants.  Chief Justice Gants occupies -- and will forever occupy -- a special place in our hearts and in the history of this great court.  On behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I respectfully move that this Memorial be spread on the records of the Supreme Judicial Court.

Harold Hongju Koh, Esquire, addressed the court as follows:

May it please the court:  Thank you for allowing me to appear, for this day only, as a member of the Massachusetts bar.  In my defense let me plead that I was born in Massachusetts, lived and studied here for thirteen years, and like Chief Justice Gants, am a loyal citizen of Red Sox Nation.  But my main qualifications for being here today are love and friendship:  Ralph Gants was more than my friend, he was my brother in the law.

I first met Ralph fifty years ago when his big brother, Fred, met my big brother, Howard, at Yale, where I now teach.  We met again at Harvard College and became close friends and classmates at Harvard Law School, from which we graduated in 1980.  Ralph and I and two other dear friends -- Scott Gilbert and Larry Tu -- formed a close quartet who led parallel lives in the law.1  As our lives unfolded, we stayed together.  We attended each other's weddings and family events; talked often by phone; and had our last Zoom call together the morning before Ralph passed, just after he suffered what we all assumed was a mild heart attack.  On those calls, Ralph always asked about us, and was self-deprecating when it came to himself. On that last call, I asked how he was doing; he answered wryly, "Rebuilding.  Like the Red Sox."  Then incredibly, the next day he was gone.

From the very beginning, Ralph could think clearly, write beautifully, and unravel the toughest problems to reach the best answers.  At Harvard College, he was known for his understated brilliance, gentle wit, and good humor.  A scholarship student and summa cum laude graduate in economics, he had been Student Council President of his high school in Larchmont, New York.  A fine athlete, he was universally liked.  He did not come from privilege.  His loving parents Gustav and Helaine were warm and honest, generous and welcoming; they worked hard for everything they had.  They gave Ralph and his brother lifelong lessons in what intelligence, hard work, and humanity can accomplish.  Ralph won a prestigious fellowship to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, then returned to Harvard Law School, where his work on the Law Review made him stand out even among a group of young lawyers who would later become university presidents, judges, ambassadors, deans, and professors; corporate CEOs, general counsel and law partners; and a future Chief Justice of the United States.

Yet even at that time, Ralph was unusual in his acute awareness of how his decisions could affect human lives.  As fledgling lawyers, Ralph and I moved to Washington to live together as roommates, when Ralph began working as Special Assistant to FBI Director Bill Webster.  One night, I asked him about something that I assumed he was working on.  He said calmly, "If I answered that, I might get someone killed."  But even as his professional trajectory soared, Ralph's personal qualities never varied.  He remained kind, thoughtful, and humble, and maintained his good humor and his most special gift:  friendship.

If something was important to you, it was important to him.  He would travel miles to friends' weddings and kids' bar mitzvahs, always turning the spotlight on everyone but himself.  If a friend needed help, Ralph gave it, no questions asked.  When my parents came to town to meet Christy -- then my new girlfriend, for decades now my wife -- Ralph drove the four of us around all weekend in his new stick shift car.  It was not easy; I later learned that Ralph had never before driven a stick shift.  At one point, our backseat conversation halted when we all realized that we had stalled in an intersection on Constitution Avenue, with cars coming from all directions.  When the weekend ended, I thanked Ralph for driving; he shrugged and said, "Friends should do things for friends, especially when things just have to go well."

After Washington, Ralph moved to Boston as an Assistant United States Attorney, where he became one of the leading public corruption prosecutors in the country, pursuing with stunning success cases of the highest sensitivity.  He won headlines for his handling of the Gerry Indelicato case; the prosecution of the former Lowell city manager; and the conviction of Malden police officers who extorted payoffs from prostitution rings.  In 1991, Ralph moved to Palmer & Dodge and soon emerged as one of the Boston bar's leading trial attorneys.  His commitment to social justice led him to donate countless hours to indigent defendants.  In one case, he appeared alone to win acquittal of a Scottish immigrant caught up in claims of corporate fraud.  He represented pro bono a Mariel Cuban who challenged his ordered return to Cuba after his criminal sentence, and also an HIV-positive Massachusetts prisoner who was denied appropriate medical care in the Texas facility to which he had been transferred.  In other matters, Ralph became what Justice Brandeis once called "the lawyer for the situation."  On one occasion, Harvard Law School asked him to handle a delicate internal investigation involving faculty and students; on another, this court assigned him the difficult, sensitive task of prosecuting a Massachusetts District Court judge on behalf of the Judicial Conduct Commission.

Through it all, Ralph spent more than a decade as an outstanding teacher at several Massachusetts law schools -- Northeastern, Harvard, and New England School of Law -- where he taught courses on criminal procedure, government lawyering, and balancing security and liberty.  He built bridges between the bench, bar, and academy of the kind first constructed here by Bob Braucher, Ben Kaplan, Margy Marshall, and Nancy Gertner.

Following his appointment to the bench by Governor Bill Weld, Ralph became known as one of the most respected judges on the Massachusetts trial and appellate courts.  His lower court decisions were remarkably well researched and reasoned, ranging across complex issues of public and private law:  whether unpacking complex issues of science, administrative and environmental law to sustain a challenge to the environmental impact statement for Boston University's Biolab; reconceptualizing tortious interference with contractual relations; creating a test to determine the fairness of a subprime loan under the Massachusetts consumer protection statute; reviewing "dram shop liability" or complex statutory issues construing the savings bank life insurance statute; or clarifying the standard of review to be applied to the self-dealing decisions of a corporate board of directors.

I witnessed just one measure of Ralph's universal respect in 2005, during a famous local episode known here in Boston as "Ball-gate."  When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, a dispute emerged between the team and a former player concerning who owned the historic baseball used in the final, curse-breaking out.  I suggested to Red Sox President Larry Lucchino that the Red Sox secure the patrimony of Red Sox Nation by suing not the former player but, rather, the ball quasi in rem, for possession and title.  When the Sox did that, the case was assigned, of course, to Judge Gants of the business litigation session.  As co-counsel, I told the Red Sox lawyers that they must advise the judge that his former roommate was on the case; they worried that he might recuse himself.  After the hearing, I waited with bated breath to see what Ralph had done.  My co-counsel told me that Judge Gants had opened the hearing by disclosing our friendship at length, then entertained any motions that lawyers might want to file.  What happened next?  Nothing.  "Neither side moved to recuse," I was told, "because all sides wanted the smartest, fairest judge possible, and that was Judge Gants."

From the beginning, Ralph felt for the underdog.  He instinctively understood the perspective of the little guy.  Ralph's faith in human goodness fueled his belief that, given the chance, underdogs -- like our Red Sox -- would eventually rise to the occasion.  That passion was fueled by the love of his life, Deborah Ramirez, whom Ralph met, courted, and married as fellow Assistant United States Attorneys, before she went on to become a path-breaking professor.  As a couple, they became a source of wisdom and inspiration for many.  And as the spouse of a distinguished civil rights lawyer, Ralph came to understand viscerally the concerns of minorities and women seeking equal access to the processes of power.  Around the family table, Ralph and Deb talked daily about the practical challenges of meaningful justice, transmitting to their gifted children, Rachel and Michael, their determination to make the world a more just and equal place.  So when Governor Deval Patrick first appointed him to this court, then elevated him to be Chief, he broke the mold twice:  not just by appointing the Commonwealth's first Jewish Chief Justice, but also by naming a Chief who would view litigants' problems from the perspective of the most marginalized among us.2

As he rose through the courts, Ralph's desire to build true justice became stronger and more urgent.  Especially as Chief, Ralph always managed to look at the world from your perspective.  His "second sight" allowed him to empathize with so many people of different races, faiths, and upbringings.  His connection to those at the margins of justice deepened and grew more public.  So when Massachusetts struggled with the treatment of persons of color, those with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ individuals, Ralph demanded equity and inclusion.3  When Donald Trump targeted Muslims, Ralph visited mosques to explain why we were all part of one America.4  "I come here each year," he said, "because it is the clearest way I know to communicate the continued commitment of the judiciary to protect your constitutional rights."5

As Chief, Ralph was a giraffe:  a visionary judge whose feet were always planted on the ground, while keeping his head above the clouds.  Ralph had an extraordinary capacity to think about the present and the future at the same time.  Somehow, he always found the time to look up from today's work to contemplate tomorrow's problems.  Just flip through the pages of volume 62, number 8 -- the November 2021 symposium issue -- of the Boston College Law Review6 to review the many articles chronicling Ralph's leadership in such criminal justice areas as mandatory minimum sentences, juvenile justice, eyewitness identification, prosecutorial conduct, and Black Lives Matter; such diversity, equity, and inclusion issues as advocacy for mental health in the legal profession; and the pursuit of access to equal justice for all, both in real courts, and in the virtual courts he helped to create during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ralph's unusual foresightedness let him see problems in full even before crises fully hit:  whether the eviction moratorium or the need to focus proactively on attorneys' mental health.  At his first judicial investiture, Ralph reminded us of what his first boss, Judge Eugene Nickerson, told him as a law clerk:  "We can't make this whole world fair, but we can and must do everything we can to make our small piece of this world a place where justice rules."  And so, when asked in the early days of the pandemic about the coming of online courts, Ralph saw ahead of his time and thought first about human needs.  He emphasized the importance of ensuring that any move to online adjudication be accompanied by close attention to the values of dignity, equity, and fairness "in a manner," he said, "that [is] respectful of the interests of all litigants, and not put any at an advantage or disadvantage because of issues of education, language access, or other concerns."7

Today, so many in our public life disappoint us; so many of our leaders have feet of clay.  But what Ralph's story tells us is that in America we do still have heroes, and one of them was this modest, exceptional man who left us decades too early.

So in the end, aren't we who knew him the lucky ones?  I was blessed to have Ralph as a friend for forty-five years and to see up close what a real mensch looks like.  As our lives unfolded, we would call each other about once a month, sometimes talking for ten minutes, sometimes for an hour.  Ralph was never too busy to catch up.  We talked countless times, usually about things other than law.  But as time passed, it dawned on me that my friend Ralph had become one of the finest judges of his generation.  Paul McCartney recently recalled, "At the time, I was just working with this bloke called John.  Now I look back, and I was working with John Lennon."8  The same for me.  Back then, I was just rooming with this guy named Ralph.  But now I look back and realize that all along, I was learning from Chief Justice Gants.

When speaking about his friends, Ralph liked to say, "There might be better people in this world.  But I don't know if I've met them yet."  Well, there might be a better friend or judge in this world, but I don't know if I'll ever meet them.  That he was taken from us so early I cannot forget or forgive.  But in my heart, I will always talk to him, and he will never stop challenging me.

As roommates and young lawyers, Ralph and I used to talk late into the night about the problems of the world.  One night, before we went to sleep, we made each other a promise:  if, when we grew up, we ever reached positions of influence, we would do everything in our power to make the world a fairer place.  Ralph, I came here today to tell you that as a judge, a lawyer, and a friend, you kept your promise.  But the question Chief Justice Gants leaves us with is this:  will we keep ours?

Madame Chief Justice, on behalf of the members of the bar, I move to support the Attorney General's motion.

Gavin Alexander, Esquire, addressed the court as follows:

May it please the court.  Good afternoon Justices, Attorney General Healey, Professor Koh, members of the Gants and Ramirez families, lawyers and legal professionals of all levels, friends, colleagues, and anyone who may be reading these remarks in the future.  I speak today so that all of you may know Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants as I knew Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants.

During the 2012-2013 court year, I had the honor, the privilege, and the absolute pleasure of serving as law clerk to Justice Gants.  Over the course of that year, I grew to know him as a jurist, a mentor, and most importantly, as a friend.  The following year, he asked me to participate in the process which saw him elevated from Associate Justice to Chief Justice, first by writing a letter of recommendation in support of his candidacy to Governor Deval Patrick's chief legal counsel, and second by testifying at his confirmation hearing.  Then, in 2015, he officiated my wedding to my partner, Angelo.  Since then, the Chief and I stayed in touch consistently, meeting for lunch or dinner once every few months to discuss policy, politics, and the ways we could leverage our respective experiences and positions to effect positive change in the legal profession and the systems of justice in the Commonwealth.

I am humbled to be the one standing here giving remarks on behalf of Chief Justice Gants's former law clerks, but I am certain that what I will share today is reflective of each of our experiences.  In fact, his clerks from every year since 2010 joined a Zoom call only a day or two after his passing to discuss our memories and share stories.

As anyone who has read his opinions or argued before him knows, Justice Gants was staggeringly brilliant.  His analytical ability was nothing short of breathtaking.  In a shockingly short amount of time, he could wrap his mind around the most complicated legal conundrum, factual puzzle, or contested point of policy, and develop a response that was not only coherent, but often more fair and efficient than any of the arguments previously put forth.

Beyond his astounding judicial acumen, among the most surprising things I discovered as soon as I began my clerkship were Justice Gants's humility and approachability.  As a recent graduate of law school, I assumed a justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court would be an imposing figure who made those around him feel the weight of his authority.  While Justice Gants absolutely assumed the mantle of an authoritative figure when the need arose, far more commonly, he was a friendly, considerate, and tremendously enjoyable person.  His jokes were often terrible and always hilarious, and he spoke to those around him not as subordinates, but as respected colleagues and friends.  As an example of this, while many of the other justices of the SJC hosted a brown bag lunch for the law clerks in the SJC's dining room, Justice Gants typically invited the entire class of law clerks to his home for a summer barbeque, where he personally grilled up a meal for everyone.

If you speak to anyone who ever worked for Justice Gants in the past, or to anyone who got to know him on a personal level, one of the most common traits that will arise in such conversations is his kindness.  Justice Gants went out of his way to care for those around him, and to develop positive relationships with everyone from fellow judges to legislators, law clerks, court support staff, and members of various bar associations and community organizations.  Once, after he and I stayed at the court past midnight working on an unpublished single justice opinion, Justice Gants insisted on personally driving me all the way to my home in Cambridge, despite the trip being well out of his way.  Justice Gants's exceptional ability to develop positive relationships with everyone around him while still maintaining the authority and integrity of his office allowed him to build strong bridges with those in the executive and legislative branches, as well as those in the community at large.

The Chief's long-time assistant, Cathy MacInnes, asked me to add the following.  "The Chief was a passionate baseball fan, having played on his town's Flint Park All-Stars youth baseball team, Little League, Babe Ruth League, and on the Mamaroneck High School Tigers baseball team.  I will never forget seeing Chief Justice Gants on the mound during a Red Sox baseball game at Fenway Park throwing out the first pitch while SJC staff, friends, and 30,000 fans cheered.  Of course, the Chief threw it right down the middle.  We were so proud of him."

Justice Gants had a phenomenal ability to discuss disagreements respectfully and openly, to truly listen to others in such situations, and to work with those with whom he may have initially disagreed to reach a fair, reasoned, and optimal outcome.  When I interviewed with Justice Gants for the job as his clerk, the first question I asked him was, "If I disagree with you, what should I do?"  I will never forget his response.  Justice Gants smiled at me, and he told me that if I were his law clerk, he would consider it my first and foremost job responsibility to speak my mind and let him know if I thought he was getting something wrong.  Justice Gants lived up to that answer every day.  During my year as his clerk, we would often argue issues out together:  I would tell him why I disagreed with a certain line of analysis, and then we'd engage in an honest and completely respectful discussion about the issue.  He was always open to hearing my thoughts, and after talking things through, we would always arrive at an outcome with which we were both happy.  His ability to articulate his positions clearly and respectfully while engaging in conversation that made any supposed adversary feel heard, and while sincerely trying (if possible) to arrive at an outcome that was satisfactory to all, was unparalleled.

Beyond both his judicial acumen and his ability to work with others, he brought his passion and dedication to bear by seeking to understand the flaws in our broken systems that lead to oppression, discrimination, and injustice, and by uniting the most passionate advocates around him to develop meaningful and practical solutions that would actually change the very way the law operates for the better.

Years before the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and others finally centered racial injustice in the public spotlight, Chief Justice Gants had already turned his attention toward systemic oppression and racial discrimination in the legal system.  In 2015, Ralph Gants, the first Jewish Chief Justice in the court's three-hundred-year history, spoke at New England's largest mosque, where he told the Islamic congregants, "You do not stand alone.  You have a Constitution and laws to protect your right to practice your religion, to protect you from discrimination and the denial of your equal rights, and to protect you from acts of violence that might be committed because of your religion or your nation of origin."  Highlighting the history of discrimination that has infected our country since its founding, he noted in that very same speech that "[d]uring the Depression, Mexican-Americans were scapegoated for the economic deprivation they did not cause, and more than two million were deported," and that "[t]he forefathers of African-Americans came to this country in chains and we are still challenged by the legacy of slavery and of Jim Crow."

Following up on that sentiment, in 2016 (again, years before the racial reckoning of 2020 and beyond), he commissioned Harvard Law School's Criminal Justice Policy Program to conduct a data-driven study that he hoped would highlight the precise ways in which racial discrimination infects criminal justice.  The result of this study, a one hundred page report titled "Racial Disparities in the Massachusetts Criminal System," was released to the public less than a week before his death.  I can think of no more appropriate final gift from him to this world.

More personally, Chief Justice Gants was the first legal professional to whom I ever admitted that I was suffering from severe depression and had come seconds away from killing myself while practicing.  We were sitting down over dinner, and he asked me how things were going.  Unlike so many others who asked me that question, I couldn't hide it from him.  I felt like I needed to tell him the truth, because he had never done anything but the same to me.  I honestly can't even describe how perfect his response was.  He told me that he was there for me, and that he would do anything I asked him to do to support me.  However, beyond this, he immediately began working with me to brainstorm meaningful ways in which I could continue the practice that I found rewarding without my mind suffering to such an extreme degree, and discussing ways in which I could share my story and advocate for improved mental health in the legal profession as a whole.

As with racial justice, immigration justice, access to justice, and so many other forms of justice that he tried to improve, he also was a stalwart, forward-thinking, and dedicated advocate for well-being in law.  After our initial conversation, we continued discussing my experiences with mental health and the practice of law, and eventually, when the Supreme Judicial Court under the leadership of Chief Justice Gants and retired Justice Margot Botsford convened its initial 2018 Steering Committee on Lawyer Well-Being, he asked me if I'd be comfortable sharing my experiences in front of a plenary session of the entire committee and all of its subcommittees.  I accepted, and that day, sharing my story so publicly and so authentically, was one of the most significant turning points in my career and in my life.  I felt like the entire stigma I'd felt, the need to hide away this shameful weakness in my resiliency, had been utterly destroyed, and instead, through Chief Justice Gants's guidance and support, I had reclaimed one of my deepest struggles and channeled it into advocacy.  Without even realizing it, Chief Justice Gants had paved my path not only to recovery, but to fighting to make the world, and the legal profession, safer, more inclusive, more sustainable, and more rewarding.

And that, in my mind, is really the crux of his heroism and his legacy.  Far beyond his brilliant jurisprudence, or even his own zealous advocacy, Chief Justice Gants had the almost magical abilities first to turn anyone into an advocate for justice, and second, to then bring those advocates together in constructive ways to effect actual, meaningful, practical, and real change.

On September 14, 2020, my hero and my friend died.  Justice Gants was the best supervisor I have ever had, the most incredible lawyer I have ever met, and, without exaggeration, the best person I have ever personally known.  He is gone, but his impact will last forever through the advocates he inspired, created, and united.  We are his legacy.  And we will not stop until we see justice realized in ways he'd only begun to imagine, where those without the privileges of wealth, whiteness, mental health, or any other privileged status do not live in fear of the law, but feel protected by it.  And we'll do so with humility, kindness, respect, and more than a few bad jokes along the way.  Thank you.

Justice Gaziano responded for the court as follows:

Chief Justice Budd and Justices Lowy, Cypher, Kafker, Wendlandt, and Georges, Attorney General Healy, Professor Koh, Mr. Alexander, members of the bar, the family of Chief Justice Ralph Gants, and guests:

I am honored to speak on behalf of the court as we gather to celebrate the legacy of an outstanding and inspirational chief justice.  I met Ralph almost twenty years ago, upon my appointment to the Superior Court.  Before meeting Ralph, I knew of his stellar reputation in the United States Attorney's Office.  Although he had left the office years earlier, he continued to serve as a role model for a generation of Federal prosecutors, based on his fearless prosecution of corrupt public officials and his steadfast commitment to strict ethical standards.  I also had heard of Ralph's reputation as a Superior Court judge.  My former colleagues, in a particular district attorney's office, asked me if I knew former "Fed" Judge Gants, who recently had been assigned to the county's first session court room.  They expressed dismay over the assignment of a "troublemaker" from out of the county.  The problem, as they perceived it, was that Judge Gants did not blindly adhere to past practices.  Instead, he sometimes questioned the legal basis for matters the State prosecutors deemed routine.  If they only knew what was to follow.

Governor Deval Patrick appointed Ralph to the Supreme Judicial Court in 2009.  In 2013, I was asked by Chief Justice Marshall to join the Committee on the Model Jury Instructions on Homicide.  The committee, chaired by Ralph, was tasked with revising the court's 1999 instructions on homicide.  Before the first meeting, I assumed that the committee would examine the court's post-1999 homicide jurisprudence and make a few changes to reflect current case law.  This should not, I naively thought, take long.  At the first meeting, Ralph declared that we would in fact update the model jury instructions to conform to existing case law.  So far so good.  He then added that we would endeavor to explore "incongruities" in the law of homicide and to make appropriate changes.  I wondered to myself whether I had mistakenly stumbled into a meeting to revise the model penal code.  I expressed my concerns, and thus began our seven-year long conversation on Massachusetts homicide law.  These discussions fostered a close working relationship, and soon developed into a friendship.  His analysis of legal issues was razor-sharp and forward-thinking.  He also appreciated that the committee's goal was to provide practical guidance for trial judges and lawyers to resolve complex issues that arise in high pressure situations with a jury in the box.

As a trial judge, I looked forward to reading Ralph's decisions.  They were clearly written, well researched, and methodically reasoned, leading to seemingly inevitable conclusions.  They also rarely disappointed; the trial court waited to see what hoary, unfair, or impractical doctrine of law would fall victim to Ralph's pen.

Two cases come to mind.  In Commonwealth v. Zanetti,9 Ralph re-examined the twenty-five year old Massachusetts formulation of accomplice liability known as "joint venture."  This term, he later told me, was needlessly confusing because it sounded like a business entity, not a theory of criminal liability.  He convinced the court to adopt less confusing terminology, and drafted a jury instruction in line with common-law concepts of aiding and abetting.  In the Papadopoulos case,10 the court abandoned the Massachusetts distinction between natural and unnatural accumulations of snow and ice in premises liability actions.  Rejecting a Nineteenth Century rule that was difficult to apply and had little socially beneficial purpose, Ralph wrote that determinations of liability should rest on the general duty of a property owner to use reasonable care to maintain a property.

In 2016, I had the privilege of being appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court.  As a member of this court, I was then able to fully appreciate Ralph's brilliance, devotion to the judiciary and the court family, and unmatched work ethic.  During that time, Ralph articulated his view that the proper role of a judge is that of a problem solver.  In his 2014 State of the Judiciary address, he said, "We in the judiciary increasingly are recognizing that our role is not only to do justice but to solve problems, and that the sensible resolution of problems often is how we do justice."  The next year, he explained what it means to be a problem solver.  He said that "it is best described by two principles that come from the Jewish religious tradition, but probably are shared by nearly every religious tradition.  The first is that each of us has an obligation to repair the world.  The second is that, if you save one life, it is as if you have saved the entire world.  In our courts, we seek to repair the world, sometimes even save the world, one person at a time."

What parts of the world needed repairing?  Ralph focused on many pressing issues faced by vulnerable and marginalized members of our community.  To use his words, it was his duty to fight for "the little guy."  It is impossible in this memorial, in the time I have available, to discuss the breadth of Ralph's efforts to fix the world one case at a time.  I therefore commend to you the 2021 Boston College Law School Symposium in Honor of Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants.11  I will highlight three issues important to our late chief justice:  access to justice, housing justice, and criminal justice reform.

Access to justice.  Improving access to justice for people who cannot afford counsel for their essential civil legal needs was a fundamental concern for Ralph throughout his tenure on the court. In his last State of the Judiciary address, he noted that he was "ever mindful of the many challenges faced by litigants who cannot afford counsel to represent them," who "must navigate a complicated legal system and advocate for themselves with no legal training, and often with limited English proficiency, in cases that can have life-altering consequences, such as eviction from a home or loss of child custody in a divorce."  "Until we create a world in which all who need counsel in civil cases have access to counsel," he said, "we must do all we can to make the court system more understandable and accessible for the many litigants who must represent themselves."  And he led efforts to carry out that mission as co-chair of the Access to Justice Commission from 2010 through 2015, and again from 2017 until his death.

Under Ralph's leadership at the Commission, representatives from the courts, legal aid and social service organizations, the private bar and bar associations, law schools, and the business and philanthropic communities worked together to develop many innovative solutions to better meet the needs of unrepresented litigants.  They developed a strategic action plan for improving access to justice in the Commonwealth that continues to guide the Commission's work today.  They successfully advocated for the creation of court service centers in our busiest courts, to provide information and to assist self-represented litigants in filling out forms.  They also envisioned the creation of a virtual court service center that could serve litigants remotely -– an idea that proved to be prescient during the COVID-19 pandemic.  They established a pro bono civil appeals clinic, and the Access to Justice Fellows program, which recruits retired lawyers and judges to share their expertise with community organizations serving people of limited means.

Beyond his efforts with the Access to Justice Commission, Chief Justice Gants also worked with the SJC Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services on initiatives such as creation of the Pro Bono Honor Roll to recognize and encourage more attorneys, law students, law firms, and other legal organizations to provide volunteer legal assistance to people of limited means.  And he regularly spoke at the annual Walk to the Hill event to support increased legislative appropriations for civil legal aid, always coming up with a memorable way to put the funding request in perspective.  In his last Walk to the Hill speech, for instance, he observed that the cost of the proposed appropriation per Massachusetts resident was less than the cost of a Dunkin' Donuts breakfast sandwich.

Ralph also was an important voice for improving access to justice on the national stage through his work with the Access and Fairness Committee of the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators.  As those organizations stated in expressing their condolences after his death, "Chief Justice Gants was a national leader on access to justice issues who cared passionately about the needs of court users who cannot afford counsel, and who worked tirelessly and selflessly to ensure that the justice system serves everyone equally and that it is accessible to all."

Housing justice.  As a Superior Court judge, Ralph grappled with the fallout of the foreclosure crisis.  In Commonwealth vs. Fremont,12 he granted the Attorney General a preliminary injunction restricting a subprime lender's ability to foreclose on loans with certain presumptively unfair features.  He found that the Attorney General was likely to prevail on its Chapter 93A claim, reasoning that the lender should have recognized that the loans were doomed to foreclosure.

In 2011, Ralph authored the landmark opinion U.S. Bank National Association v. Ibanez,13 addressing the widespread practice of assigning a mortgage retroactively to a successor bank.  The court held that a foreclosing entity that is not the original mortgagee is required to show that it was the holder of the mortgage at the time of foreclosure.  The 2019 case of Adjartey v. Central Division of the Housing Court14 was Ralph's housing justice magnum opus.  It involved claims that the Housing Court unfairly denied self-represented litigants facing summary process eviction certain procedural protections.  Ralph used the case to discuss broad disparities in legal representation between landlords, who often are represented by attorneys, and tenants, who are not.  He noted that self-represented litigants face formidable challenges navigating these complex and fast-moving cases.  To guide self-represented tenants, he included a fifteen-page Appendix summarizing relevant rules, statutes, and case law complete with links to Housing Court forms.  The COVID-19 pandemic created, in Ralph's words, "the greatest access to justice challenge of our lifetime."  Indeed, he was working on a solution to the anticipated tsunami of evictions expected to be filed following the expiration of the eviction moratorium on the day of his death.

Criminal justice reform.  Ralph's legacy as a criminal justice reformer grew out of several groundbreaking opinions and advocacy against minimum mandatory sentencing.  The first area on which he focused was eyewitness identification.  He wrote that "eyewitness identification is the greatest source of wrongful convictions but also an invaluable law enforcement tool in obtaining accurate convictions."  Ralph authored a series of cases intended to increase the reliability of this powerful evidence.  In Commonwealth v. Silva-Santiago,15 the court adopted Department of Justice protocols to be employed by law enforcement before a photographic array is shown to a witness, for example, requiring that the witness know that it is just as important to clear a person of suspicion as to identify a wrongdoer.  Writing for the court in Commonwealth v. Walker,16 Ralph announced the creation of a study group "to consider how we can best deter unnecessarily suggestive procedures and whether existing model jury instructions provide adequate guidance to jurors in evaluating eyewitness testimony."

Why this tack?  Ralph explained to committee members that transformational reform of eyewitness identification law would require more than one or two court decisions.  It would require rigorous study by a committee comprised of judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, law professors, and police officers to examine the intersection between the law and science.  The committee issued its report in 2013, which included proposed jury instructions to inform jurors about scientific findings related to memory and recall.  In Commonwealth v. Gomes,17 the court approved a modified version of the study group's proposal.

Ralph turned his attention to in-court identifications in Commonwealth v. Crayton18 and Commonwealth v. Collins.19  In those cases, the court established a higher level of scrutiny for suggestive, first-time, in-court identifications.  Thereafter, a formerly routine court room practice changed to require the government to establish a good reason for the admission of such evidence.

Ralph's willingness to revisit established case law in pursuit of justice is exemplified by his decisions in two homicide cases, Commonwealth v. Brown20] and Commonwealth v. Castillo.21  Prior to Brown, in Commonwealth v. Tejeda,22 Ralph wondered "whether our common law of felony-murder should continue to be an exception to our basic principles of criminal jurisprudence, or whether we should join those who have abolished or redefined felony-murder."  He answered that question in Commonwealth v. Brown.  In that case, he convinced a majority of the justices to narrow the scope of felony-murder by eliminating the widely criticized doctrine of constructive malice.  The existing felony-murder rule, he reasoned, is unjust because criminal liability is decoupled from moral culpability.  The case of Commonwealth v. Castillo modified the criteria for first-degree murder by extreme atrocity or cruelty by placing a greater emphasis on the egregiousness of a defendant's conduct.

In addition to writing landmark decisions, Ralph used the power of the bully pulpit to advocate for criminal justice reform.  His primary target was the elimination of the one-size-fits-all legislative policy of minimum mandatory sentencing.  In the 2014 State of the Judiciary address, Ralph asked, "Who would support a sentencing system that ignores the circumstances of the crime, the role of the offender in the commission of the crime, and the background of the defendant? . . . To those who favor the status quo in the so-called war on drugs, I ask:  How well is the status quo working?"  Ralph testified before the Legislature, "In 2013, 44% of all persons convicted of drug offenses were persons of color, but 75% of all persons convicted of drug offenses with minimum mandatory sentences were persons of color . . . If the Legislature does not abolish minimum mandatory sentences for drug offenses, it must accept the tragic fact that this disparate treatment of persons of color will be allowed to continue."  Later, as mentioned, Ralph commissioned Harvard Law School to research racial disparities in sentencing.  He explained, "We need to learn the truth of this troubling disparity, and once we learn it, we need the courage and the commitment to handle it."

What was it like to work alongside someone who was this serious-minded, brilliant problem solver, who seemingly shouldered the weight of the world?  It was wonderful.  Ralph was humble, kind, witty, and self-effacing.  Unfortunately, I am ill-equipped to capture the full measure of his charm, having neither his singing voice nor his repertoire of show tunes.

Ralph was an exceptional chief justice and colleague.  He patiently presided over consultation, allowing each associate justice to fully voice his or her opinion, and masterfully searching for ways to harmonize divergent views to achieve principled consensus.  Ralph also spent an extraordinary amount of time editing draft opinions.  I considered it a victory whenever Ralph's edits were limited to one or two single-spaced, typewritten pages.  His suggestions were thoughtful and much appreciated, whether he clarified one's position, suggested that the analysis needed additional support, or respectfully disagreed with the ruling.

By tradition, the chief justice speaks last at semble and consultation.  Patiently awaiting his turn, Ralph often would pause, offer that wry Ralph Gants smile, and proclaim, "Well . . . I have a different take on the issue."  What followed would be a robust discussion where we explored another facet of a case, grateful for his insight.

The justices cherish many quirky "Ralphisms."  To assign a case, Ralph would politely ask the justice to take his or her "hand to the matter."  Whenever he had to juggle assignments, he would quote gravelly voiced Celtics play-by-play announcer Johnny Most and would tell us that the changes were going to take some "fiddling and diddling."  At the end of many intense one- or two-hour discussions of a case, he would proclaim cheerily, "That was easy."  To a proposed solution to a thorny problem or legal issue, he would say in jest, "That's so crazy it may just work."  In one memorable aside, he described visiting a beautiful country club in Kauai, but added that it offended his "inner Che Guevara."

My remarks will conclude with a quote from Ralph's beloved spouse, Debbie Ramirez.  She said, "Ralph bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice one case at a time."  We all were blessed to bear witness to the career of an outstanding and transformational jurist.  We also are tasked with continuing his legacy to ensure that justice does not forsake "the little guy."

On behalf of the Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court, the motion of the Attorney General is allowed, and this Memorial is to be spread upon the records of the court.


1 See Gilbert, Koh, & Tu, Remembering Ralph, 62 B.C. L. Rev. 2684 (2021).

2 See generally Symposium:  Essays in Honor of Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, 62 B.C. L. Rev. 2671-2859 (2021).

3 See, e.g., Alexander, Depression to Dedication:  How Chief Justice Gants Saved My Life and Catalyzed Ongoing Advocacy for Mental Health in the Legal Profession, 62 B.C. L. Rev. 2759 (2021); Perry, "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion" -- Catchy Slogans and Buzzwords with Little Proof that They Matter to the Legal Profession in Massachusetts!, 62 B.C. L. Rev. 2747 (2021).

4 R.D. Gants, C.J., Address at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (Dec. 16, 2016), https://www.mass.gov/doc/remarks-delivered-at-the-islamic-society-of-boston-cultural-center-december-16-2016/download [https://perma.cc/6UZP-HVA7].  See Robbins, Remarks, 62 B.C. L. Rev. 2678 (2021).

5 R.D. Gants, C.J., Remarks Delivered at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (Feb. 15, 2019), https://www.mass.gov/news/supreme-judicial-court-chief-justice-gants-remarks-delivered-at-the-islamic-society-of-boston-cultural-center-february-15-2009 [https://perma.cc/QP7W-5PKC].  See Robbins, supra.

6 Patrick, Ralph Gants:  Judge and Mensch, 62 B.C. L. Rev. 2676 (2021).

7 Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession, Online Courts and the Future of Justice with Richard Susskind, YouTube (Apr. 24, 2020), https://youtu.be/QOS4LRf-zes [https://perma.cc/M7BU-KKYU] (comments of Chief Justice Gants).

All the Beatles' Secrets Revealed in Hulu's "McCartney 3,2,1" Documentary, N.Y. Post, July 16, 2021, https://nypost.com/2021/07/16/a-mistake-led-to-sgt-pepper-new-paul-mccartney-doc-on-hulu/ [https://perma.cc/6VEX-7Q5R].

Commonwealth v. Zanetti, 454 Mass. 449 (2008).

10 Papadopoulos v. Target Corp., 457 Mass. 368 (2010).

11 See generally Symposium:  Essays in Honor of Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, 62 B.C. L. Rev. 2671-2859 (2021).

12 Commonwealth vs. Fremont Inv. & Loan, Mass. Sup. Ct., No. 07-4373 BLS1 (Suffolk County Feb. 25, 2008).

13 U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n v. Ibanez, 458 Mass. 637 (2011).

14 Adjartey v. Central Div. of the Hous. Court Dep't, 481 Mass. 830 (2019).

15 Commonwealth v. Silva-Santiago, 453 Mass. 782 (2009).

16 Commonwealth v. Walker, 460 Mass. 590 (2011).

17 Commonwealth v. Gomes, 470 Mass. 352 (2015).

18 Commonwealth v. Crayton, 470 Mass. 228 (2014).

19 Commonwealth v. Collins, 470 Mass. 255 (2014).

20 Commonwealth v. Brown, 477 Mass. 805 (2017), cert. denied, 139 S. Ct. 54 (2018).

21 Commonwealth v. Castillo, 485 Mass. 852 (2020).

22 Commonwealth v. Tejeda, 473 Mass. 269 (2015), S.C., 481 Mass. 794 (2019).

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