This evening, in anticipation of his retirement in July 2014, the BBA will honor Chief Justice Ireland with the Citation of Judicial Excellence – well-deserved for his 37 years of service in the judiciary. We are grateful for his tireless work to improve the judiciary in Massachusetts and assure that justice is appropriately served for all its citizens, and we look forward to celebrating his many accomplishments.
However, Chief Justice Ireland’s career is not just about what he has done, but also the lasting imprint on the judiciary he will leave behind. We would like to focus on his legacy and how his decisions and actions during his time as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court will shape the future of the Massachusetts Judiciary.
Collaborating and establishing positive relationships with other branches of government is key to a balanced justice system. It bears repeating that our governing body is comprised of three coequal branches of government – and that includes the judiciary. It is vitally important that these branches are able to interact in a way that will ultimately improve the lives of the citizens of the Commonwealth.
Chief Justice Ireland has done an outstanding job at reaching out to and collaborating with members of the legislature, particularly with Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo. The subsequent rapport they developed is visible both personally and professionally. With this connection established, Chief Justice Ireland has been able to convey the needs of the court in a way that is clear and effective. As a result, we have seen improvements to the Trial Court including increased funding and the institution of the Trial Court Administrator position currently held by Harry Spence.
A good relationship between the judiciary and the legislature is critical to ensuring the proper administration of justice to the people of Massachusetts. We are confident that Chief Justice Ireland’s work has set a promising precedent for future court and statehouse interactions. Similarly, we hope that the improvements to the court that have arisen will also be an important piece of his legacy.
It would be impossible to discuss Chief Justice Ireland’s legacy without mentioning the historical significance of his career. At the time of his initial appointment to the Supreme Judicial Court, he was the first African-American Associate Justice of the court; he later became the first African-American Chief Justice. Not just a symbol of the increasing diversity of the legal profession and the judiciary, Chief Justice Ireland has actively voiced his support for a more diverse judiciary and his belief that more diverse candidates should apply. At a Mass. Black Lawyers Association event co-hosted by the BBA, “Celebrating Diversity in the Judiciary,” Chief Justice Ireland outlined how far diversity in the profession has come as well as how far it has yet to go, and he urged the attorneys present to seriously consider applying for positions in the judiciary. Thus he leaves his position having made strides in the area of diversity and encouraging others to follow in his steps.
But perhaps what we will remember the most about Chief Justice Ireland, apart from being a wise and generous leader of the courts, is his sincere and lifelong dedication to advancing access to justice. From his work in Neighborhood Legal Services through his time at the Roxbury Public Defenders Office, the Juvenile Court, and finally the Supreme Judicial Court, Chief Justice Ireland has shown the utmost concern for the plight and privileges of all, regardless of personal circumstances. He has truly embraced the idea that everybody deserves justice and, what’s more, that everybody should be afforded the opportunity to seek it.
We wish Chief Justice Ireland all the best in his retirement, and know that his presence will always be felt in the achievements and progress that he has left behind.