On Monday, July 28th, Justice Ralph Gants was sworn in as Chief Justice of Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court by Governor Deval Patrick. Both are public service role models and an inspiration to the faculty, staff, and students of the Clinical and Pro Bono Programs at Harvard Law School (HLS).
For the last four years, Chief Justice Gants, HLS J.D. ’80, has served as co-chair of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission, which helps provide equal access to legal services to low-income individuals. He has also served as a member on the Supreme Judicial Court’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Services.
Governor Patrick, HLS J.D. ’82, was an active member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau during his time at HLS. He has recently been recognized for being willing to welcome immigrant children to Massachusetts.
Read the full story on swearing-in ceremony via masslive.com below.
BOSTON – Gov. Deval Patrick administered the oath of office on Monday to the new Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Ralph Gants.
Gants, who received multiple standing ovations from the hundreds of judges, lawyers and dignitaries in attendance, lightened the solemnity of the occasion with his trademark good humor, thanking Patrick for two historic firsts – for nominating “not only the first Jewish chief justice but also the first chief justice to play soccer in the Over the Hill League.”
Gants, 59, replaces Justice Roderick Ireland, who retired Friday. Ireland, of Springfield, will turn 70 this year, the mandatory retirement age for Massachusetts judges.
“(Gants) has earned the high respect and deep admiration of all for his intellectual rigor, pragmatism, fair-mindedness, compassion and work ethic,” Patrick said. “He is known as gracious, humble and quick-witted. And he understands that the law needs to be just and make sense in the lives of real people.”
Gants was appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court in January 2009 by Patrick, a Democrat. He was first appointed to the bench by Republican Gov. William Weld, who made Gants an associate justice of the Superior Court in 1997. Weld attended Monday’s ceremony.
Gants, who was born in New York, holds degrees from Harvard College, Cambridge University and Harvard Law School. Before becoming a judge, he was a lawyer in private practice and an assistant U.S. attorney, where he served as chief of the public corruption division from 1988 to 1991. Since becoming a judge, he has sat on a number of committees and has for the last four years been co-chair of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission, which helps provide equal access to legal services to low-income individuals.
Judge Dina Fein, first justice of the Housing Court’s western division, and a special advisor for Access to Justice initiatives, said Gants is not only “a lawyer’s lawyer and a judge’s judge.” “What motivates him to work hard and then drives him to work harder is the knowledge that there are real people with real problems behind our cases,” Fein said.
Fein called Gants “brilliant” and “ridiculously hard-working with an intellectual capacity and level of productivity that would make the rest of us feel really horrible about ourselves were it not for the fact he’s also so warm and humble.”
Joanna Allison, who serves on a subcommittee of the Access to Justice Commission with Gants said Gants has shown a commitment to fairness and judicial access not only for poor people, but also for people in the middle class, who may not be able to afford a lawyer. Allison said Gants makes yearly visits to law schools to support pro bono and clinical work by students.
Gants, who spent most of his speech acknowledging his colleagues, mentors and family, also outlined some of his goals for the justice system. He praised the state’s specialty courts that deal with drug issues, mental health and veterans. But he said, “We need to recognize that every court, not just our drug and mental health and veterans courts, are problem-solving courts, and we need to be more creative in finding ways to resolve the problems that bring people to court.”
Gants said too many civil litigants cannot afford an attorney, and the court should do more to help them find legal assistance and legal information.
In criminal cases, Gants said, “We need to do better to craft sentences that will provide justice and deterrence, but also diminish the risk that the defendant will commit new offenses and find himself back in our courtroom to be sentenced again.”
Supreme Judicial Court Justice Margot Botsford, who was master of ceremonies, cited opinions written by Gants in which he cited Donald Trump’s realty television show “The Apprentice” and Captain Renault in the movie “Casablanca.” She told a story of Gants being unable to charge a jury because of a noisy construction crew. Gants walked outside in his robes to ask the crew to take a break. “The foreman responded, ‘Go to hell, Batman,'” Botsford said.
Botsford said Gants became known on the court for his “rapier wit” but also as a judge with “brilliance, integrity and independence, who treated everyone – court staff litigators, jurors – with respect.”
Speaking before the ceremony, Judge Stephen Neel, a former colleague of Gants’ on the Superior Court, said Gants “has wonderful people skills, is a fabulous legal mind and is one of the most compassionate people I know.”
David White, a former president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, tried cases before Gants in Superior Court and called the judge “diligent, creative, thoughtful, courteous and wise.” White said Gants, like Ireland before him, has “enormous respect” from attorneys.
Attorney Denise Murphy, who is active in the Massachusetts Defense Bar Association and is part of the executive management of the Massachusetts Bar Association, said Gants is very intelligent, but still affable and approachable. “I don’t always agree with him, but I always respect him,” Murphy said.