Supreme Judicial Court handout
Justice Roderick L. Ireland, nominated today to become the next leader of the judicial branch, is an even-tempered man and moderately liberal judge who is passionately committed to improving the lives of children, lawyers said today.
For some 20 years, Ireland has quietly overseen the Judicial Youth Corps, which currently operates in both Boston and Worcester. Some 50 public high school students spend 14 weeks working inside courthouses while still attending classes. Some of the hundreds of participants have followed in Ireland's footsteps and become lawyers, officials said today.
"This is just something that he has a real personal interest in,'' said Martin Healy, chief legal counsel of the Massachusetts Bar Association whose related foundation has donated money. "It's something he takes great pride in, and something he is immersed in. It's a testament to his upbringing.''
Ireland, who will turn 66 during the first week of December, grew up in Springfield in a modest home, the son of a school teacher and a painter. As an African-American coming of age in the 1950s and 1960s, Ireland's family was told his future was as an auto mechanic.
Instead, Ireland graduated from the historically black Lincoln University and then from the Ivy League's Columbia University Law School and Harvard Law School. He holds a doctorate from Northeastern University where he has been an adjunct professor for years and a leader in its administration.
A former public defender in Roxbury, Ireland was appointed to the Boston Juvenile Court by Governor Michael Dukakis. In 1990, Dukakis promoted Ireland to the state Appeals Court, the second most powerful judicial body in the state.
It was Republicans – Governors William F. Weld and Paul Cellucci -- who put Ireland on the Supreme Judicial Court in 1997. At that time, he was the first African-American on the SJC in its history, which dates back to the Salem Witch Trials. And today, Governor Deval Patrick, the state's first African-American governor, chose Ireland to become the first African-American chief justice.
Robert V. Ward Jr., dean of the UMass Law School in Dartmouth, has known Ireland for decades. He credits Ireland for his unbroken commitment to teens, his long history as a mentor for African-Americans and minorities, and for having a wide circle of supporters outside the minority community.
"You are going to see how excited people are and how happy people are for Ireland,'' Ward said in a telephone interview today. "In much the same way that Patrick won (re-election) in part because people liked him, people like Rick Ireland…I can’t think of any reason for him not to be approved.''
Ward and Healy have both studied Ireland; legal reasoning and written opinions during his years as an associate justice of the SJC. Ireland, they said, has carved out a position as a centrist to moderate liberal in criminal justice matters.
"He is very strong on civil liberties and individual rights,'' Healy said. "I would peg him as more of a moderate, centrist jurist. He writes a good, solid decision and is very well respected by his judicial peers and the legal community.''
Ward said he would put Ireland more to the left than does Healy.
"I think he's progressive, but I don't see him as some kind of flaming liberal,'' Ward said. "He's like me…we all know there is bad people out there but we need to make sure rights are protected…He's probably just slightly left of center. I don't view Rick as an ideologue... I can’t think of any reason for him not to be approved.''
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