Life advice from the bench: State’s high court comes to Greenfield

  • Chief Justice Gants hears a case as the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court holds special sitting in Franklin County on Tuesday. October 3, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Local lawyers and court workers got to attend the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court holding a special sitting in Franklin County on Tuesday. October 3, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court holds special sitting in Franklin County on Tuesday. October 3, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court holds special sitting in Franklin County on Tuesday. October 3, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Justices hear a case as the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court holds special sitting in Franklin County on Tuesday. October 3, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 10/3/2017 6:55:58 PM

GREENFIELD — Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants had a piece of advice for local students Tuesday — develop a way to sort out what is true from what is not.

“The ability to discern what is true and what is not is an ability we are counting on you to be good at,” he told students after a special sitting of the high court in Greenfield.

The students, as well as local attorneys, court personnel and other members of the public had a rare opportunity to watch the state’s highest court in action at the Franklin County Justice Center Tuesday morning. The Supreme Judicial Court sat in Greenfield for the first time in more than 20 years to hear oral arguments in four cases from Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties.

It was an unusual chance for members of the public to watch the judicial process take place outside of the John Adams Courthouse in Boston, where cases are normally heard.

“I think it’s important for people to see what we do, see that nature of the cases we hear, see the extent to which we struggle with them,” Gants said. “It’s also good for us to get out and meet with members of the Bench and the Bar and to listen to students and to get a sense of what is happening here in Greenfield.”

Gants said Franklin County has also been home to two of the most important innovations in the court system — the Family Drug Court, led by Justice Beth Crawford, and the Sequential Intercept Mapping project, which is being used to identify gaps in the addiction treatment network and find ways to bridge them.

“We admire the innovation going on here and we also want to celebrate the new courthouse,” Gants said, referring to the 6-month-old, $66 million criminal justice center on Hope Street.

Nine students from Pioneer Valley Regional School listened to the oral arguments from the courtroom’s jury box, and attended a question-and-answer gathering after the 2½-hour session. Gants explained to students how the high court’s decision-making process works, and justices answered several questions, including how they became interested in law.

“I was interested in law because my dad was a lawyer, so I had someone in the family I could look to,” Justice Kimberly S. Budd said. “As I got older, I found out if you go to law school, there’s a lot of different things you can do, and I learned a legal education can allow you to do a lot of things legal and non-legal, and I got to do a lot of different things.”

Justice Elspeth B. Cypher echoed Budd, saying she believes everybody should get a legal education, even if they don’t use it to become a lawyer.

The justices offered other life advice to the students.

“Whatever you decide to do for a job when you get older, try to pick something you enjoy,” Justice David A. Lowy said. “We spend about one-third of our lives at work, and you can’t waste one-third of your life.”

Budd also urged the students to pick classes that will teach them how to write, because writing is a skill that they’ll need in nearly every profession, while Gants told them to always try to sort out what is true from what is not — a task that is getting more and more difficult.

“We certainly need to do that more than ever,” Gants said.

Franklin County Register of Probate John Merrigan said he was impressed with the mix of attendees during the oral arguments, which ranged from young people to local attorneys and court personnel.

Jennifer Donahue, public information officer for the Supreme Judicial Court, said the tradition of holding sittings outside of Boston goes back many years. Three years ago, she said the justices decided to hold the special sittings on an annual basis.

“It’s a lot of work and planning, but it’s incredibly worth it,” Donahue said.

Attorney Joe Schneiderman of Hartford, Conn. attended the sitting, saying two high court decisions were what first inspired him to go to law school. Those included the court’s ruling that same-sex couples have the legal right to marry, and the Lavallee decision regarding right to counsel.

“This is a home game for the SJC, they don’t come to western Mass. very often, and I know just about everybody who is arguing today,” he said. “It was wonderful, it was great to see the justices here in western Mass., especially during the beautiful fall season, and the cases were extremely well argued, so it was a treat.”

Budd said she was especially happy to be in Franklin County because she has substantial family ties to the area.

“I’m really pleased that we’re here today in Greenfield, because my family’s roots date back to this area in the mid-19th century,” she said.

Budd’s great-great-great-grandparents, John and Julia Putnam, lived in Greenfield in the mid-1800s where they hid fugitives from slavery on the Underground Railroad.

“They were able to help hundreds of fugitive slaves as they traveled on their way to Canada,” she said.

The Supreme Judicial Court is the oldest appellate court in continuous existence in the Western Hemisphere and the state’s highest appellate court. Its seven justices hear appeals on a broad range of criminal and civil cases from September through May.

The full bench renders approximately 200 written decisions each year. It is also responsible for the general superintendence of the judiciary and of the bar; makes and approves rules for the operations of all the courts; and provides advisory opinions, upon request, to the governor and legislature in certain instances.




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