The Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court – Hon. Ralph D. Gants – will be honored with the Boston Bar Association’s Haskell Cohn Award for Distinguished Judicial Service. Recipients of the Haskell Cohn award are members of the judiciary who have distinguished themselves in a manner that calls for special recognition from the bar. The Chief Justice will receive the award at a June 8th reception at the BBA Beacon Street office.
Chief Justice Gants was appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court in 2009 by Governor Deval Patrick, and became the Court’s thirty-seventh Chief Justice in 2014. He served as co-chair of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission from 2010 to 2015, and chaired the Standing Committee that revised the Model Jury Instructions on Homicide in 2013.
Prior to joining the SJC, Chief Justice Gants served as an Associate Justice of the Superior Court, to which he was appointed in 1997 by Governor William Weld. In 2008, he served as an Administrative Justice of the Superior Court’s Business Litigation Session. He chaired the Superior Court Rules Committee, and was a member of the Supreme Judicial Court’s Standing Advisory Committee on the Rules of Civil Procedure and its Ad Hoc Advisory Committee to Study Canon 3B(9) of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
“Chief Justice Gants has demonstrated time and again not only his extraordinary knowledge of the law, but also his deeply-held belief that investing in justice is critical for the judiciary to function as a co-equal branch of government,” said Lisa Arrowood, President of the Boston Bar Association.
Across the legal community, Chief Justice Gants is known for his vocal support of adequate funding for both civil legal aid and the Massachusetts courts system. During Walk to the Hill – the largest advocacy day on Beacon Hill for civil legal aid – Chief Justice Gants frequently turns to everyday items, such as a Charlie Card or a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, to put the cost of legal aid in context.
“$17 million is less than the cost of one subway ride with a Charlie ticket per Massachusetts resident per year. Not per day, per year,” said Gants at the event in January. “$27 million is just $4.00 per Massachusetts resident per year — less than the cost of a round trip ticket. All we are saying is, ‘Bring Charlie home.’”
The following month, Chief Justice Gants spoke publicly – via an op-ed in the Boston Globe – on the need to expand Housing Court statewide.
“Only 69 percent of Massachusetts residents have access to a housing court; the remaining 31 percent do not,” wrote Gants. “This unfairness must end.”
And in December, amid a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings, Chief Justice Gants visited the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center following the midday prayer service to assure those in attendance that the state’s justice system would protect their rights.
“I am here to assure you that you do not stand alone,” he said, to applause. “You have a constitution and laws to protect your right to practice your religion, to protect you from discrimination…and to protect you from acts of violence that may be committed against you because of your religion or your nation of origin.”
The BBA created the award – through a generous endowment from Mintz Levin – more than 40 years ago in honor of Haskell Cohn, a founding partner of Mintz Levin and BBA President from 1969-1971. Cohn was known for caring deeply about the quality of the judiciary. In the years prior to the creation of the Judicial Nominating Committee, governors often turned to Haskell Cohn in his capacity as Chair of the Joint Bar Committee for input on the judicial selection process.