News Releases
September 17, 2015

The Boston Bar Association to Present 2015 Haskell Cohn Award for Distinguished Judicial Service to Chief Justice Phillip Rapoza

Press Release

The Boston Bar Association (BBA) is pleased to announce that the recipient of the 2015 Haskell Cohn Award for Distinguished Judicial Service will be Chief Justice Phillip Rapoza, whose 23-year career in the Massachusetts Judiciary brought him all the way from the Fall River District Court to service on two UN-backed war crimes tribunals.

Recipients of the Haskell Cohn award are characterized by their deep concern for the quality of the judiciary. Chief Justice Rapoza, who retired from the Appeals Court in June, has demonstrated that his regard for justice spans far beyond our borders.

“In his 23-year career, Chief Justice Rapoza has advanced the integrity of the courts not only in Massachusetts, but also on the international stage,” said BBA President Lisa Arrowood. “We are proud to recognize this extraordinary leadership with the Haskell Cohn Distinguished Service Award.”

Chief Justice Rapoza is currently the President of the Switzerland-based International Penal and Penitentiary Foundation, and in that capacity works to promote studies around the world in the field of crime prevention and the treatment of offenders. Last year, he and four other experts in the field of prison studies were granted a private audience with Pope Francis to share their findings. Chief Justice Rapoza presented an address to Pope Francis dealing with the treatment of offenders and the challenge of mass incarceration.

Chief Justice Rapoza also has been active in efforts to spread the rule of law in the developing world. Following his service as an international judge on  a  UN-backed war crimes tribunal in East Timor, he has frequently returned to that country to assist UN efforts in support of both Timor’s justice system and its  democratic institutions. In 2012, the US State Department selected him to serve as one of two US observers of Timor’s parliamentary elections. He will be returning to East Timor in November 2015 to conduct a program on judicial independence and to help establish a Timorese judges’ association. Chief Justice Rapoza has also headed a UN criminal justice advisory team in Haiti, where he lived for three months and travelled around the country to report on conditions under which pre-trial detainees were held. Similarly, he has travelled to Mozambique, where he participated in a USAID judicial development project. He has received numerous accolades for his international work.

More recently, Chief Justice Rapoza was appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to serve as the international reserve judge on the Supreme Court Chamber of the UN-backed war crimes tribunal in Cambodia. The tribunal, formally known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, was established to bring to justice senior leaders and those most responsible for the deaths of as many as two million Cambodians during the rule of the Khmer Rouge. Oral arguments before the Supreme Court Chamber are anticipated early next year after all parties have filed their written briefs with the court.

Reflecting on his career, Chief Justice Rapoza stated, “I have been truly fortunate to have had the opportunity to help advance the rule of law and promote the role of an independent judiciary both in Massachusetts and around the world. I am deeply honored to be recognized by the Boston Bar Association with the Haskell Cohn Award for Distinguished Judicial Service.”

A resident of New Bedford, Chief Justice Rapoza is the grandson of Portuguese immigrants and is the only Portuguese-American judge to serve at the appellate level in Massachusetts. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, magna cum laude, from Yale College and a Doctor of Law degree from Cornell Law School.

He is also the recipient of several honorary Doctor of Law degrees. Prior to Chief Justice Rapoza’s seventeen years on the Appeals Court (during nine of which he served as Chief Justice) he was appointed in 1992 to the trial court. He served first as a trial judge on the Fall River District Court and subsequently as a judge on the Massachusetts Superior Court.  He began his career in law as an assistant district attorney in Suffolk and Bristol counties and later was a partner in law firms in Fall River and New Bedford.

In addition to preparing for his upcoming travels abroad, Chief Justice Rapoza spends much of his time with family. His first grandchild, Oliver Phillip Rapoza, was born to his son Sam and daughter-in-law Kim on August 13.

The Haskell Cohn Distinguished Judicial Service Award was established in 1975 and endowed by Mintz Levin in honor of the 50th anniversary of Haskell Cohn’s admission to the bar. It is presented annually to a member of the Massachusetts judiciary, or a resident of Massachusetts who is a member of the Federal judiciary, who has distinguished himself/herself in a manner that calls for special recognition.

The Boston Bar Association is one of the oldest bar associations in the United States. We are a non-profit, voluntary membership organization of more than 12,000 attorneys drawn from private practice, corporations, government agencies, legal aid organizations, the courts, and law schools. Our mission is to advance the highest standards of excellence for the legal profession, facilitate access to justice, serve the community at large and promote diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.