Jonathan M. Albano
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP

One remarkable aspect of watching Chief Justice Gants at oral argument (apart from his sense of humor) was his ability to simplify complex issues into understandable legal principles, and then ask questions that tested how applying those principles would affect people in different walks of life.  Justice Frankfurter once wrote of the “prophetic quality of piercing the future by knowing what questions to put and what direction to give inquiry.”  The “simple” questions Chief Justice Gants asked often were the most difficult to answer (and not a few of us wished we could have gotten some of them back for a do-over).  But like the opinions he wrote, they were designed to explain the law and to ensure that it was both just and fairly applied.  His loss makes us poorer, even as his life’s accomplishments endure and inspire.

Larisa G. Bowman
Visiting Associate Professor
University of Iowa College of Law

I had the enormous privilege and pleasure of serving as one of Chief Justice Gants' clerks his first full year on the Supreme Judicial Court (2009-2010).  He was an extraordinary mentor and champion of mine, most recently helping with my transition from practice to academia.  My year in his chambers fundamentally shaped how I view the law and my role and responsibilities as a lawyer as well as what I now strive to impart to my students.  As I teach the judicial externship seminar at the University of Iowa College of Law, I think of him in every topic I cover, every reading I assign, and every guest speaker I invite.  I task my students with reflecting on his philosophy that judicial decision-making is a balance between the "sometimes conflicting obligations of following the law and ensuring fairness."

Prior to leaving practice, I was a housing lawyer, representing low-income tenants in eviction defense proceedings.  In 2019, Chief Justice Gants authored a striking opinion Adjartey v. Central Division of the Housing Court, 481 Mass. 430 (2019), about the systemic inequality and inequity that exists in housing court where most tenants are without counsel.  I cried reading it.  It was incredibly powerful to read words by a judge, who I independently knew and adored, that described so completely what I, my clients, and all of the unpresented tenants (who should have been my clients, but for a lack of political will) lived each day.  I felt seen in a way I never have before professionally.  But this is precisely what the Chief did with every opinion; he truly saw not only the litigants before him but also all the people of Massachusetts who would be affected by the court's decision, often in disparate ways.  He recognized that justice is an exercise of power, and he wielded his enormous power for those without it.

As I grieve, it is first for his family.  For Professor Debbie Ramirez, who no doubt looked forward to the Chief's retirement in five years, even if we all knew he would never slow down.  For his children, Rachel and Michael, whose accomplishments as remarkable young adults he will never see.  But my grief is also for the many lives he would have touched with his tireless work to make the world a fairer, more inclusive place.  I am trying to remember that, in Plato's words, "those having torches will pass them onto others," and that this is what Chief Justice Gants did for those of us fortunate to have known him personally.  It is now up to each of us to carry our torches high, proudly, and in his memory always.

Mary K. Ryan
Partner
Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP

I think one of Chief Justice Gants’ lasting legacies will be how he used the power of his office as head of the Massachusetts court system to advance equity and justice for all.  In the last few years I’ve been fortunate to serve on the MA Access to Justice Commission and witnessed first-hand his dedication as co-chair of the Commission and his burning interest in new ways to make the justice system work better for the poor and disadvantaged.  He inspired, if not shamed, others to do the same by dint of his tireless work and endless energy.  One example of his work ethic that I always recall with a chuckle happened one summer Friday afternoon years ago.  He was a Superior Court judge and I was before him on a preliminary injunction hearing.  At the time, the Superior Court was located at the old John McCormack Courthouse and Post Office.  We were reached after 4 and to my surprise, he gave us all the time we needed – no early (or even normal) Friday departures for him.  The hearing ended but the lawyers found ourselves locked in the courthouse and came back up to see the judge.  Apparently leaving at 6:30 or 7 PM was nothing new to Judge Gants so he proceeded to lead us on a very humorous trek, down seldom used staircases and wending our way through labyrinthine passages, to reach the only exit, a small door next to the garage entrance on Congress street, a route he knew by heart no doubt going back to his days as an AUSA.     

Chief Justice Gants was a leader on access to justice nationally as well as in Massachusetts through his work with the Conference of Chief Justices.  Bottom line, he was a good man who dedicated his life to good works and he will be very sorely missed. 

Lisa Arrowood
Arrowood LLP

I had the honor to work closely with CJ Gants when I was President of the BBA.  He and I were both quite focused on access to justice issues, as was then MBA President Bob Harnais.  As everyone knows, CJ Gants always knew how to turn a phrase and also how to import popular cultural references into his speeches and writings.  At his State of the Judiciary speech that year, he said that he felt he had had a “Vulcan mind meld” with Bob and myself given our like-mindedness on these issues.  I will always remember that fondly.  He was a great Chief Justice and, more importantly, a wonderful human being. We will all miss him so much.

Lisa C. Goodheart
Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C.

Chief Justice Gants will surely be remembered as one of the greats in the history of the SJC.  His high-profile contributions to justice in the Commonwealth have been game-changing.  But I would like to comment on something else — his small everyday gestures, which did not draw headlines, but which have also had incalculable positive impacts on the growth and health of our justice system.

His true legacy encompasses not “merely” his brilliant legal opinions and his major systemic contributions to access to justice, criminal justice reform, and the confrontation of racial disparities in our justice system, but also the standard he set for modeling respect and inclusion, treating the pursuit of justice as a team effort, and encouraging others to aim high, find courage, and keep hope and faith.  One small example:  I often saw him interrupt substantive discussions at meetings to greet court officers and staff by name and introduce them to visitors at the Adams Courthouse. 

When the Chief Justice of the SJC does this, people notice. These courthouse workers were not invisible to him; they were valued and respected members of the justice team.  Another example: I appeared before him for a motion hearing when he was a Superior Court judge. When I rose to address him, the fact that I was not just obviously pregnant but quite close to my delivery date was unmistakable to everyone in the courtroom. Judge Gants spontaneously offered that if I would be more comfortable addressing the court from a seated position, that would be perfectly fine with him.  I understood that he wanted me to be comfortable so that I could focus on the substance of my advocacy, and I felt included, seen, and accommodated, without having been fussed over.  It was clear that he was treating me as a lawyer who happened to be pregnant, and not as a pregnant woman who happened to be a lawyer. 

And one last image: a business meeting with Chief Justice Gants often took the form of a brisk stroll around the Boston Common, with him in his favorite baseball cap and comfortable walking shoes.  Of course, a little fresh air and exercise and a change of scenery are good for the soul as well as the body, and may enhance an important discussion and ensure uninterrupted focus, too.  Why stay holed up in chambers if the weather was fine?  There are surely hundreds of public examples of the Chief’s profound contributions to the advancement of justice, but he should also be remembered for the infinite and largely invisible examples of his humane and generous interactions with everyone who came within his orbit. These, too, helped to bend the arc of justice in the right direction and have inspired countless others to work toward the same end.  

Jacquelynne Bowman
Executive Director
Greater Boston Legal Services

Chief Gants was a true friend of civil legal aid- a passionate advocate for our mission.  He was committed to access to justice in all its forms.  He spoke out and took a stand for things he believed in especially fairness and racial justice. He brought out the best in those who knew him, lawyers who appeared before him and the justice system not only in MA but nationally. He encouraged, directed and inspired with intelligence, wit and gentle persuasion. I will never forget his call to the legislature during one of his many appearances at the Walk to the Hill, to spend at least the cost of a small cup of Dunk’n Donuts coffee per resident of the Commonwealth to support legal aid.  This one example showcased his intellect, wit and commitment to legal aid.  His legacy will continue in the countless people he inspired, encouraged or mentored.

Norman Zalkind
Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein LLP

We are as critical a group as any on judges. However, Ralph was just a decent and fair human being. I knew him as prosecutor, defense lawyer and Judge and he was a decent brilliant modest person. [This is] a big loss.

Carolyn McGowan
Committee for Public Counsel Services – Somerville

When I was a new public defender and he was still on the Superior Court, I had a client facing two then 7.5 year min[imum] drug cases.  I recall asking him to let my client go, because among other things I thought I would prevail on both cases, and also raised that my client had a newborn baby he had never met or held.  The baby was in the courtroom.  Judge Gants said to me, “You’ve got a long road to hoe...” and declined to reduce bail, but asked the court officers to let my client sit in the jury deliberations room with his girlfriend and hold his new baby for about a half hour.  I sat in the corner with a CO, and we both were on the verge of tears throughout. I reflect on that as one of the kindest and most compassionate things I’ve seen a judge do.

Years later, at a court event, I approached him to share that the young man had in fact prevailed on both cases, and that I had since attended his college graduation. I was shy to approach but wanted to let him know how much that kindness and respect had meant to my young client.  I recall thinking he looked joyous about the report.  He was a remarkably caring person and leader. 

David Hoose

I was really trying not to add to the endless list of accolades for Justice Gants, but I have been not been able to stop thinking about the talk he gave to the mid-Winter meeting of the American College of Trial Lawyers about 4-5 years ago.  He presented an incredibly progressive agenda in that quiet, common-sense, knowing way of his, to what was a pretty stodgy crowd of mostly big firm civil litigators.  I was blown away.  I remember turning to Charlie Rankin and saying, “I can’t believe this guy is Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court!”  I really can’t imagine anyone who takes that seat living up to the standards that he set.

Elizabeth A. Soule
Executive Director
MetroWest Legal Services

We have lost a legal giant in the history of the Massachusetts court system.  It goes without saying that anyone who hears one speech or has one conversation with Justice Gants that he is incredibly smart, well spoken, deliberate and thoughtful.  He was a leader that was everywhere and had his hand in everything.  I always thought of him as an energizer bunny, never running out of energy or ideas. 

As a legal aid executive director, I had the privilege of being part of the team who met with him annually to discuss the MLAC budget line item and the budget campaign for the state budget for legal aid.  He was always totally supportive of our budget request but it didn’t end there.  He expected us to come in to the meeting well prepared with metrics, trends, stories and strategies for asking for increasing funding.  He wanted the information because he wanted us to succeed and he wanted our message to be strong and one that he would share with legislators.

The Walk to the Hill every January was a great day for civil legal aid and Justice Gants’ remarks were always a highlight.  He did his homework.  Each year he would find something tangible that he could use to demonstrate what the actual cost of the budget increase we sought would mean for each resident of the Commonwealth.  One year it was a Grande Starbucks coffee, no whip; another year it was a Dunkin Donuts bagel, without cream cheese, and so it went. 

Earlier this week at a meeting of the Equal Justice Coalition, our chair, Louis Tompros of WilmerHale, shared a story about his first year as chair and Walk to the Hill.  He arrived and went to sit down at his assigned seat next to Justice Gants.  He saw a Dunkin Donuts bag on the chair and thought, who would put trash on the chair where Justice Gants would sit?  He should remove it and throw it away.  As he went to remove the bag, he felt a hand on his shoulder (Justice Gants) who said not to remove it as it was a prop for his remarks.

Justice Gants was a champion of legal aid and access to justice for all in the court system.  He was incredibly collaborative and a great listener.  He was a like a sponge, absorbing all he heard and figuring out how to use the information to its best and highest purpose.  He made us all better lawyers and advocates and he will be greatly missed and long remembered.

Paul Dacier
Indigo Agriculture

CJ Gants was a wonderful man. He was an excellent judge. While I was the general counsel at EMC Corporation, we appeared before him many times when he was sitting in the Business Litigation Session in Suffolk County. I always found him respectful and willing to listen to all arguments. His opinions were well reasoned, well written and respected precedent. 

I got to know CJ Gants very well when he was elevated to the SJC as an Associate Justice and then as the Chief Justice. We spent a great deal of time together strategizing on making the courts more accessible for those in need. We also talked about ways to ensure adequate funding for the courts and for Civil Legal Aid. 

CJ Gants knew well the challenges that are vexing our society. He dedicated his life’s work to ensure the independence of the Judiciary as a co-equal branch of Government and that adherence to the Constitution and the Rule of Law is sacrosanct. CJ Gants was a man of humility that worked tirelessly for all citizens of Massachusetts. CJ Gants was a giant in the profession of law and acted every day with empathy to all litigants. 

I always found CJ Gants engaging and personable. One time we were having lunch at a restaurant on Beacon Hill. It was a blazing hot and humid day and the air conditioning was not working in the restaurant and it was very uncomfortable. We were both sweating profusely and waited to see who was going to take off the suit jacket first. I finally took off my suit jacket because I was soaked. CJ Gants then took off his. We then laughed and finished lunch a little more relaxed. 

The world just lost a wonderful man. My deepest sympathies to his family. 

Eva G. Jellison
Wood & Nathanson LLP

I had the immense privilege and good fortune to work with Chief Justice Gants as an intern in 2012. I remember my time with him fondly and count him as one of my most treasured and important professional mentors. I wanted to share a few stories about him.

While interning, I helped work on the 2013 Model Homicide Instructions.

There was a certain footnote in the drafts of those instructions that was not trans friendly. I asked then-Justice Gants if it could be changed to be more trans friendly. He asked me a little bit about it, and after I explained why it was important he submitted the changes. He was always willing to listen to people and take their ideas seriously, no matter if they were interns or a colleagues. As smart and knowledgeable as he was, he was always willing to learn and challenge himself.

I clerked on the Alaska Supreme Court, in great part due to Chief Justice Gants recommendation. It was a wonderful experience, but I ended up having to leave early because of a difficult bout with depression. When I came back, I felt as if I had failed (badly). I met with then-Justice Gants for his guidance. Not only did he kindly encourage me, he gave of his time to give me a special welcome back to the legal community. He offered, without my asking, to swear me into the bar in a private ceremony in the Holmes courtroom. This kindness and vote of confidence was invaluable to my ability to get back on my feet.

I now practice regularly before the SJC. I have a pair of silly socks (red with penguins) that I wore once to work when I was interning for then-Justice Gants. I wasn't sure if you could be yourself in such hallowed halls, but he noticed them in the morning and told me he liked them. He always let people be themselves. At my first argument before the SJC many years later, I wore the penguin socks. They have holes in them now, but they remind me of the lessons he taught me, and I feel more powerful and more competent when I focus on those lessons. I'll be keeping the socks and the memories and the lessons. And, I will hope to be a person of integrity, intelligence, humility, compassion, strength, and humor, like him.

Radha Natarajan
New England Innocence Project

The loss of Chief Justice Gants is hard to accept. It is hard for me personally and it is hard for me to imagine how the absence of his leadership will impact the fight for justice in this Commonwealth.

What would he say now? He would have words of comfort and then words of inspiration. He would encourage me — all of us — to be ourselves and to bring people together to collectively respond to the injustices we see. He would remind me that the greatest compliment for an advocate is to enable those in power “to see what might be unfair about laws, standards, or procedures that we have long, perhaps less than thoughtfully, routinely enforced.” He would tell a joke or make a cultural reference. (One favorite: “Failure is not an option" from "Apollo 13.")

And then he would point to the list of things that we still need to do, and he would tell us to get back to work.

Here you can read Radha’s complete tribute to Chief Justice Gants published by WBUR.

Sue Finegan
Partner, Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C.
Co-chair, Access to Justice Commission

It is hard to put into words what the Chief meant to the justice system, and to me personally.  Since that would take far longer than the space allocated, and others will likely address his brilliant jurisprudence, humility, and (alleged) soccer prowess, I thought instead I’d share two bookend personal anecdotes spanning the ten years we collaborated together as partners in access to justice.

The Chief first enlisted me in the work of the Access to Justice Commission ten years ago at a bar event.  He approached me because he had heard that “I knew something about pro bono” and, having recently accepted the role of judicial Co-Chair of the Commission, he wanted my thoughts on how to increase pro bono engagement in the private bar. When I later sent a detailed memo back to him, with several exhibits, I recall joking to a colleague at my firm that I suspected this effort was only going to generate more work. (I was right about that!) He read every exhibit and thought carefully about my ideas - agreeing with some and challenging others - and then collaborated with me on a plan of action.  I realized later that one of his true geniuses was his ability to get the best out of people;  he engaged deeply in the work with them and then applied his laser focus, dry sense of humor, and astonishing work ethic to the project at hand.  He was a man of action, not one to create reports to have them, as he used to say, “collect dust on shelves.”  And, in his brilliant way of cajoling, he amassed a devoted cadre of civil justice advocates with whom he worked to accomplish some things that people said would be impossible to do.  It was such a great privilege to have enjoyed ten years of collaboration and close friendship with the Chief, joining in the pursuit of achieving access to justice for all.

My last conversation with him was on Monday morning. As some of you may have also experienced, he loved to go for long walks to talk through issues (with a little Red Sox or family updates thrown into the mix). That morning, he had called during my morning walk to discuss his deep concerns about the looming eviction crisis, which he had previously said was “the greatest access to justice challenge of our lifetime.” I take solace that he spent the last hours of his incredible life doing something he loved to do – using his gift of intellect and the privilege of power to help the many desperate people impacted by this pandemic. Indeed, throughout his career, he gave life to the quote of one his favorite jurists, Justice Louis Brandeis (whose portrait hung above his desk, next to that of Justice Thurgood Marshall): “[m]ost of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done.”  If he were still with us, he would ask us to downplay his accolades at this time, and instead would implore us to take action:  there is still so much to do. May we all work together to continue to make the impossible possible to ensure our dear Chief’s enduring legacy. 

Kate R. Cook
Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak Cohen, P.C.

Everything Governor Patrick shared with me that he hoped to see in the next Chief Justice—which was a lot—became better and bolder and brighter through Chief Justice Gants’ leadership over the last 6 years. Whether it was a speech on constitutional protections against discrimination at a mosque, pushing for a study on racial disparities in our criminal system, or fighting for access to justice, he has left such a legacy. And his work had only just begun. This is a tragic loss for the legal community and the Commonwealth, but also for those lucky enough to call him a friend and family. When he made his opening remarks at the Governor’s Council hearing with respect to his love and gratitude to his wife Debbie and his children, he visibly teared up—and that happened even in our practice rounds. May his memory be a blessing.

Kate Cook served as Chief Legal Counsel to Governor Patrick when C.J. Gants was appointed Chief Justice.

Joseph N. Schneiderman

I'm writing to offer some memories of our Chief Justice, who always inspired me to greatness. 

I had been a lawyer for barely a year when I filed an amicus brief in the SJC with a colleague. Much to my pleasant surprise, then-Associate Justice Gants asked two questions from points I raised in my amicus brief!

I later had the great privilege to appear before Chief Justice Gants five times in the Full Court for oral argument-including for my first appellate argument ever at the ripe age of 29-and as recently as June 2020 in one of the COVID related cases. Even though it was my first argument ever, I was still nervous. Chief Justice Gants went out of his way to make me feel at ease-and I settled into the dialogue with the Court. I don't believe the Chief Justice asked me many question at that first one, but, he did at the next one three months later. That was who Chief Justice Gants was-he was always the epitome of courtesy and offered incisive questions to make you think about your case without ever being condescending or belittling. Chief Justice Gants also offered opportunities to leaven things during oral argument. Still, you never wanted to hear him ask, "Try my question." (I never did, fortunately for me.) 

More personally, March 30, 2017 was a hard day during a hard month in my life.  A judge in the Berkshires pulled the rug out from under me. I had a long drive from North Adams to Holyoke to think-I was heading to see Chief Justice Gants speak at the Hampden County Bar Association's annual Judicial Dinner and he graciously posed for a photo with me. Chief Justice Gants gave an inspiring speech-that made me realize that justice was not done for my client. I found strength and when I got home around 11PM that night, I stayed up until 3:30AM writing to give my client an opportunity to obtain justice. 

I will miss Chief Justice Gants and how [he] lived for and represented the philosophy of Tikkun Olam-we should all work to aspire to the in this wonderful profession we are a part of.

Abrisham Eshghi
Assistant Attorney General
Child and Youth Protection Unit
Civil Rights Division
Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General

I first met Chief Justice Gants as an overwhelmed legal intern scrambling for professional direction. Several years later, I had the extraordinary experience of clerking for him. He ended up being my greatest mentor, and an even greater friend.

It pains me to think about how much more he had in him to give to the world.  My only comfort right now is sifting through my myriad memories of the time I shared with him.

I will miss his brilliant questions, and his even more brilliant solutions. I will miss his antiquated cultural references that went over my head. I will miss his Red Sox metaphors that also went over my head. I will miss the intense swell of pride I felt during his 2015 speech at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center when he said "[y]ou do not stand alone." I will miss him spontaneously making up new lyrics to the song "The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha. I will miss hearing him request that I craft judicial opinions so that "even an intellectually curious 14-year-old" could understand the opinion (if they were so inclined to read it). I will miss watching him absentmindedly eat an entire baguette in one sitting. I will miss the sparkle in his eye when he knew there was challenging work to be done. I will miss his infectious laughter. And I will sorely miss him next year at my wedding where he had promised to officiate.

Chief Justice Gants was inimitable. But we must now try our hardest to step into his brilliant mind so that we may carry on his extraordinary legacy.

I hope you're still getting in good trouble, Chief.

Abrisham was C.J. Gants’ law clerk from 2017 to 2018, and a legal intern in 2015. 

Robert McGovern
Communications Director
Committee for Public Counsel Services

A few years back, when I was working as the legal columnist for the Boston Herald, I was told that Gants was going to the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center to share a few words about the law. During his speech he told the crowd that, no matter what was happening in Washington, D.C., he wanted to reassure them that the Massachusetts judiciary would continue to protect the rights of every citizen in the commonwealth and that he would return to reiterate that promise:

“As long as things are being said in our nation’s capital that might cause you to wonder whether your constitutional rights will be honored, I will continue to come. Because my presence here today is the clearest way I know to reassure you of the unwavering commitment of our judiciary in Massachusetts to protect the free exercise of religion, to ensure the due process of law, and to provide equal protection under the law.”

Before ending his speech he took a moment to gather himself. He then looked out at the crowd and in a few words explained the importance and power of the rule of law.

“In a time of wind and rain,” he said. “That is where we can find shelter from the storm.”

That speech really resonated with me. Despite a mountain of work, he made time to meet with a group of people who indicated they felt under attack.

I always appreciated his thoughtfulness, and as a member of the media, I always appreciated how transparent he was. He will be dearly missed.

Connor M. Barusch
Committee for Public Counsel Services

Chief Justice Gants was always ahead of the pack on the quest for justice and my experience was no different.

I am a CPCS trial attorney and a few years ago worked on an appeal that went to the SJC for the first time.  I knew that I was one of the first and only openly trans attorneys litigating in the trial courts.  When I went to argue in the SJC, where things are even more formal and feel more stiff and old-school, I wasn't sure how to address my being trans.  I was nervous about whether to say anything but also the last thing I wanted to do was answer questions about why different pronouns were used for me in the dozen or so different transcripts that were in the record appendix of the case.  The last thing I wanted to do was have to answer awkward or confused questions about me rather than get the court focused on the issue facing my client's liberty and future.

I asked my friend Eva, Chief Justice Gants' former law clerk, what to do.  With no hesitation and complete confidence she said to go ahead and tell the court and that she was sure Chief Justice Gants' court would do it right. I called the clerk she recommended and the conversation went well. As a result I was less nervous (at least about that one thing - still nervous doing my first SJC argument, of course) but still a little worried.  As soon as I stepped up to argue, Chief Justice Gants greeted me by saying "Mr. Barusch" as he invited me to argue.  He knew what to do completely put me at ease and he didn't have to do that - we had never met before and he didn't have to know my name.  But I knew that he was intentionally going out of his way to make a new person, a person from an underrepresented group that doesn't openly argue in court much yet, feel welcomed in his court.  I will never forget that moment and I doubt you had the chance to be there and witness the power of that moment where he led the way to do the right thing.  It was quiet and unassuming, but multiple trans lawyers were watching and heard about it and learned that we would be respected and included.

Christine M. Netski
Managing Partner
Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C.

As reflected in so many of these beautiful tributes, Chief Justice Gants always tackled his work with a laser focus on access to justice and a truly authentic regard for humanity. In my leadership roles at the BBA, I had many opportunities to see these qualities in action and was particularly inspired by his groundbreaking and tireless efforts to keep the wheels of justice turning during the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID pandemic. He reached out regularly to John Morrissey and me throughout this crisis, not just to share how the Court was responding at each juncture, but to hear our ideas and to foster a true partnership with the bar. And he always made time to ask how we were doing. The courage and humility that he brought to his job as Chief Justice was something to behold and his legacy will be enduring.

Daniel W. Halston
WilmerHale

I have known Chief Justice Gants for most of my life as a lawyer, from private practice when he was at Palmer and Dodge, to then appearing before him several times when he was a Superior Court Justice, including in the Business Litigation Session, and then when he served on the Supreme Judicial Court, and seeing him at Boston Bar Association gatherings and various public interest group meetings where he spoke so eloquently, including at the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law & Justice, of which he was very supportive.  I recall his love of the law, the mischievous twinkle in his eye when he thought he had one on you at oral argument, his love of baseball and the Red Sox, and his compassion and kindness towards everyone.  His energy was boundless.  I recall him calling me into chambers in the Superior Court while he drafted an order on a preliminary injunction motion because there was no staff to type it on a late Friday afternoon.  I recall him leaning over the bench in the Superior Court before a lunch break in an all-day argument arising out of the deregulation of the automobile insurance industry and telling me that I would have to hit a grand slam in the afternoon to prevail on the motion (he later told me I’d hit a long double, but it wasn’t quite enough).  But mostly, I recall a kind and gentle man who pursued justice and personified all that is noble under a society that adheres to the rule of law.  He will be missed.  I extend my condolences to his family and thank them for sharing him with the entire legal community for so many years.   

John H. Chu
Prince Lobel Tye LLP

My interactions with Justice Gants were largely non-legal in nature and sometimes quite adversarial – but physically on the soccer pitch and not in the courtroom. It is likely common knowledge that in addition to be being a renowned jurist, Justice Gants (or just “Ralph” on the pitch) was an avid competitive soccer player. He and I both have played in the men’s adult soccer Over The Hill League for teams based in the Town of Lexington, where I recall him being a determined and tenacious defender – an apt metaphor for his role as Chief Justice and drive to enhance the access to justice. His absence on the field as well as in the courtroom is being mourned by all of his teammates.

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation
Marijane Benner Browne, Board Chair
Lynne Parker, Executive Director

We are deeply saddened by the passing of Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants. He was a true champion of civil rights and equal access to justice for all people, and his untimely death is a devastating loss for the Massachusetts legal community.

Chief Justice Gants spoke annually at the Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. He believed funding legal aid was a “moral obligation.” He told lawyers that advocating for legal aid funding was a chance to speak “for all those who have neither money nor power, but who might have the law on their side, if only they knew how to use it. Feel their hand on your shoulder. Speak their truth.”

His passing is a terrible loss for all those who seek justice. We at MLAC will miss him as an inspiring leader and as a deeply caring man who radiated good humor, humility, courtesy and kindness. His gentle, yet urgent, advocacy inspired us all to do better. He has been, and will continue to be, a reminder of what is good in the world.

We send our deepest condolences to his family. And we are confident his legacy will inspire a passion for justice in many generations to come.

Andrew P. Botti
McLane Middleton

Like the entire legal community, I am still stunned by the sudden and unexpected loss of one of the best judges this state has ever known. I appeared before Judge Gants many times as a young lawyer, when he was sitting on the Superior Court. He was extremely bright, thoughtful and always attentive. It was clear that he cared sincerely about and understood clearly the enormous challenges and difficulties that lawyers and their clients often face.

One time, there was a scheduling mistake on my end, and I got a call from his session clerk informing me opposing counsel and Judge Gants were waiting for me to appear and make an argument on the docketed motion. I told her I was many miles away, driving to a deposition. She informed Judge Gants, and I could hear opposing counsel asking for sanctions for my absence. Judge Gants denied the request, and simply said, “Let’s reschedule this.” He understood that lawyers are not infallible.

Chief Justice Gants is not replaceable. Winston Churchill once said that, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a BIG difference.” Chief Justice Gants always had the right attitude, despite the often complex, difficult and challenging issues laid before him. He was a superb jurist, but more importantly, a consummate human being. On behalf of all of my colleagues at McLane Middleton, I’d like to extend our sympathies to the family, friends, and colleagues of Chief Justice Gants.