When asked what drives his ongoing commitment to our Commonwealth’s judiciary, District Court Chief Justice Paul C. Dawley reflects on how the role of the district courts has evolved over the last decade beyond solely being a decision-making body.
“In addition to that, the court is in some respect a problem-solving vehicle,” Chief Justice Dawley noted. “People come to the court, whether it’s for domestic violence protection orders or mental health proceedings to get somebody in their family mental health treatment or to access drug treatment. All of those things happen on a daily basis in our 62 courts. Our courts will handle about a quarter of a million cases a year.”
In his 17 years on the bench, Chief Justice Dawley has proved himself to be a dedicated guardian of equal justice. Dawley was appointed as an Associate Justice of the Brockton District Court in 2001 by Governor Jane Swift. In 2005, he was appointed as a Regional Administrative Justice of Region 2 in the District Court Department. In 2009, he was appointed as First Justice of the Brockton District Court.
Boston Bar Association President Mark D. Smith shared his thoughts on what makes Chief Justice Dawley an ideal recipient of the 2018 Haskell Cohn Award for Distinguished Judicial Service.
“The District Court Department, the largest court department in the Commonwealth, has faced significant challenges in the past few years,” Smith observed. “With his wealth of experience and keen insight, Judge Paul Dawley has led the charge as Chief Justice of the busiest courts in Massachusetts and brought about progressive change and creative solutions to ongoing challenges facing the department. The department and the citizens of the Commonwealth are extremely fortunate to have had Judge Dawley at the helm during what has been, and continues to be, a pivotal time period for the criminal justice system.”
In September 2013, Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey appointed Judge Dawley as Chief Justice of the District Court. “I have had the opportunity to work closely with him over the past five years in his role as Chief Justice of the District Court,” noted Chief Justice Carey. “He has led that department, the largest in the Trial Court, with dedication and passion. He has an innate sense of fairness and performs selflessly. He has earned the respect of the judiciary, the bar, and others as a leader who is open and collaborative, a true consensus builder. His commitment to those concepts has served not only the District Court but the entire Trial Court. I am so fortunate to have him as a member of my leadership team. I am thrilled to congratulate Chief Justice Dawley on receipt of the Haskell Cohn Award.”
Chief Justice Dawley has also formerly served as a member of the Administrative Committee for the District Court Department and as the Chair of the District Court Committee on Probation and as a Justice of the Civil Appellate Division.
“The District Court really is a community court,” Chief Justice Dawley explained. “It has been asked to solve the problems of many people in our communities, relating to substance use disorders, issues related to mental health, poverty. When you think of public service and you think of a judge’s ability to make a positive difference in the community, those are the problems you’re dealing with. It’s challenging but it’s also very satisfying as a judge to be in a position to positively impact those people, to put them on a path that improves their lives.”
University of Massachusetts General Counsel Gerry Leone, the former Middlesex County District Attorney, has known Chief Justice Dawley since they met in law school thirty years ago. He calls Chief Justice Dawley the “perfect choice” to receive the 2018 Haskell Cohn Award.
“He exhibits and epitomizes integrity, commitment, dedication, and humility. These are just some of the traits that make him a terrific father, husband, friend, and Judge,” said Mr. Leone. “The people of the Commonwealth are extremely fortunate to have him as a tireless public servant.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Justice Frank M. Gaziano of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, who called Chief Justice Dawley a “natural leader” with “incredibly integrity.” Justice Gaziano overlapped with Chief Justice Dawley at law school, and they became friends and colleagues working together in the Plymouth County District Attorney’s Office.
“He has innate leadership qualities,” Justice Gaziano shared. “People rallied around him and people sought his advice because he listens to people.”
Prior to his appointment to the bench, Chief Justice Dawley worked as Deputy First Assistant District Attorney in Plymouth County. He pointed to that time in the District’s Attorney’s Office as formative toward shaping his view of public service and the law. “You’re providing a voice for victims who don’t have a voice,” he said.
In 2000, Chief Justice Dawley received the William C. O’Malley Prosecutor of the Year award from the Massachusetts District Attorney’s Association. He is a graduate of Boston College High School, Tufts University, and Suffolk University Law School. He is also a longtime member of the faculty of Stonehill College.
The ceremony for the Haskell Cohn Award for Distinguished Judicial Service will take place on June 20. For more information, please click here.