HASKELL COHN AWARD
BOSTON BAR ASSOCIATION
JUNE 9, 2011
Thank you. I confess to a bit of the feeling of the great circle of
life about this event. Haskell Cohn died at age 91 in 1993. At that
time, I was the President of the BBA and it was my honor to represent the BBA at
the service at the synagogue in the commemoration of his life. I knew and
greatly admired Haskell Cohn, and it is wonderful this award keeps his name and
Haskell was married to the admirable Harriet Cohn, who like me, went to
Wellesley College. Haskell used to tell me, with a twinkle in his eye,
that he admired Wellesley women. I like to think he would be happy about
I would like to pay tribute today to the Boston Bar
All of us know that the BBA stems back to John Adams,
and of Adam's defense of the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre, and of his
role as a founding father and Abigail's role as a founding mother. We
associate the BBA with the values of the American Revolution and of the Bill of
Rights, securing individual rights.
What I have cherished about the Boston Bar is its embodiment, in addition, of
those new constitutional values which were enunciated as a result of the
Civil War and in its aftermath. Those are the values of equality and
access, values which infuse the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments and, in the 20th
Century, the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. The post
Civil War amendments moved from the concept of civil liberties to the additional
concept of civil rights. And through the 14th Amendment due process
clause, these guarantees were extended to the states. The Boston Bar has -
- both in its activities and in its very character and identity - - expressed
these values of equality and access and due process.
tell you of how I first came to join the Boston Bar. In 1974, before the
Cohn award existed, the BBA decided to give its public service award to federal
Judge W. Arthur Garrity, whose orders remedied the blatantly unconstitutional
and deliberately segregated Boston Public Schools. As his findings made
clear, black and minority students received a markedly inferior
education. His orders were unpopular and led to unrest. Still,
the BBA chose to give him its public service award. A crowd jeered
outside the building during the ceremony. For safety reasons, Judge
Garrity had to be brought into the building through a rear entrance surrounded
by federal and local security. When BBA President Ed Barshak gave the much
and unfairly vilified federal judge the award, this Association stood up
for and emphasized the importance of the rule of law and of the 14th Amendment
guarantees. And it did not wait until calmer times; it did so in the midst
of the fray.
I was at that event. I had been a lawyer for
only three years. I thought that any organization which had the courage to
give Judge Garrity the award was a bar group to which I wanted to belong.
I joined, one thing led to another, and that decision is directly connected to
my becoming a judge and to today's event.
The BBA has never disappointed those early expectations of mine. The
BBA has stood not only for the rule of law, but it has also stood for the other
side of the coin: that the administration of the legal system must be
accountable and be honest. In the early 1990's through Jack Driscoll, Tom
Dwyer, Mike Keating, Rudy Pierce, Rick Ireland, Bob Popeo, Margaret Marshall and
others, this bar worked to make the state court system better and more
accountable. Related efforts go on even today.
The BBA has
also exemplified the values of equality and access in its identity and in the
opportunities it has given for leadership. As to racial equality, Rudy
Pierce became the first African American President of the BBA in 1989, followed
by Richard Soden and Renee Landers. By contrast, the first African
American President of the ABA, Dennis Archer, was in 2002. Morefield
Story, who was not African American, was BBA President from 1909 to 1913.
He went on to be both ABA President, and First President of the NAACP.
As to gender equality, again, the BBA has been in the forefront. My
predecessors as female BBA President, first Gene Dahmen in 1987, and then Margie
Marshall in 1991, were pioneers. In all, there have been nine women BBA
presidents and what a remarkable and accomplished list it is. By contrast,
the ABA did not have a woman President until 1995. What other organization
celebrates both John and Abigail Adams at its annual foundation fundraiser?
Let me refer again to the sense I have, on this occasion, of the chains of
connectedness in life. The problems of a given time are connected to those
of the past and are connected to those of the future. And if some of the
problems, like court reform, seen to recur, and we should appreciate that change
does happen, and progress is made, even if slowly.
One of my
favorite events is the annual dinner of the Boston Bar Presidents. At one,
I heard a story, part of this organization's living history, from a past
President, no longer with us. He had been told a story from the 1950's
about the Charlestown State Prison, which had opened in 1805. Conditions
were inhumane and intolerable and in 1955 prisoners revolted, gained control of
the prison, and took hostages. The desperate prisoners held off the
combined forces of the National Guard and prison guards. As tensions
built, the prisoners threatened to kill all five hostages; the Governor
threatened to kill all the prisoners.
Finally, the prisoners agreed that they would negotiate, but only on a
condition. That condition was that the negotiators be a civilian group
headed by the President of the Boston Bar Association. Such was the
reputation of the BBA for integrity and public service then, and now.
Those associated with the BBA are parts of interlocking circles in that long
great line of life. At West Point, they refer to the long gray line,
which encompasses those who served in the past, serve now, and will serve in the
future. I am honored to join the line of black-robed Cohn