Marshall to receive prestigious MBA judicial award

Issue January 2005 By Krista Zanin

Margaret H. Marshall
For her courage in writing the Goodridge v. Department of Public Health gay marriage decision and her unrelenting commitment to improving the administration of justice, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall will receive the MBA's prestigious Chief Justice Edward F. Hennessey Award. Association President Kathleen M. O'Donnell will present the award - which has been given out only twice in its 16-year history - to Marshall during the MBA's Annual Dinner 2005 on March 4.

"Given everything the chief justice has done both for the court system and some of decisions made in last year, certainly it is important that she be recognized," O'Donnell said. "Her entire career has been really fighting for civil rights and civil liberties and she is continuing to be a leader of those causes on her court. It is important for lawyers to recognize her and honor her for the courageous position she has taken."

Marshall said she is extremely honored to be receiving the award, both because it is named for Chief Justice Hennessey and because the Massachusetts Bar Association presents it.

"Any award that associates me with Chief Justice Hennessey is a singular distinction, because he is one of the great chief justices of this court," Marshall said. "His contributions not only to jurisprudence of the commonwealth but also to improving both the quality of substantive justice and administration of justice has long been recognized."

Marshall also said she was honored to receive the award because it is coming from the MBA, an organization she commended for committing itself to the "highest ideals of the profession."

"For over a century, it has contributed in significant ways to the improvement to the delivery of justice to all the residents of Massachusetts and it has made repeated serious and substantive contributions to improving the administration of justice," Marshall said.

Marshall was first appointed to the bench in 1996 as one of six associate justices of the Supreme Judicial Court. Appointed to her current position in 1999, Marshall is the first woman to serve as chief justice, and the second woman to serve as associate justice.

The Chief Justice Edward F. Hennessey Award is presented to judges of the federal or state bench within Massachusetts who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership and dedication to improving the administration of justice, furthering public understanding of and respect for the law, advancing legal scholarship and enriching the literature of the law, and, in so doing, upholding the highest tradition of public service.

"We're privileged to be honoring Chief Justice Marshall with the Hennessey Award," said MBA Acting Executive Director and General Counsel Martin W. Healy.

"It has only been given out on two prior occasions by the association and we are bestowing this prestigious honor on Chief Justice Marshall because of the stamp she has put on the judiciary during her short term there. She has been a leader in every area of her personal and professional career and her tenure as chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court mirrors that."

MBA officers nominated and the Executive Management Board approved Marshall for the award. The award's namesake, Chief Justice Hennessey, was the first to receive the award when it was presented in January 1988. The award was last presented in June 1993 to U.S. District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro.

Marshall describes her leadership style as harking back to the words in the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, particularly Article 29, which makes the administration of justice as important as the impartial interpretation of the laws.

"I like to go back to the written words of the constitution, as you know I am inspired by the architecture and words of the Massachusetts Constitution, and I am struck again and again by the visionary quality of the constitution, because, like in Article 29, it says, 'It is essential to the preservation of the rights of every individual, his life, liberty, property, and character, that there be an impartial interpretation of the laws, and administration of justice,'" Marshall said.

"And it could easily have stopped at the first part - impartial interpretation of the laws - and yet there was John Adams and the citizens who ratified the constitution focusing on the very beginning of that important aspect of our constitution.

"And in many ways, I think Chief Justice Hennessey and subsequent chief justices who followed, Chief Justice Liacos and Chief Justice Wilkins, devoted so much of their energy to not only the substance of the opinions of the court, but also to the very important corresponding responsibility, which is to make sure the administration be impartial."

When Marshall was sworn in as chief justice, she pointed to that aspect of the constitution and has held it as an important tenet since. It has influenced her to form the Monan Commission and now follow its guidelines to improve court efficiency.

"The Massachusetts Constitution goes on to spell out that prompt justice is important, and I think part of what the Monan Committee highlighted was there was a disparity between the substantive quality and the administrative quality of justice," Marshall said. "… Since the beginning of my tenure, I have been very conscious of the need to address both pieces of that constitutional provision."

In addition to the Goodridge decision, O'Donnell praised Marshall for her work to improve the efficiency of the court system.

"She has done a lot," O'Donnell said. "She has gone to the legislature and fought for the importance of funding. In the last several budget cycles, money was at a premium and she has been working to make the courts work more efficiently and as practicing lawyers we are thankful for that."

O'Donnell also said that, as chief justice, Marshall brings a unique approach.

"Unlike past chief justices, she is more known to members of the public," O'Donnell said. "I think she is a face for the court and that's important, because normally the judiciary is sort of nebulous and people hear about it, but they don't really see it. But I think Chief Justice Marshall has changed that. People notice her. They recognize her and they have strong feelings one way or the other about her, but (the court) is a living entity now, which I think is very important."

Marshall, likewise, commended the lawyers of the commonwealth for their work not only in the courtrooms, but also through organizations in their work to improve statutes; in their communities for which they serve on boards and committees; and other volunteer work.

"I am overwhelmed at the generosity and seriousness and commitment to fairness in equality and justice that I see reflected in lawyers in this commonwealth across the spectrum," she said.

Annual Dinner 2005 takes place Friday, March 3 at 7 p.m. at the Marriott Copley Place Hotel, Boston. It begins with a reception at 5:30 p.m. Tickets to the event are $125 each; tables of 10 are $1,000. Sponsorship opportunities for the Annual Dinner also are available.