Squillante kicks off centennial, honors Sen. Menard

Issue October 2010 By Jennifer Rosinski

As the Massachusetts Bar Association begins its 100th anniversary, now is the perfect time to support our judges and state courts, MBA President Denise Squillante said at the President's Reception at Boston's Omni Parker House Sept. 16.

"We are in this centennial year at a crossroads of our struggling courts. Average students and average citizens, many do not understand the role of our courts. This lack of understanding leads to lack of respect," said Squillante, who outlined her plans to develop a Civics in Education program and increase the work of the Fair and Impartial Judiciary Strike Force. "These issues are all wrapped up together, respect and understanding."

In his introduction of Squillante, MBA Past President Edward P. Ryan Jr. applauded her decades-long history of hard work in bar associations and commended her efforts in raising awareness of the good work of lawyers.

"Denise Squillante is also someone who has never shied away from the acknowledgment that she is a lawyer. She's proud to be a lawyer," said Ryan, chair of the Fair and Impartial Judiciary Strike Force. "She has carried the banner of 'proud to be a lawyer' her entire career."

Following a standing ovation, Squillante explained it was Ryan who introduced her to bar association work 15 years into her career. "I was literally plucked out of a crowd," she said. And then she received a letter from Ryan's wife, Mal Ryan, inviting her to join the Family Law Section.

The timing was perfect, said Squillante, who was contemplating leaving the practice of law to teach the subject. "I was literally at a career crossroads." She said she was feeling isolated. "It gave me, as a solo practitioner, a home. That is one of the real member benefits I hope to share across the state."

Also at the reception, Squillante presented state Sen. Joan M. Menard (D-Fall River) with the MBA Legislator of the Year Award. Presented annually, it recognizes a state or federal legislator who has distinguished himself or herself in public service through outstanding contributions to the legal profession, courts and administration of justice.

Calling her a "trailblazer for women in the Legislature," Squillante said Menard "has proven to be a true leader with an outstanding intellect and an extraordinary ability. Her superior leadership skills and loyalty have been recognized throughout her rise through the ranks."

In her sixth, and final, term representing the citizens of the 1st Bristol and Plymouth District, Menard is assistant majority leader of the Massachusetts Senate and sits on the Senate Committee on Ethics and Rules and the Joint Committees on Election Laws and Labor and Workforce Development.

Menard, Squillante said, has vigorously fought for the court system and played a key role in the passage of every piece of legislation affecting the judiciary and administration of justice for many years.

"Her colleagues will tell you she's straightforward and straight talking," Squillante said.

Prior to Menard's 1999 Senate election, she served in the House of Representatives for 20 years. During her time in the House, she was a member of leadership, serving as assistant majority whip and majority whip. Menard was the first woman to serve as chairperson of the Massachusetts Democratic Committee and president of the Association of State Democratic Chairs. She is a former fourth grade teacher and special education administrator in the Somerset school system.

Describing herself as "overwhelmed" by the honor, Menard said she has had an amazing 32 years in the Legislature. "It has been a fantastic career for me," she said.

Despite three decades in the Legislature, Menard said she first stepped into a courtroom to watch a trial three years ago: "I was impressed." Squillante's goal of increasing awareness of the court system through civics in education is an idea that Menard said she can support.

"It is pretty amazing how little people know about the court system," she said. "Maybe I can go and teach civics to the kids in my retirement."