Ireland sworn in as chief justice

Issue January 2011 By Tricia Oliver

he Hon. Roderick L. Ireland was sworn in as the first African-American chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on Monday, Dec. 20. Gov. Deval Patrick administered Ireland's Oath of Office, during which Ireland's 93-year-old mother held the Bible for her son.

Featured speakers included Ireland's longtime friend and Massachusetts Bar Association Past President Wayne A. Budd, who served as the master of ceremonies; the Rev. Doctor Evan C. Hines Jr.; former SJC Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall (ret.); Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray; and Patrick.

Budd described Ireland as someone highly capable of bearing the "heavy mantle" of chief justice. "Right out of the box, Justice Ireland was the universal favorite of the bar and the bench" to succeed Marshall as chief, he said. "This was no surprise to those of us who've known him."

Marshall followed Budd's introduction, saying "The donning of a black robe may change a man … not so for Roderick Ireland. Wise, fair, humble and confident are the characteristics of the man and the justice."

Following brief remarks from Lt. Gov. Murray, Patrick personalized the event by addressing Ireland's family - telling them their love and support had a hand in Ireland's professional success. He called out Ireland's "sharp intellect and sound judgment" and made a mention of his "formidable work ethic." Patrick described Ireland as "unfailingly kind and approachable," and said that those attributes will be helpful with the challenges that lie ahead.

"This is the right man at the right time," said Patrick.

Following the oath, Ireland spoke of what lies ahead for him as the state's top judge, making three points regarding the challenges that await him as chief justice:

"These are really tough times for the court system … I don't have a magic wand to fix what's broken … and we need to have realistic expectations for the court system and for me."

He called for the courts to offer more transparency, especially for those not familiar with the judicial system. He also vowed to "work more with bar associations to advocate for the court system." He pledged to do his best to work on what is the "right thing for citizens of the commonwealth."

Ireland is the 35th chief justice to lead the SJC, the oldest court in continuous service in the western hemisphere, operating under the oldest, still functioning, written constitution in the world. Ireland's ascension to SJC chief justice follows his 33 years of service on the bench. Gov. Michael Dukakis first appointed Ireland to the Boston Juvenile Court in 1977 and then to the Appeals Court in 1990. It was Gov. William Weld who appointed Ireland to the SJC in 1997.