The recipe for a job done right

Issue October 2011

Massachusetts Appeals Court Associate Justice James F. McHugh has accepted a number of administrative judicial tasks over his career, including: overseeing the implementation of the MassCourts computer system for all seven trial court departments, and serving on the Supreme Judicial Court Committee on Judicial Ethics and the Task Force for Hiring in the Judicial Branch.

But his philosophy for handling such challenges was reflected in an incident that preceded his legal career, during his active-duty service in the U.S. Navy, from 1965 to 1967.

McHugh was stationed on the USS Renville, an APA-227 transport ship that shuttled Marines between San Diego and training camp in Okinawa, and then to Vietnam. The ship, built in 60 days in 1945 and designed to last a single trip because of the destroyers' high casualty rate, was still steaming back and forth 20 years later. During McHugh's sojourn, the single turbine that drove the ship developed a steam leak that defied two efforts to repair it. The ship sailed to Sasebo in Japan for a third attempt at repair.

He recalls a woman coming to the engine room, carrying sandpaper for metals, and calipers. She spent four 12-hour days at her task, hand-sanding the turbine and having the crew turn it every so often. Once it was put back together, "it never leaked again," says McHugh. "If you get the right people, with the right attitude to get the job done, that worked [in this case] and it works everywhere. That's critical to keep in mind."