From Boston to the Vatican and Beyond: Haskell Cohn Honoree Chief Justice Rapoza

The BBA is proud to be honoring Appeals Court Chief Justice Phillip Rapoza with the 2015 Haskell Cohn Award for Distinguished Judicial Service on September 24 (click here for tickets and details).  The award was established by Mintz Levin for one of its founding members, Haskell Cohn, in 1975 in honor of the 50th anniversary of Cohn’s admission to the bar.  It is presented to a member of the Massachusetts judiciary, or a resident of Massachusetts who is a member of the Federal Judiciary, who has distinguished himself/herself in a manner that calls for special recognition.

A tax and estate planning expert, Haskell Cohn served as BBA President from 1969 to 1971.  He was known for espousing many of the tenets central to the BBA’s mission.  As BBA President, he helped spark a fundraising drive to raise money for law school scholarships for students of color.  He urged lawyers to go beyond the narrow confines of the profession and was a driving force behind a BBA effort to help expand affordable housing stock in Boston.  He also cared deeply about the quality of the judiciary and served as Chair of the Joint Bar Committee.

The 31st Haskell Cohn Award recipient, Justice Phillip Rapoza, served as Chief of the Appeals Court from October 17, 2006, to June 30, 2015, when he retired from the judiciary.  He had served on the Appeals Court since 1998, and prior to that was a District and Superior Court Judge since he was appointed to the bench in 1992.  As Chief Justice, he played an important role in setting many key precedents for Massachusetts.  He also served admirably as chief administrator, managing all of the other Appeals Court justices and staff.  Finally, he worked to modernize the appeals court as a strong proponent and early adopter of electronic filing technology.

Justice Rapoza’s influence extends far beyond Massachusetts.  He is the grandson of Portuguese immigrants and is a leader in the Portuguese-American community in Massachusetts.  He is the first Portuguese-American judge to serve at the appellate level in Massachusetts. He served on the US Council of Chief Judges of State Courts of Appeals, lead the Commission for Justice Across the Atlantic, a judicial exchange program between the US and Portugal, and is President of the International Penal and Penitentiary Foundation.  In his role with the IPPF, he was recently invited to address the pope.  He used this opportunity to speak on the rehabilitation and reintegration of criminals, an issue we have discussed here a number of times beforeIn his speech he described the negative impact of high incarceration rates globally and the lack of rehabilitative opportunities for inmates.  He encouraged justice reinvestment through the use of alternative sentences, intermediate sanctions, and diversionary programs that would benefit the individual, their family, and the community at large.  The BBA has long supported these sorts of measures to end mass incarceration and we are pleased to see Justice Rapoza addressing them on a world stage.

Justice Rapoza is also a leader in the field of international criminal justice, working to spread the rule of law in the developing world, including serving on UN-backed war crimes tribunals in East Timor and Cambodia.  From 2003 to 2005, he took an unpaid leave of absence from the Appeals Court to work for the United Nations, serving in East Timor as an international judge and coordinator of the Special Panels for Serious Crimes.  The Special Panels was a war crimes tribunal established by the UN to prosecute crimes against humanity and other serious offenses committed during the Indonesian occupation of East Timor.

Justice Rapoza has demonstrated his remarkable commitment to justice and the rule of law both at home and around the world.  His work illustrates how a state court judge can have an influence around the globe, and he stands as a reminder of the excellence of the Massachusetts judiciary.  We look forward to presenting him with our highest recognition for the judiciary, and we hope to see you there.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association