Lawyers e-Journal

Thursday, Jun. 21, 2007
Image for Shakes in law
Photograph by Andy Brilliant
Boston attorney and MBA Past President Wayne Budd performing as the Duke at last Tuesday's performance of Shakespeare's legal-themed play, "Measure for Measure."

Judges and attorneys shine at Shakespeare in the Law event

About 475 people packed the lower level of the Shubert Theatre for the seventh annual Shakespeare in the Law event: a discussion and debate on the art and practice of judging, framed by a one-hour staged reading of Shakespeare's “Measure for Measure.”

The event was co-sponsored by the Massachusetts Bar Association, McCarter & English LLP, the Boston Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society and the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company.

Mark L. Wolf, chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, filled in as host of the event for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who was not able to attend. Wolf described Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” as a play full of “layers of moral contradiction.” Twenty years ago, he told the audience, he and his peers spent several hours discussing the play at a judges conference.

The impressive cast of judges and attorneys, coupled with the play’s rich content, made for an entertaining hour-long reading. “All lawyers are performers at heart,” event organizer and Boston attorney Daniel J. Kelly observed. His words proved true, as each of the participants shined in the Shubert’s spotlights: MBA Past President Wayne A. Budd donned a black hood to portray the Duke and his frequent disguise of a friar, and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, with a goofy cowboy hat and some rope-handcuffs, skillfully played the dimwitted Constable Elbow.

The play’s powerful themes also made for an engaging post-play discussion. Author and attorney Daniel Kornstein opened the discussion by pointing out that “Measure for Measure” has “more legal themes than any other Shakespeare play,” including the enforcement of morals, respect for the law, capital punishment and the art of judging. In a broad sense, Kornstein noted, the play asks, “What makes a good judge?”

The judges and attorneys spent the next hour discussing the qualities of a good judge, especially focusing on the modern-day issue of sentencing guidelines. Judge Nancy Gertner of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts identified an important theme of the play as having general rules for complex social situations. “Issues are never black and white,” she said, “Judges take many things into account [in sentencing].”

Judge Patti B. Saris, also of the U.S. District Court, agreed: “When issues about morality arise, mandatory minimums become more complicated.”

Look for more details about the event and the participants’ discussion in the July/August issue of Lawyers Journal.



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