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2012 MBA Annual Dinner will honor Rep. DeLeo as Legislator of the Year

More than 50 years after the legal community first began to talk about reforming the management of the state's Trial Court Department, it has become a reality. It's a change that could never have happened without the work of Speaker of the House Robert A. DeLeo, who partnered with Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland to draft legislation that will, this spring, place a civilian in charge of the court's business functions.

"This was the first time in my history that a speaker and Supreme Judicial Court chief justice were standing together," DeLeo said, a hint of awe in his voice as he retold the story of their partnership from his seat in a wing-back chair inside his Statehouse office adorned with ornate wood paneling.

DeLeo admitted that the Legislature and the judiciary have a history of not getting along. "Usually we're at each other's throats," he said. Not this time. DeLeo, himself an attorney, said he approached Ireland about court management: "How about you and I work on a bill together?" The chief justice took him up on the unlikely offer.

It is for that ability to join two groups often on opposing sides, and a long history of working to advance MBA-supported legislation, that DeLeo will be honored with the 2012 Legislator of the Year Award at the MBA's May 31 Annual Dinner at the Westin Boston Waterfront. This is DeLeo's second time receiving the honor; the first came in 1998 for his support of guardianship legislation.

The MBA has pushed for court reform since it published its first report, Res Gestae, on the issue back in 1976. Additional studies were to follow over the next few decades, among them the independently commissioned 1991 Harbridge House Report and the 2003 MBA Court Study Task Force Report, both recommending hiring a non-judicial court administrator.

Problems with hiring and promotion within Massachusetts' Probation Department were the impetus for court management reform, said DeLeo, who has been speaker since January 2009. In the aftermath of the disclosure about troubles in the Probation Department, DeLeo said his first visit was to Father J. Donald Monan. The Boston College chancellor chaired the committee that wrote 2003's Monan Report, the blueprint for court reform. "I think now is a great opportunity to talk about judicial reform," Monan told DeLeo.

And talk DeLeo did. The speaker spoke with prominent members of the legal and legislative communities, including MBA Chief Operating Officer and Chief Legal Counsel Martin W. Healy. "The interest I got was fascinating," DeLeo said. Healy, who has advocated on myriad court and legal reform measures for well over two decades said, "the chess board was finally aligned on the issue and it took bold and courageous leadership to advance such wide-sweeping change."

The legislation -- signed into law by Gov. Deval L. Patrick in August 2011 -- not only puts a civilian in charge of non-judicial business of the court, but provides much-needed reforms to the Probation Department hiring process. All job applicants must take standardized tests, and every recommendation -- only considered after a candidate is named a finalist -- must be written and made public. "We have an awful lot of checks and balances," DeLeo said.

Court management reform wasn't the only legal issue DeLeo helped get passed using his knack for bringing together representatives from various viewpoints. Massachusetts' landmark alimony reform bill -- signed into law in September 2011 -- found support from DeLeo, without which the bill would have never made it to the floor of the House of Representatives.

DeLeo said he was honestly "shocked" that the bill became law, and wishes the Legislature could have that same level of cooperation more often.

"Without the work of the people who formed the blue ribbon commission, [alimony reform] never would have happened," said DeLeo, a former assistant registrar of probate whose past legal practice handled divorce cases.

Immediate Past President Denise Squillante, a family law practitioner in Fall River, was a part of that group, a legislative task force created by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. "She really played a big part in making sure that it was done," DeLeo said.

A full-fledged career in politics wasn't a conscious decision of DeLeo's, although he did find the subject interesting. DeLeo was elected to the House of Representatives in November 1990 and has served as chair of House Ways and Means. A peek into the speaker's childhood illustrates the intensity of that interest.

"My parents would often mention that when I was six, I would watch conventions," said DeLeo, quickly adding that despite being a Democrat, he was equally interested in both parties' conventions. "I would get up on my table or chair and mimic what was being said at the time."

While a student at Suffolk University Law School in 1976, DeLeo even helped campaign for Jimmy Carter in the Federal Hill section of Rhode Island, a neighborhood with a high concentration of Italian immigrants.

Respected for his listening skills and honesty, DeLeo made his debut in politics as a Winthrop Town Meeting member. He held that title until the town changed its form of government six years ago, replacing representative town meeting with a town council.

"I was the first town meeting member in history who went door to door," said DeLeo, noting that he campaigned with homemade signs.

DeLeo went on to sit on the Winthrop Democratic Town Committee and Board of Selectmen for nine years, serving as board chairman for three. It was there that he learned the art of handling sensitive issues affecting different groups. Winthrop has had its share of complicated issues, including its relationship with Logan Airport, its beachfronts, tolls and the construction of the Deer Island Waste Water Treatment Plant in Winthrop Bay.

"Local government really prepared me well, I think, for state government," he said. "My understanding that the decisions they make here … can affect local government." ?

Annual Dinner set for May 31

The Massachusetts Bar Association is proud to announce it will hold its 2012 Annual Dinner on Thursday, May 31, at the Westin Boston Waterfront, 425 Summer St., Boston.

Join us for a reception, beginning at 5:30 p.m., which will be followed by the Annual Dinner at 7 p.m. The event will feature the presentation of the Legislator of the Year Award to Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and the annual MBA Access to Justice Awards.

2012 MBA Annual Dinner sponsorship opportunities
Platinum Sponsor ($5,000)
Table for 10, full-page ad in dinner program, firm logo projected at the dinner, sponsorship level recognition in Lawyers Journal and displayed on MBA website
Gold Sponsor ($3,500)
Table for 10, ½-page ad in dinner program, firm logo projected at the dinner, sponsorship level recognition in Lawyers Journal and displayed on MBA website
Silver sponsor ($2,500)
Table for 10, ¼-page ad in dinner program, firm logo projected at the dinner
Table for 10 ($1,500)
Individual tickets are also available for $150 each.
For additional information, visit or call (617) 338-0543.

©2017 Massachusetts Bar Association