State Sen. Will Brownsberger began 2014 with a new role when he
was appointed chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary by
Senate President Therese Murray in January. While the chairmanship
is a fairly new position for Brownsberger, he is certainly no
stranger to the Massachusetts legal community, given his diverse
A native of Watertown and a resident of Belmont, Brownsberger has
represented the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District in the Senate
since 2012. His district covers Back Bay, Fenway, Brighton,
Watertown and Belmont, and also includes the south end of Allston.
Brownsberger also served as a state representative for the 24th
Middlesex District from 2007 to 2012.
After graduating from Harvard College and Harvard Law School,
Brownsberger spent eight years in New York in the finance and
software development industries. In 1992, he came back to his home
state of Massachusetts to serve as an assistant attorney general
under Scott Harshbarger. He spent five years at the Attorney
General's Office as the asset forfeiture chief in the Narcotics and
Special Investigations Unit, as well as deputy chief prosecutor in
the Public Protection Bureau.
"At the Attorney General's Office I got very interested in issues
of criminal justice policy, particularly around drug policy and
supervision of offenders in the criminal justice system," said
Most of Brownsberger's legal experience is on the criminal side,
both as a prosecutor and a defender. Before coming to the state
legislature, he served as a defense attorney in private practice,
including court-appointed criminal defense. He also taught and
served as a consultant at Harvard Medical School, the Boston
University School of Public Health and Harvard's Kennedy School of
"Senator Brownsberger brings a wealth of real world experience to
the senate chairmanship," said MBA Chief Legal Counsel and Chief
Operating Officer Martin W. Healy. "He is very bright and
understands the complexites of the legal system."
When former state senator Katherine Clark left the State House to
fill U.S. Sen. Ed Markey's vacated congressional seat in
Washington, D.C., Murray appointed Brownsberger as chair of the
judiciary committee, a role previously held by Clark.
"Senator Brownsberger is a deliberative and thoughtful leader in
the Senate and has a strong work ethic," said Murray in a January
press release announcing Brownsberger's selection.
New to the role, Brownsberger is setting realistic goals for the
work of the committee at the beginning of his leadership
"If my colleagues permit me to sit here for five or 10 years, I
would like to look back and think that we moved a lot of nuts and
bolts improvements that attorneys recognize as being necessary,"
said Brownsberger. "There are a lot of complicated issues that come
before this committee, often that reflect consensus products of
working attorneys. It's my hope that we'll be able to make those
things move so that incrementally over the next five or 10 years
we'll be able to see that the system has been improved, streamlined
and better able to serve the cause of justice for people and for
According to Brownsberger, a vital piece of the committee's
success will be based on listening to and understanding the needs
of the state's legal community. He appreciates the level of
collaborative work and consensus building that takes place within
the local legal realm, which is often facilitated by the
Massachusetts Bar Association through the House of Delegates,
section councils and special commissions.
"I'm going to be listening very carefully to members of the
judiciary, the working bar and my constituents to identify the
measures we need to take to continually improve the criminal
justice system and the civil justice system," he said. "Those
working groups that do an effective job at harmonizing and
recognizing the common elements and differing points of view in the
legal system are groups that I expect to depend on heavily over the
years to come. These areas of the law are complicated enough that
the legislature rarely moves on them unless there is a rather firm
consensus from within the legal community."
In terms of criminal justice reform, Brownsberger is motivated to
have the committee look at reducing the lengths of some "overly
punitive" sentences, which often place "collateral consequences" on
offenders once they have made a few mistakes in the criminal
justice system. He points to the loss of license after certain drug
offenses as an example. In addition, Brownsberger hopes to help
pass an adult guardianship reform bill (H.1366), which was referred
to the committee last year.
Brownsberger also provided his take on specialty courts and the
role of the court administrator. On the topic of specialty courts,
Brownsberger is cautious and wants to ensure that the creation of
additional specialty courts is appropriate. He notes that national
research, particularly as it relates to drug courts, supports the
creation of drug courts as an appropriate response for those with
very serious drug problems and addictions to hard core substances
such as alcohol, cocaine and heroin.
"We need to make sure that when we create specialty courts we are
in fact helping people more as opposed to intensifying the
consequences of their mistakes," he said. "It's important that
specialty courts be a vehicle for providing both additional
supervision and a lot of additional access to treatment. I think
they can be helpful if they're done right and targeted to the right
He sees the role of the court administrator as "exceedingly
constructive" and essential to the administration of justice. Lewis
H. "Harry" Spence was appointed as the first Court Administrator of
the Massachusetts Trial Court by the Supreme Judicial Court in
"Having a strong civilian administrator like Harry Spence is a
great boon to the court system which enables a strong chief justice
like Paula Carey to give her attention to the quality of justice as
opposed to just the operations of the process," noted Brownsberger.
"We've got a good team in place running our trial court right now
and I'm very enthusiastic about the work they're going to
Based on his strong legal background, Brownsberger is
well-positioned to hit the ground running - or biking, or even
swimming - in this new role as judiciary committee chair. An active
father of three daughters, Brownsberger has successfully competed
in Ironman triathlons, most recently in Lake Placid, N.Y., in 2009,
and Louisville, K.Y., in 2008. He's also been known to ride his
bike to work at the State House from time to time.
In his "latest major athletic adventure," he rode his bicycle
across the country, from Belmont to Anacortes, WA, in the summer of
2011. The 3,000-mile journey took 41 days, and he often stopped
along the way to meet people and talk with them.
"Most of all it was an emotional bonding experience with my
country," he wrote on his website in April 2012. "I was raised to
love our flag and to think of myself as an American and I do. But
the kindness of dozens of strangers brought me even closer to the
Whether it's competing in a triathlon, biking across the country
or serving the Massachusetts legal community, Brownsberger is
committed to going the extra mile and invites everyone to come
along for the ride.