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Inspiring speaker and honorees highlight 2024 Annual Dinner

Thursday, May 9, 2024
Article Picture
Photo Credit: Jeff Thiebauth
Top: MBA President Damian J. Turco speaks during the 2024 Annual Dinner.

Second from top: Sean K. Ellis, director of the Exoneree Network at the New England Innocence Project, delivers the keynote address.

Third from top: Suffolk University Law School student Johanna Merlos (left) receives the Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Scholarship from MBA President-elect Victoria M. Santoro.

Third from bottom: Mariana Medeiros (right) of Sobosik Law receives the Outstanding Young Lawyer Award from MBA Secretary Shayla Mombeleur.

Second from bottom: Hon. Angela M. Ordoñez (left) of the Barnstable Probate and Family Court receives the MBA President's Award from MBA Vice President Michael H. Hayden.

Bottom: State Sen. Michael J. Rodrigues (left) (D-First Bristol and Plymouth) receives the MBA Legislator of the Year Award from MBA Treasurer Samuel A. Segal.

The Massachusetts Bar Association held its sold-out Annual Dinner on Thursday, May 2, at the Westin Boston Seaport District in Boston, as several hundred members of the legal community came together to celebrate the MBA’s 2023-24 year.

As noted by MBA President Damian J. Turco, the last eight months have seen the MBA increase educational programming on legal technology and artificial intelligence, remain an active partner to law schools and affiliated bar associations, and provide funding and volunteer support to state innocence programs. Turco said that the MBA must continue to focus on improving the state of lawyer well-being and expanding access to civil justice, while praising members for their collective dedication to these causes.  

“We have a community of people who genuinely care about its betterment,” Turco said.

The highlight of the evening was the keynote address by Sean K. Ellis, who was wrongfully incarcerated for nearly 22 years and now serves as director of the Exoneree Network at the New England Innocence Project. Ellis captivated the audience as he described the painstaking experience of being sentenced at age 21 for a crime he did not commit, the harshness of life behind bars, and his newfound hope when criminal defense attorney Rosemary Scapicchio took his case.

Although he initially struggled to reacclimate to society following his exoneration and release, Ellis has found purpose in supporting fellow exonerees on their journey to freedom and healing from incarceration.

“I feel a responsibility not to leave anyone else to go through the process alone, especially not after having to go through decades of wrongful conviction,” said Ellis, who spoke following introductions by Scapicchio and New England Innocence Project Executive Director Radha Natarajan.

Ellis concluded his remarks with an appeal to MBA members to broaden their legal horizons and become part of the innocence movement in Massachusetts.

“Tonight, I’ll ask you to choose courage — courage to put aside biases and to learn more. … Be courageous enough to join us in this work.”

The 2024 Annual Dinner also included the presentation of the following awards:

  • Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Scholarship: Johanna Merlos, Suffolk University Law School
  • Outstanding Young Lawyer Award: Mariana Medeiros, Sobosik Law
  • President’s Award: Hon. Angela M. Ordoñez, Barnstable Probate and Family Court
  • Legislator of the Year Award: State Sen. Michael J. Rodrigues (D-First Bristol and Plymouth)

Click here to view event photos by Jeff Thiebauth and Eric Haynes.