From Beach Street to the Bench:Chief Justice Dawley

It was the active community and strong leaders in Revere that Chief Justice Paul Dawley credits in forming his ability to succeed all the way to the top levels of the state judiciary.

Having just been re-appointed last week to another five-year term as Chief Justice of the District Court statewide system, Dawley said his ability to be a prosecutor, and now a judge, came from his upbringing on Beach Street in the Immaculate Conception (IC) Parish.

“It had a great impact on me and it was a great place to grow up,” said Dawley this week from his office in Boston’s Edward Brooke Courthouse. “There were a lot of great influences growing up in Revere. I learned a great deal from the people in my life like the Sisters of St. Joseph at IC. I worked a number of years at Kelly’s Roast Beef during high school and college. Revere played a big role in what I’ve done and who I am now.”

Dawley – son of the late James and Barbara Dawley – was one of eight children and attended IC School as a youngster, and then went on to Boston College High School. He went to college at Tufts University and then to Suffolk University Law School.

A prolific athlete on the baseball diamond (he played baseball in college) and the basketball court, he said that along the way, he found great coaches and mentors in Revere. He recalled Bob McCarrick, Peter DiCarlo, and George Doucette.

“The coaches I had like those guys were phenomenal coaches, but also great role models for me,” he said. “I was fortunate in terms of education and the coaches I had in particular. I had great mentors in Revere.”

Dawley began his career in the courts when he became a prosecutor many years ago in the Plymouth County District Attorney’s office. It was intended to be temporary, but ended up being more than a decade.

“Initially I thought it would be interesting to work in the DA’s office for experience, and I only intended to stay a short time,” he said. “I ended up being there 12 years and I grew to love it. It provided great experience and it was challenging.”

In 2001, his career took a different turn – this time to the other side of the system. He was appointed as an associate justice in the Brockton District Court, and later became first justice there, and then the regional administrator.

In 2013, Dawley was appointed as the Chief Justice of the District Court system, which gave him oversight of 62 courts statewide, 158 judges and more than 1,000 court employees. It includes civil and criminal matters at each of the district courts, as well as professional development for judges and clerk magistrates.

Now, he has been appointed to a second five-year term.

Chief Justice Dawley said it was a very big transition going from lawyer to judge, but one he learned.

“It is a significant transition because you’re no longer an advocate,” he said. “A judge is expected to be fair and impartial. Some equate it to being a referee, actually.

Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey, on Friday, said she was pleased to re-appoint Chief Justice Dawley.

“I am pleased to announce the reappointment of Chief Justice Paul Dawley to this very challenging role leading our largest court department,” said Chief Justice Carey. “Chief Justice Dawley is an extraordinary leader. He has worked with passion and dedication, managing the operation of this 1,000-person department. His substantial experience as a chief justice, judge and administrator has shaped the direction of court procedures and processes, not only in the District Court but for the Trial Court as a whole. Chief Justice Dawley is a humble leader who never backs away from a challenge and continually seeks to improve the judicial system.” 

Dawley said the main priority will remain addressing mental health challenges and drug use disorders – including in the Drug Court models, which will expand statewide this coming year on his watch.

“When I first started as a judge, a lot of the work of a judge was to make legal decisions,” he said. “We’ve been asked more and more…to address the individual problems people have related to mental health and drug abuse disorders. In a way, the role of the court has changed to address these important issues…I’m pleased to say for this year, with the support of the Legislature and the governor, that we have the funding to provide statewide sessions for Drug Court for all defendants.”

Technically speaking, he said the District Courts are looking to implement more technology so that civil cases can be filed online, fees/fines can be paid online and police departments can file criminal complaints with the court electronically.

A final priority that Chief Justice Dawley said was important to him was getting out to talk to middle school kids about the court.

Members of the court are encouraged to visit classrooms to educate students on the judicial system and the various parts of it.

The District Court Department is comprised of 62 divisions with 158 authorized judicial positions across the Commonwealth. The Massachusetts Trial Court includes seven court departments with 385 judges who deliver justice in 99 courthouses across the state.

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