Martha Browning Sosam
A special sitting of the Supreme Judicial Court was held at Boston on June 10, 2008, at which a Memorial to the late Justice Martha Browning Sosman was presented.
Present: Chief Justice Marshall; Justices Greaney, Ireland, Spina, Cowin, Cordy, and Botsford; and retired Justice Ruth I. Abrams.
Martha Coakley, Attorney General, addressed the court as follows:
May it please the court: As the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it is my honor to present, on behalf of the bar of this Commonwealth, a memorial and tribute to the late Martha Browning Sosman. Justice Sosman served this court as an Associate Justice with great distinction from 2000 until she died much too soon on March 10, 2007. She also served as a judge of the Superior Court for more than seven years.
Justice Sosman was born on October 20, 1950, in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father, J. Leland Sosman, M.D., was a radiologist at the Robert Breck Brigham Hospital and her mother, Mary Jo Sosman, stayed at home to raise her five children. Justice Sosman grew up in Concord and graduated from Concord-Carlisle Regional High School in 1968. She obtained her bachelor's degree cum laude from Middlebury College in 1972. Following her graduation from college, she worked as a secretary at Harvard's Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, and then as a research assistant at the Harvard School of Public Health. When she decided to pursue a career in law, she attended the University of Michigan Law School graduating with her Juris Doctor degree magna cum laude in 1979. She returned to Massachusetts and joined Foley, Hoag & Eliot as an associate. In 1984, she joined the United States Attorney's Office and, in 1986, was promoted to Chief of the Civil Division.
In 1989, Justice Sosman and four other Assistant United States Attorneys in the Civil Division founded the law firm of Kern, Sosman, Hagerty, Roach & Carpenter, P.C. In 1993, Governor William Weld, with whom she had worked at the United States Attorney's Office, appointed Justice Sosman to the Superior Court. Governor Paul Cellucci elevated Justice Sosman to the Supreme Judicial Court in 2000 and she first sat with the court on September 7 that year.
Without exception, all members of the bar I have spoken with while preparing this tribute have noted Justice Sosman's soaring intellect while also emphasizing her judicial presence. One colleague in the Attorney General's office, who had the pleasure of appearing before her in the Superior Court, the single justice session of the county court, and the Supreme Judicial Court described her overarching approach to judging: "She viewed herself as a public servant, one who served to resolve disputes brought before her by the parties, in a manner that met their needs to the greatest extent possible (consistent with the needs of other litigants in other cases) and that gave legitimacy to the outcome, even in the eyes of the losing parties."
During her tenure on the Superior Court, Justice Sosman presided over a full range of cases and had her share of travel on the circuit. She enjoyed the circuit because, as she observed, the "legal practice is actually quite different in different cities, the attitudes, the approaches the lawyers take, so it was refreshing."
Refreshing as well, was her performance on the Superior Court. By all accounts, her rulings from the bench as well as her written decisions were clear, well-reasoned, and made all parties feel that their arguments had been heard and understood, even if not accepted. She was not merely courteous but unfailingly friendly to counsel and witnesses, both in chambers and on the bench. Yet she maintained an appropriate distance and demeanor and never left any doubt as to her complete impartiality.
As an Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court she sat as the single justice who handled the "Clean Elections" case on remand from the full court's decision in Bates v. Director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, 436 Mass. 144 (2002), in which the court had ruled that the Massachusetts Constitution required the Legislature to fund the "Clean Elections" law. The proceedings on remand required Justice Sosman to resolve several significant constitutional issues of first impression and also required her to establish an efficient system for the rapid entry of multiple money judgments for "Clean Elections" candidates. She resolved the legal and practical issues with a keen sense of her responsibility to the public, as well as to the full court, which had entrusted her with implementing the unusual remedy it had ordered. And she did so with the same pleasant demeanor, yet firm control over the tone and content of the proceedings, she had displayed while on the Superior Court.
When appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court, there were some who expected Justice Sosman to be an activist judge. "A quick review of the resume makes people leap to various conclusions about me," she said. "The five-woman firm, the involvement [as a board member of] Planned Parenthood, . . . added to this image that I was going to be this crusading feminist whatnot, which is certainly not what I am."
What Justice Sosman was, as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Judicial Court, in the words of Chief Justice Marshall, was a "jurist's jurist" with a "delicious sense of humor." Her keen intellect was evident not only in the clear, thorough, and accessible opinions that she crafted but also in her focused and penetrating questioning of attorneys during oral arguments. One seasoned practitioner before the court described Justice Sosman at oral argument this way:
"She was always focused on digging out the precise facts that determined the issue and expected you to give her the detailed iron-clad reasoning behind your arguments. She really wanted to make the most of the oral argument time to get at what she thought were the central matters in the case, and she very regularly participated fully in the colloquies."
Another veteran appellate advocate described his experience at oral argument:
"When you prepared for argument, you knew that if there was an inherent weakness in your case, the first question out of the box would be from Justice Sosman, and it was going to focus on that weakness."
Justice Sosman wrote eloquent opinions in which she sought to explain to the parties, the bar and the public how and why the court -- or when she was concurring or dissenting -- reached the result that the court -- or she -- did. One example: Justice Sosman was the author of the majority opinion in Commonwealth v. DiGiambattista, 442 Mass. 423 (2004), which dealt with the voluntariness of a defendant's confession. For years the court had recommended that police departments record, either by audiotape or videotape, the confessions of criminal defendants made during custodial interrogations. Those recommendations had not been widely heeded. In DiGiambattista, where a confession was made following police "trickery," the court held that the Commonwealth had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant's unrecorded confession was voluntary. In an attempt to better preserve the context in which a defendant confesses during interrogation, the majority of the court went beyond recommending to imposing consequences for failing to record interrogations in an attempt to "improve the efficiency, accuracy and fairness of criminal proceedings." 442 Mass at 449. While all might not agree that such consequences were necessary or desirable, Justice Sosman clearly explained why a jury instruction concerning the care with which a jury should consider an unrecorded confession would be required:
"Even assuming the most conscientious and good faith efforts of an interrogating officer, and even aided by a contemporaneous written statement or summary report, the officer can at best reconstruct only a portion of what was said over the course of an interrogation conducted months and oftentimes years prior to the time the officer testifies. Those contemporaneous written reports and statements can only reflect what the officer at the time perceived to be of significance to the case, which may not include issues that emerge only later during the investigation or at trial."
442 Mass. at 446. Her explanation spoke to law enforcement so that those who would need to make the recordings would understand how this seeming burden would benefit them as well.
Off the bench there was so much Justice Sosman enjoyed. She was an accomplished classical pianist, an avid gardener, and fervent Red Sox fan. These passions, as well as her passion for justice, continued following her breast cancer diagnosis in 2005. Despite debilitating cancer treatments, Justice Sosman continued to participate in the court's oral arguments and decisions. Chief Justice Marshall remarked: "She was on the bench with hair loss and without hair loss. It made no difference to her. I think if you speak to the lawyers who appeared in front of her long after the cancer was diagnosed -- and she was back again after rounds of treatment -- they would say that her questioning was as decisive and to the point as it had been when she first came onto the bench."
Outside of the court and the members of the bar of the Commonwealth, Justice Sosman was best known as one of the dissenters in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, 440 Mass. 309 (2003). But that dissent is not her legacy. Although in that dissent Justice Sosman held firm to her judicial philosophy, she did so in full recognition that that philosophy of restraint collided with her own humanity:
"I fully appreciate the strength of the temptation to find this particular law unconstitutional -- there is much to be said for the argument that excluding gay and lesbian couples from the benefits of civil marriage is cruelly unfair and hopelessly outdated; the inability to marry has a profound impact on the personal lives of committed gay and lesbian couples (and their children) to whom we are personally close (our friends, neighbors, family members, classmates, and co-workers); and our resolution of this issue takes place under the intense glare of national and international publicity. Speaking metaphorically, these factors have combined to turn the case before us into a 'perfect storm' of a constitutional question. In my view, however, such factors make it all the more imperative that we adhere precisely and scrupulously to the established guideposts of our constitutional jurisprudence . . . ."
440 Mass. at 363.
Two months after the Goodridge decision, Justice Sosman was interviewed as part of the Concord Oral History Program. She described the path that carried her from growing up in Concord to the Supreme Judicial Court:
"I did not set out to be a judge. I didn't even initially set out to be a lawyer. When I was going through school, I was interested in many, many things. To me the hard part was choosing which of them to do, not finding something that I liked. There were too many things that I liked. I ultimately chose the law, but at that time my ambition was to do litigation and be involved in litigation, which I was. I did not envision becoming a judge until well on in my career. I felt as I got exposed to it . . . what judges did was very challenging and was very interesting and demanded a lot of different talents. By that time Bill Weld had become Governor and he was familiar with my work and knew me. He was very interested I think in increasing the number of women . . . on the bench, so he wanted me to become a judge. So I did. I've always felt it important . . . to be open minded about what you're going to do because things you never thought of and opportunities you never dreamed of may occur and you should be ready to take them. [Becoming a judge] was one for me and I'm thrilled I did it. I loved being a lawyer, but I've loved [being] a judge. I loved being a trial judge, but I love being an appellate judge. I really have enjoyed all of it."
On behalf of the Commonwealth, I respectfully move that this Memorial be spread on the records of the Supreme Judicial Court.
Superior Court judge Christine M. Roach addressed the court as follows:
Chief Justice Marshall, members of the court. May it please the court: On behalf of the friends and colleagues at bar of Justice Sosman, it is my privilege to present this tribute to our dear Martha B., who served as an Associate Justice of this court.
I am particularly honored to offer this tribute to a woman whose life's work, incomparable intellect, and solid good humor have shaped the past twenty years of my own work as a lawyer, and now as a judge.
I knew Martha as did many here today as an advocate, a trial judge, and a most active member of this esteemed bench. It was also, however, my supreme good fortune to know Martha as a boss, and as a fiduciary. My memories of Martha are book-ended by my very first memory and my very last memory. Each is vivid, because each is steeped in the personality of Martha.
The first memory came when I went to the United States Attorney's Office, then located at the old Post Office Square Building, to interview with Martha for a job as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Civil Division. This was the late winter 1987, and Martha was the Chief of the Civil Division. She sat in a vast, poorly lit office, behind a grubby old desk. The carpet on the floor was stained an indescribable color. Martha was wearing an oddly bright fuschia knit dress, one of her arms was in a large cast, and she had a very bad cold.
I was coming from a shiny-new, clean glass tower a few blocks down the street, where everyone tried to dress for success. I wondered, "What have I done?" My boss-to-be put me in my place immediately, by asking in that uniquely precise and insistent tone: "What exactly was it that attracted you to that law firm to begin with?"
What I did not know at the time is that the Civil Division was suffering from one of those extended government hiring freezes. Martha had been working for many months with only a few Assistant United States Attorneys. Because they were all male, and because they met around sandwiches at lunch, she called them her cub scout troop. Within a matter of months, Martha had hired four new Assistant United States Attorneys -- all women. We later learned she was subjected to a fair amount of commentary, some friendly and some not, for that.
I soon came to know these hallmarks of Martha's leadership. She was direct, she was efficient, and she was very wise. She never micro-managed, but she always knew exactly what was going on in the caseloads of her assistants. She paid attention. To the court dockets, to the conversations she heard in the halls, and to the expressions on our faces. Martha never asked her staff to do something she would not do herself. She ran interference for us with other powers-that-be, and she protected us from the vagaries of those powers. She carried a caseload of her own, in addition to all of her administrative duties. In fact, she always volunteered to take the hardest cases, the ones she feared would become controversial, herself.
But perhaps more important, as chief, Martha was a superb judge of the strengths, the weaknesses, and the potential of her staff. I had only been in the office a short time when Martha began to assign to me a collection of old, stubborn, complicated, housing cases on the subject of race discrimination. She said to me in that bright, perky tone of hers: "I've noticed you are always reading the newspapers [something Martha didn't like to do] and you understand this political stuff. We'll probably be fighting with the Mayor and our own clients in Washington on this, so I'm sure you'll be just fine." Every lawyer working for Martha had this experience.
The Civil Division with Martha as chief was an extraordinarily productive, cooperative, rewarding place to work. Many of us had come from environments where, if you feared making a mistake, vultures would hover. In Martha's shop, everyone circled to figure out how they could help. The success of one was truly the success of all, and the bar for that success was set exuberantly high. All of this must be credited to Martha and her leadership. Judge David Mazzone, that shrewd assessor of humans, said of Martha during her service in the Federal court simply this: "She's terribly, terribly, smart."
All of the talents the Commonwealth came to appreciate were in evidence then. Martha knew in her bones that justice was not about the lawyer, or the judge, but was about bringing dignity to the courtroom, on behalf of the parties and the rule of law. She possessed absolutely no political agenda, for as she told the Boston Globe, she was never a "crusading feminist liberal whatnot." All she wanted to do was, again in her own words, "apply the rule of law in a consistent, sensible and intellectually honest way." That she did so, and repeatedly got it right with what for her seemed like routine flashes of brilliance, was the Commonwealth's bounty.
My last image of Martha is as she stood, downstairs here in our beautiful hall, in January, 2007, just weeks before her own death, to help me eulogize Ellen Carpenter. Fully armed with her portable oxygen, Martha was her vintage self. As ever, she seemed a towering force well beyond her literal height. She spoke humorously, generously, and evocatively of our lost friend. She spoke for quite some time, in the strongest of voices. Many of Ellen's friends and colleagues from out of town had no idea Martha was ill. She rallied for Ellen, for me, and for a community of lawyers she knew to be in great pain.
Between these two bookends it was my privilege to know Martha as a fiduciary -- a law partner at Kern, Sosman, Hagerty, Roach & Carpenter -- and a friend. Martha was with us for fewer than three years only, from the opening of the firm in 1989 until she joined the Superior Court in 1993, but our memories of Martha in the firm are far more extensive than that.
I tell you now Martha was a rather . . . eccentric businesswoman. Her positions and pronouncements often kept the rest of us guessing. And she had a rather unique style at partner meetings. She would listen politely to everyone's views, but then just keep repeating over and over again verbatim, her own position -- which seldom changed. Much later I came truly to appreciate this rare quality possessed by Martha. She is the only person I have ever known who managed such a profound and abiding confidence in her own opinions and judgment, without a trace of arrogance.
When we were first planning our law firm and concerned about financing it, Martha made an offer. She volunteered, quite determinedly and repeatedly to, and I quote, "be the one who would go back to prison to make some quick money," so that the whole venture could be more viable. She was referring, of course, to the sacrifice of returning to life in a large corporate law firm. Luckily for us all, that did not become necessary.
But several other of Martha's business positions stand out. She announced there should be no need to purchase office furniture, because we could find anything we required in the Sosman barn out in Concord. She preferred to work on smaller business cases for repeat institutional clients -- because she could "get her arms around them" as she would say. She scoffed at the reference to "complex" litigation, which became popular during that time period, joking that she had a simple mind and thus preferred a simple case. She also dismissed out of hand the received wisdom of leveraging law firm personnel. She did not believe in hiring associates, because, as she said, "she would just have to look at every document herself, anyway." And, perhaps most important, she was adamantly opposed to borrowing money -- ever. I like to think her great dissents began in our conference room, every time she voted against going into our line of credit.
But in true Martha form, her views on money were entirely consistent. When she left the firm for the Superior Court, she insisted on leaving her equity contribution behind, to remain in the firm. Her reasoning was simple. She was going to be receiving a real salary now, so she would not be needing that money.
Perhaps my very favorite Martha quotation also came about as a result of her leaving the firm. Some of you may remember we hosted a lively open house to see her off. Martha immediately noticed that certain "important" people were in attendance that night, who either had never come to our parties before, or had not demonstrated the same level of respect to her personally prior to her nomination, when they were litigating against her. She drew herself up to that full height and sniffed, incredulously: "Do these people think I've developed amnesia?" Martha left behind far more than her equity contribution. A large piece of her heart always remained with us, and each time we as a group or as individuals sought new achievement, Martha was right there, rooting for us publicly and counseling us behind the scenes.
And so I close this tribute with a very private memory, should anyone not know that the heart of this woman, our Martha, was as full and as deep as her mind. It was Bennington, Vermont, December 16, 2006. I walked out of a church behind the Carpenter family surrounding Ellen's casket, and looked around in a daze. Somehow I could not bring myself to greet all of the Boston lawyers there, and so I began to walk away. But off to the side of the church stood a woman I almost did not recognize. And yet I knew instantly it was Martha, because although it was December in Vermont, and she was carrying oxygen, she was not wearing a coat. Martha hugged me close, for the first -- and the last -- time. She whispered in my ear -- something else that had never happened before in twenty years. She said, "I know this week, when you walked into that office every day, you felt completely alone. But you're not alone at all. I'm still here."
Martha's words comforted me then, and they inspire me now. The private loss to Martha's family, friends and colleagues has been matched only by the extraordinary public loss to the people of this Commonwealth. May those of us who work in the justice system she loved keep her here, and keep her close, by striving each day to live up to the standards she set for us all.
I second the Attorney General's motion, and thank you for being here today to honor Martha B. Sosman.
Brandon L. Bigelow, Esquire, addressed the court as follows:
Chief Justice Marshall and honorable members of the Supreme Judicial Court, may it please the court:
It has become the tradition of this court for a former law clerk to say a few words in support of the Attorney General's motion. Dalmau Garcia and I clerked for Justice Sosman from 2001 to 2002, and we have the special honor of having been asked by Justice Sosman's family to prepare these remarks today. The law clerks who served with Justice Sosman are not large in number, but we are part of the extended family who came to know, love, and respect her. If Dalmau and I may be so bold, we hope these remarks in some way express the thoughts of not only the extended family of Justice Sosman's law clerks, but also of her family, and all who came to know, love, and respect her.
Justice Sosman taught her law clerks to read the facts of each case and the record before the court closely, because the law does not deal in generalities; it cannot be applied without careful attention to the facts. This, of course, was easier for her than for us, because she was brilliant and had an incredible photographic memory. Shortly after I started working for Justice Sosman, I spent a full day looking through a two- or three-foot pile of trial transcripts, searching without success for a reference to support a sentence in an opinion she had drafted. At the end of the day, I slunk into her chambers to admit defeat. She laughed her signature good-natured and high-pitched laugh, told me not to be afraid to come to her with questions, and then referred me to the volume of the transcript and the location in the volume where I would find the reference. Dalmau and I would disappoint our teacher if we spoke in generalities. Instead, we will tell a few stories that we think tell something about Justice Sosman.
For all the successes she enjoyed, Justice Sosman wore her authority as a judge lightly. She was as happy talking about skiing with her family, dog sledding in Maine, the Red Sox game the night before, or the latest happenings in her garden, as she was talking about the weighty issues before the court. Her sister, Carol, tells a wonderful story about Justice Sosman shortly after she was appointed to the Superior Court. Justice Sosman was working in her chambers one day, eschewing her desk for a nearby work table. There she sat, surrounded by books, when she was approached by a young law clerk. The law clerk, supposing that she was another law clerk, approached to ask a question: what was it really like to work for Judge Sosman? I hope Justice Sosman told the law clerk that it was great. She would have been right.
Justice Sosman was fiercely passionate about the Boston Red Sox and other local sports heroes. Dalmau and I first saw Justice Sosman's chambers on our first day as her law clerks. Instead of a room with stately portraits of past justices of the Supreme Judicial Court, we found pictures of Ted Williams and Bobby Orr hanging on the wall. Justice Sosman explained that these sports legends focused all their talent and their heart on accomplishing their goals, a value her parents had instilled in their children from an early age. She was fond of quoting her mother, the late Jo Sosman, who taught her children that it didn't matter what they did in life, as long as they did it to the very best of their abilities.
Justice Sosman was even more passionate and proud of her tight-knit family. She spoke frequently and with pride of her father, the late Dr. Leland Sosman; of her sisters, Nancy, Carol, and Amy; her brother, Eric; and her nephews, Ethan and Jeremy. Justice Sosman moved back into the family home in Concord to live with her father after her mother passed away in 1993, because without a housemate, her father could not have stayed in the house alone. She tended with care a thriving garden at the family home, and many lucky members of the court staff enjoyed fresh vegetables courtesy of Justice Sosman throughout the summer as the season progressed. One of Justice Sosman's greatest regrets when she fell ill was that she would not be able to fulfil her goal of allowing her father to finish his days in the home he loved, but she took comfort in knowing that her sister, Nancy, would take up the reins for what turned out to be the final year of their father's life.
One of Justice Sosman's piano instructors at the Longy School of Music spoke of how she was "a woman equally at home on two benches," the piano and the Supreme Judicial Court. Justice Sosman loved a challenge and had a knack for figuring things out -- whether it was mastering the piano or the intricacies of DNA evidence, from Justice Sosman's perspective, the more difficult, the better. Her friends and colleagues tell of piano recitals where Justice Sosman played difficult pieces with unabashed joy, resplendent in evening gowns she made herself. Her first law clerks, Kristen McLean and Paula McManus, still recall the spring and summer of 2001, when Justice Sosman immersed herself for weeks in the arcane science of restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis and polymerase chain reaction technology. Her resulting opinion in Commonwealth v. McNickles, 434 Mass. 839 (2001), is a testament to Justice Sosman's skill as both a student and teacher, and remains the authoritative opinion and clearest statement about DNA evidence in Massachusetts.
Justice Sosman brought common sense and a sense of humor to the bench. During the year Dalmau and I clerked, Justice Sosman was the single justice to whom the Supreme Judicial Court remanded Bates v. Director of Office of Campaign and Political Finance, 436 Mass. 144 (2002), more commonly referred to as the "Clean Elections" case. Massachusetts voters had passed the Clean Elections Law by popular referendum to provide public campaign financing to candidates who accepted spending limits, but the Legislature balked at actually funding those campaigns. The Supreme Judicial Court declared that qualified candidates were entitled to funding, and directed Justice Sosman and the parties to figure out where the money would come from.
The candidates had what seemed to them a great idea: they would auction the desk of then-Speaker of the House, Representative Tom Finneran. The issue was fully briefed and widely reported in the Boston newspapers, and fraught with peril for the Supreme Judicial Court. I remember walking into the courtroom -- packed with "Clean Elections" supporters, opponents, and reporters -- for the hearing that day, thinking that Justice Sosman had a difficult task in front of her. Justice Sosman took the bench, calmly looked down at the lawyer for the candidates, and asked, "What would your mother say if she knew you were trying to auction Tom Finneran's desk?" The lawyer admitted that maybe other sources of funding could be found. There was not much left to be said after that.
Justice Sosman had immense respect for her colleagues and the authority of the court, but by her own admission, she could be a bit of a "troublemaker." Dalmau and I joined Justice Sosman's chambers in 2001, when Justice Sosman was still a relative newcomer to the Supreme Judicial Court. Justice Sosman would call us into her office from time to time and report -- again with her wonderful laugh -- that there was "trouble" on the horizon. This meant she was limbering up to write a dissent. Justice Sosman loved the opportunity to dig into issues -- even issues as mundane as the "indirect purchaser doctrine" under Massachusetts antitrust law or the application of the American Rule in insurance coverage disputes -- and she was thrilled to have the opportunity to exchange ideas with her colleagues through her dissenting opinions. She wrote five that year. It was a busy year.1
Justice Sosman never wrote more than two dissents in any succeeding year. Her output may have been affected in the last couple of years by her illness, but I think it also may be a measure of the growing trust and confidence she enjoyed from her colleagues. Dalmau and I would not presume to speak for the court, but as Justice Cordy remarked last year: "She had a powerful intellect, stripped of any self-interest, ambition, personal agenda. It was a pure, raw, magnificent intellect. . . . Her best thinking was never written, because it persuaded colleagues. She kept all of us honest."2
Justice Sosman was a friend and mentor to each of her law clerks. It was our privilege to know her and learn from her, and we are indebted to her, and to her assistant, Cathy MacInnes, for all we learned during our time at the Supreme Judicial Court. The entire Commonwealth is indebted to the Sosman family for making Justice Sosman the wonderful person and talented judge that she was, and to Justice Sosman for her tireless and brilliant work at the Supreme Judicial Court. On behalf of Justice Sosman's law clerks, and all those who loved, admired, and respected Justice Sosman, I move to support the Attorney General's motion.
Justice Robert J. Cordy, speaking for the court, responded as follows:
Chief Justice Marshall and members of the court, Attorney General Coakley, Brandon Bigelow, Judge Christine Roach, members of the bar, the Sosman family, and their guests.
I was fortunate to know Justice Martha Sosman for twenty-five years, and privileged to serve on this court as her colleague for six of those years. We were the new kids on the block when we were appointed in 2000 and 2001, contemporaries, who had come to know each other as Assistant United States Attorneys working for Bill Weld in the 1980's.
Bill Weld had great admiration for the talent and person of Martha Sosman. When he became Governor in 1991, one of my early assignments as his legal counsel was to do everything I could to encourage Martha to apply for the bench. She was torn between her loyalty to the co-founding partners of her new firm, and what I believe she then knew was her destiny as a judge. It took some time, but these two important priorities eventually made room for one another and she took the oath of office as a judge of the Superior Court in 1993. It was a great day for her, for the Judiciary, and for the people of the Commonwealth. And she proved herself to be an extraordinary trial judge. Her appointment to the Supreme Judicial Court in 2000 brought an intellect both powerful and pure, an unselfish heart, a courageous soul, and a tenacious voice to the place where she belonged.
I greatly looked forward to spending the last decades of our professional lives working side by side. I cannot think of a better colleague. Her loss was a very deep one for her colleagues here, for the work of the court to which she was so dedicated, and for all of her friends on the staff of the court (especially her loyal secretary Cathy MacInnes), all of whom had come to love, respect, and admire her so greatly.
When Martha Sosman looked up from her desk in her lobby, she stared at pictures of Ted Williams and his sweet home run swing in the 1946 All Star game, Bobby Orr and his winning goal in the 1970 Stanley Cup, and a piano key board. These were not random decorations. To me, at least, they spoke volumes about who Martha Sosman was and what she aspired to be. She had a strong desire to be the best she could be at whatever she thought worthy of pursuit, bringing together passion and excellence -- an excellence that could only come from demanding training and complete mental discipline. And they spoke volumes about pure joy. The joy of perfect composition. The joy she felt for life.
Martha Sosman not only loved being on this court where she could put all that training and discipline to work for the bar, the Judiciary, and the citizens of Massachusetts; she also loved the journey that brought her here, and she treated everyone who encouraged her along the way as a treasured member of her family.
She brought so many great qualities to her work and her life -- the ones I saw every day were her courage and her loyalty.
She had the courage to ask the hard questions of herself and the law -- never fearful about retreating back to the roots of a problem, never satisfied with window dressing. She was always prepared to confront legal reasoning that had gone awry, to refocus on what purpose a rule or line of reasoning was meant to serve, and then to honestly consider whether it continued to do so. She was never cowed by conventional wisdom, but always brought her common sense to the table.
She also had personal courage, which became so very much evident when she was diagnosed with cancer. She met every obstacle with strength and resolve, as the diagnoses vacillated between hope and disappointment. To the very end, she refused to let anyone down -- and she never did. For those who knew her, these were the most painful of days -- I will never forget them.
Her loyalty was many faceted. Above all, she was loyal to the law -- and understood so very well the difference between advocate, law maker, and judge. The tension between the power and the limits of judicial authority was one she sought diligently to resolve in the service of an enduring constitutional democracy. And she understood that ordered liberty depended on the separation of powers, even when this result in a particular case might have to be painful.
Her loyalty also ran, not surprisingly, to her family. For her siblings: Carol, Nancy, Amy, and Eric; and for her father, whom she adored and cared for dearingly late into his years; and, of course, she spoke endlessly about her nephews Ethan and Jeremy Ham, of whom she was most proud. And then there was her really, really old car that she could not bear to part with.
And finally, no surprise to anyone -- she was beyond loyal to the Red Sox -- and she literally beamed each year when she headed off to one of their games with all of the court's law clerks in tow.
It is one thing to work with someone like Martha Sosman as a colleague in the practice of law, to have observed her occasionally in the performance of her judicial duties, or to have shared personal and professional experiences with her over many years. It is quite another to share the bench with her during oral argument, to sit directly across from her in the consultation room of the court to discuss and decide the cases together, and to be regularly exposed to her incisive thinking and elegant prose.
She brought an unparalleled intellect and a passion for the complexities of law and life to her work as a judge. Yet, as important as the power and breadth of that intellect was to the work of the court, its greatest value lay in its honesty, unencumbered by self-interest or agenda. Her clarity of thought could be as frightening to practitioners as it was exhilarating to her colleagues. And she often spoke in full paragraphs: a skill I have never been able to perfect.
In a limited respect, her work on the court consists of the 130 opinions that she authored during her far too brief tenure here. But that work, as important as it was and as lasting as it will be, only begins to reflect her role as a shaping force in our jurisprudence.
Justice Sosman's writing was as lucid and compelling as her thinking. She worked relentlessly at getting it just right and making it seem effortless. But her skills in this regard were not reserved for her own promotion. Her efforts were always directed at improving the work of the court. She was a tireless contributor to its opinions. Her thoughts, most often in purple ink, adorned the margins of our drafts as she helped add clarity and precision to every opinion issued by the court. In this, as in many other ways, her selflessness was apparent and, indeed, contagious.
Sosman dissents were truly something to behold. There were few things more daunting than writing an opinion of the court into the teeth of an expected Sosman dissent. However, no matter how much time she spent in preparing such a dissent for circulation among the justices, her goal was never personal. It was always to help the court get the right answer. Her best dissents never left the consultation room. They became the word of the court. And of those little known triumphs I know she was most proud. We will miss her always.
May she rest in peace in the garden of friends she tended to so lovingly.
The motion of the Attorney General is allowed, and this memorial is to be spread upon the records of the court.
1 Commonwealth v. Jimenez, 438 Mass. 213 (2002) (Sosman, J., dissenting); Blixt v. Blixt, 437 Mass. 649 (2002) (Sosman, J., dissenting); McClure v. Sec'y of Commonwealth, 436 Mass. 614 (2002) (Sosman, J., dissenting); Hanover Ins. Co. v. Golden, 436 Mass. 584 (2002) (Sosman, J., dissenting); Ciardi v. F. Hoffman-LaRoche, Ltd., 436 Mass. 53 (2002) (Sosman, J., dissenting).
2 David Abel, Sosman of the SJC Dies at 56: Opposed Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage, Boston Globe at B1 (March 12, 2007).