'It doesn’t make sense to continually incarcerate someone for an addiction or illness' New district court judge William O'Grady of Southampton
Southampton lawyer William O'Grady, 59, will become an associate justice of Chicopee District Court on Sept. 5. Purchase photo reprints »
William O'Grady, 59, and his wife Cheryl Parker are shown at their law farm in Southampton on Thursday. O'Grady will become an associate justice of Chicopee District Court on Sept. 5. Purchase photo reprints »
SOUTHAMPTON — When he takes the bench next month as an associate justice of Chicopee District Court, William O’Grady hopes to disrupt the cycle of opiate addiction and incarceration endemic to the court system.
“I’ve seen it in my own practice, how much that addiction just fuels the business in the district court and how difficult that it is for an individual to break away from the addiction,” O’Grady said last week during an interview at his law office.
“It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to continually just incarcerate someone for what is, in many cases, an addiction or an illness, only to have them back before you later on for yet another incarceration in another failure at beating the illness,” he said.
O’Grady, 59, was nominated in July by Gov. Deval Patrick to replace retiring Judge Mary E. Hurley. He begins his tenure on Sept. 8, three days after his official swearing in on Sept. 5. “The day you get sworn in, you’re working the next business day,” he said.
O’Grady makes the move after about 34 years as a working attorney, including at his practice, Parker & O’Grady in Southampton, where he has been a legal partner with his wife, Cheryl Parker, 56, since 1985.
Parker said she was the one who made the suggestion to her husband to apply when she heard that the Massachusetts Trial Court was seeking new judges to fill some anticipated vacancies.
“I said, ‘Why don’t you apply? You’ve always wanted to do this, you know it’s basically your last shot,’ ” she said.
O’Grady said “dozens and dozens” of applications came in for judicial vacancies, of which there turned out to be only two: the Chicopee position and an associate justice position in Southern Berkshire District Court, which will be filled by Pittsfield attorney William Rota.
O’Grady graduated from Boston College and earned his law degree from Western New England University School of Law and has spent most of his career in litigation, he said.
He also served as associate city solicitor in Chicopee for 26 years and was head of its litigation department for about the last 10 years.
He also served as an associate city solicitor in Westfield for about the last six years, and was also hired as a special prosecutor in Hampshire County when there were conflicts with having a local prosecutor, he said.
As an associate justice, O’Grady said he will probably spend most of his time outside of Chicopee and sitting in courthouses throughout the region.
He said Chicopee already has a presiding justice and does not need a second judge as much as other courthouses such as Springfield, Holyoke and Belchertown.
O’Grady said he will very likely preside over cases with lawyers that he has worked alongside and against. He said he does not expect those situations to create any awkwardness or tensions.
“I’ve been practicing here for 34 years with the same people who do litigation. You make the transition,” he said. “People respect the position you’re appointed to and typically the judges respect where they came from.”
“The faces may be the same, but everybody recognizes the different roles everybody has,” he said.
The process from applicant to judge is a rigorous one, O’Grady said, involving several rounds of interviews, extensive background checks and an interview with the governor. “This particular governor won’t appoint unless he sits down with you and meets you,” O’Grady said.
Patrick offered him the job when they met in early July.
He said the governor seemed most concerned about his “judicial temperament.”
O’Grady added, “Whether I would treat people fairly and with respect. That was his overriding concern.”
Patrick “was very interested in having the judicial process fair and open so that the people felt when they came in before the court that they were getting the hearing they were entitled to,” O’Grady said.
O’Grady said he looks forward to sitting as a district court judge because of the fast-paced nature and large volume of cases both criminal and civil.
He said opiate addiction appears to be a driving force behind a lot of crime in the region. “It drives so much of the volume of business, particularly in the district court,” O’Grady said. “There’s a big push to try to address that early and address the underlying problem that leads to all the crime.
“The thinking is, if you can somehow attack that opiate issue, you get rid of a lot of the crime. I think there’s some truth to that,” he added.
When he becomes a judge, O’Grady will have to cut ties with his law practice. He announced Monday that Springfield attorney Frank Flannery will join the firm to take over O’Grady’s litigation duties.
Bob Dunn can be reached at email@example.com.