Judge spreads passion for justice in visit to Easthampton High class


Staff Writer

Published: 03-22-2023 2:26 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Massachusetts Superior Court Associate Justice Mark Mason pleaded guilty Monday afternoon before a classroom of Easthampton High School civics students — guilty of his passion for justice.

Mason, who sits in Northampton, Springfield, Greenfield and Pittsfield and has served on the bench for more than a decade, visited Kelley Brown’s “We The People” class, whose curriculum includes topics related to democracy, government and constitutional law.

“I feel so honored and humbled to be here with the We The People state champs, and the reason why I’m a judge is because I have a passion for justice. And I know that you do as well,” said Mason, who currently chairs the committee responsible for the Superior Court’s community outreach. “To have the opportunity to speak to younger members of our society who have that same passion that I had when I was your age is a real privilege for me.”

Mason’s visit was prompted as part of an effort to build community understanding and trust in the judicial system and the court’s commitment to equal access to justice during National Judicial Outreach Week, according to court spokesperson Erika Gully-Santiago.

The event first kicked off in March 2017 as an initiative by the American Bar Association. The Massachusetts Trial Court expanded the program to a full month in 2019.

Throughout this month, Trial Court and Appeals Court judges from across the state will speak to students and members of the public about the importance of an impartial, independent judiciary governed by the rule of law. Judges will also discuss different aspects of the judicial branch, how the American legal system works, and the work that judges do in courts every day, Gully-Santiago said.

In addition to Easthampton, judges are participating in related events at other schools, councils on aging, senior centers and public libraries in 58 cities statewide.

“Becoming a judge is something within anyone’s grasp,” said Mason. “If I can do it, anyone can.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Prior to becoming a judge, Mason was a lawyer in private practice for 24 years.

Brown’s students also took advantage of the judge’s visit to sharpen their skills for the 36th Annual We The People National Finals competition in April in Washington, D.C. The class qualified for the national competition in January by winning the state’s We the People: The Citizen and Constitution State Finals in Boston. The win marked the school’s seventh victory overall.

Since then, the students have been gearing up for the finals where they will testify as constitutional scholars before panels of judges acting as congressional committees and have their knowledge, understanding and ability to apply constitutional principles tested.

As such, Mason fielded a dozen questions during Monday’s visit, including whether he thinks the court treats people the same despite socioeconomic classes. In his estimation, the answer is yes. Mason provided examples from his experience describing how someone who doesn’t have access to community legal aid because they don’t meet income guidelines is at a disadvantage compared to someone who has the ability to hire their own private lawyer.

“They were very challenging questions,” said Mason in an interview with the Gazette. “I hope I helped open these students’ eyes as to what we as members of the judiciary do on a day-to-day basis to help them understand … that the various theoretical studies that they are engaged in on the Constitution have practical value on a day to day basis in the Superior Court.”

Brown said that each one of the questions her students asked the judge will help inform their presentation for the national competition. While there are three groups that have been studying questions that connect back to the broader concept of democracy, actually thinking about whether judges should be elected or appointed, for example, that’s a deeper level of understanding, she said.

“That’s real civic thinking about what is important in society and they can have a role in deciding if they’ve got something they want to protect, or is it something that they might want to change about the Massachusetts Constitution and they could play a role in that,” she said. “I think hearing from someone who practices that appointment actually protects democracy is a really important thing for them to hear and understand.”

Those wishing to donate can make checks payable to Easthampton High School and send them to: Easthampton High School, c/o Kelley Brown, We The People, 70 Williston Ave., Easthampton, MA 01027.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.]]>