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Goggins steps off district court bench after 19 years

  • W. Michael Goggins, retiring first justice of the Northampton District Court, speaks with the Gazette in his chambers at the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton on Friday, Sept. 29, 2018, the day of his retirement. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • W. Michael Goggins, retiring first justice of the Northampton District Court, speaks with the Gazette in his chambers at the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton on Friday, the day of his retirement. Goggins will be passing on this print of “Lincoln for the Defense,” by Norman Rockwell, to his successor as first justice, Maureen Walsh, who is currently first justice of the Holyoke District Court. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • W. Michael Goggins, First Justice of the Northampton District Court, speaks with the Gazette in his chambers at the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton on Friday, Sept. 29, 2018, the day of his retirement. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • W. Michael Goggins, retiring first justice of the Northampton District Court, speaks with the Gazette in his chambers at the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton on Friday, Sept. 29, 2018, the day of his retirement. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • W. Michael Goggins, retiring first justice of the Northampton District Court, speaks with the Gazette in his chambers at the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton on Friday, Sept. 29, 2018, the day of his retirement. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • W. Michael Goggins, retiring first justice of the Northampton District Court, speaks with the Gazette in his chambers at the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton on Friday, the day of his retirement. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • W. Michael Goggins, retiring first justice of the Northampton District Court, speaks with the Gazette in his chambers at the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton on Friday, the day of his retirement. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • W. Michael Goggins, retiring first justice of the Northampton District Court, speaks with the Gazette in his chambers at the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton on Friday, Sept. 29, 2018, the day of his retirement. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • W. Michael Goggins, retiring first justice of the Northampton District Court, speaks with the Gazette in his chambers at the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton on Friday, Sept. 29, 2018, the day of his retirement. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • W. Michael Goggins, retiring first justice of the Northampton District Court, speaks with the Gazette in his chambers at the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton on Friday, Sept. 29, 2018, the day of his retirement. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING



Staff Writer
Friday, September 28, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — In his nearly 20-year career as a district court judge, W. Michael Goggins said he grew to recognize the moments when he could really have an impact on someone’s life.

“There are moments, and you have to seize that moment,” he said.

Friday was Goggins’ last day as a judge for Northampton District Court, a position to which he was appointed in 1999. He retires as its first justice.

“Judge Goggins is known for fairness, thoughtfulness, efficiency, sharp wit, legal acumen and good humor,” said Jesse Adams, president of the Hampshire County Bar Association, in a statement. “

He is a true class act, a great person and a great judge. It is the end of an era in the Northampton District Court. He has made those of us who have practiced before him better lawyers. He will be missed my many. We wish him the absolute best in his well-earned retirement,”

“Frankly, it feels great,” said Goggins, 63, on retirement.

Still, he said it was bittersweet leaving the people he works with, mentioning the clerk’s office, probation office and security crew.

“They make you look good,” he said.

Goggins refers to district court as the place where “the rubber meets the road.” Indeed, with the exception of crimes that include murder, rape and armed robbery — serious felonies that are prosecuted in superior court — the court has final jurisdiction over all crimes in its jurisdiction.

Additionally, Goggins said the court has a lot of walk-in business, such as restraining orders, harassment orders and commitment of people for alcohol or substance abuse.

Because of the opioid crisis, Goggins said, the number of people committing their loved ones for drug treatment has mushroomed.

“Sometimes, we have one a day,” he said.

Goggins said the crisis has expanded the volume of cases he sees as a judge, both for drug charges themselves and for crimes whose motives stem from addiction. He also said that the focus of dealing with the crisis has moved in the direction of treatment and away from incarceration, and he said his own views swung more in favor of treatment in the last decade.

Quiet town

Goggins was born in Pitsfield in 1955 but grew up in Northampton, where his family moved in 1959 after his father got a job at the state hospital. Indeed, the family once lived on its grounds, which he said made it difficult to get his friends to agree to come over and play.

Goggins went to the University of Massachusetts Amherst for undergrad and Western New England College for law school. He said that living in Boston for a year while doing an internship was the farthest he’s ever strayed.

“I scurried back as quick as I could,” Goggins said.

Asked how western Massachusetts has changed since he was a young man, Goggins said that when he used to work at a men’s clothing store on Main Street it would often close at 8 p.m., and that walking home at night in the summer, “you wouldn’t see a live soul.”

“There was nothing happening on Main Street,” he said.

While Goggins plans on staying in Northampton, he and his wife will be doing a lot of traveling in his retirement, including a 17-day trip to Italy.

The couple also have two adult sons, neither of whom ended up becoming attorneys.

Goggins’ wife works for his brother Pat Goggins’ real estate business, a profession Goggins said he never had a desire to enter. Still, law wasn’t something Goggins planned on, either. He took the law boards “on a lark,” and ended up doing well on them — “to my complete and utter shock,” he said.

Goggins is being replaced by Maureen Walsh, a district court judge based out of Holyoke, whose appointment was announced last week.

“Fifteen Gothic St. is in great hands,” said Goggins.

Like Goggins, Walsh also stands when she presides over cases. Goggins started this practice for himself about four years ago. Goggins said that he does this for his health, and that on the advice of another judge at the beginning of his career he joined a gym, and now works out every day before court.

“It puts me in a great mood for like the first 15 minutes” he said.

As for what he likes the least about being a judge, Goggins said he’s a clean and tidy person.

“There’s nothing tidy about district court,” he said.

He also remembered when, right before he became a judge, attorney Jonathan Souweine asked him if he was prepared for the “waves of misery” the job would bring his way day after day. Goggins said he found that Souweine was right.

“It’s hard to manage that,” he said.

Appeal of nothing

Goggins said he doesn’t see himself doing anything regarding the law, saying that being an attorney and a judge involves wading into other people’s problems, albeit at different ends of the process.

“I don’t have it left to do that,” he said.

Goggins also said that he doesn’t like how the judiciary is attacked in some corners of the press.

“It’s not all the way Howie Carr sees it,” he said, referring to the Boston Herald columnist and radio show host.

Goggins said he doesn’t have any big project in mind for his retirement. Instead, he said he plans to sit back and “let the game come to me.”

“Everything’s possible, up to and including nothing,” he said. “And nothing does hold some appeal.”

A party was planned for Goggins’ retirement on Friday night, and although he expressed gratitude to those organizing it, he was not enthused about the prospect of the event itself.

“Do I wish it wasn’t happening? Frankly, yes,” he said.

And those opportunities to change people’s lives? Did any stand out?

“You’d have to ask somebody else,” said Goggins, welling up with emotion, referring to the notes of gratitude he’s received as a judge over the years.

He also said that these notes aren’t about him but the people writing them, and that every judge gets them.

“I don’t want to be all braggy about it,” Goggins said.

When asked if any particular case had left an impact on him, Goggins said that it’s hard to differentiate them, but gave no indication that this lessened their effect.

“They leave an impact, without a doubt,” Goggins said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.