Off the Bench: RIP, Paul Leary, a judge’s judge

By James W. Dolan
Special to the Reporter

All rise! These were likely the first words Judge Paul Leary heard after he died recently following a long illness. It would have been a fitting honor for a distinguished judge when he first appeared before St. Peter. I had the pleasure of working with him over the years at Dorchester and Roxbury District Courts.

His long history within the court system began when he was an assistant clerk at Boston Municipal Court. He later became the first assistant to Suffolk County District Attorney Newman Flanagan. In 1993, he was appointed a District Court judge by Gov. William Weld and he retired as first justice of the Boston Municipal Court.

Knowing he was in the next session brightened my day. He was a colleague whose diligence, sound judgment, understanding, and good humor were always on display. Paul particularly liked to work jury and drug sessions where he could interact more directly with jurors and offer help to defendants struggling with drug problems by applying a balanced blend of tough love.

When I first got to know Paul, he was the first assistant in the DA’s office and I was a Dorchester District Court judge. Because he ran the operation, I called him to complain about an office policy. We had what I would describe as a vigorous discussion. He listened patiently and explained his side of the dispute. We continued to disagree but the more I listened to him, the more I liked him. He had a natural talent for being firm without being contentious. I was delighted at his appointment when he brought those skills and many others to the bench.

He loved being a judge and was good at it. He understood it was both an honor and a privilege. The job provided the opportunity for him to apply a common touch, laced with wisdom and compassion, to the human drama that flows daily through the doors of our court system. He never believed he was better than those who appeared before him. Probably more fortunate but no more deserving. “There but for the grace of God go I” was how he lived and how he judged.

Paul’s unfailing good nature and sense of humor made him a popular figure on the judicial circuit and among his many friends. This son of the West End would be the first to admit he had it all – a great wife and family, an abundance of good friends, and the career he wanted. When he smiled that “life is good” smile, it lit up his face.

I’m sure he charmed St. Peter as he entered his heavenly abode. I only regret his earthly session has adjourned and Judge Paul Leary is now presiding elsewhere.

James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.