Editorial: A judge's wisdom, compassion on display at Dorchester Court

On Tuesday morning, the 22-year-old man shuffled his way to a podium inside Dorchester Court’s First Session. His legs were in iron shackles, his hands in cuffs. Dressed in a t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, he had come to court from a holding cell just out of sight on the second floor.

In 2016, he had been convicted of a break-and-entering with intent to commit a felony for which he spent part of a two year- sentence in prison. He had been on probation ever since. On Tuesday, he was brought in front of a judge to explain why he hadn’t been living up to his end of the bargain. He’d missed screenings for drug and alcohol tests and he had failed to check in with his probation officer.

Fortunately for the defendant— and his family— the judge who was hearing his case this time is the Honorable Serge Georges, a judge in one of the eight divisions that make up the Boston Municipal Court Department.

Stephen Novick, the defense attorney for the young man, stepped forward on his behalf to explain that the man’s parents, who live in Dorchester, were in the court to vouch for their son. “He’s a good boy, very respectful,” his mother told the judge after he invited her to say a few words. But, she said, he’d been living with his girlfriend in Malden lately, away from her watch. She said he had promised her that he will stay at home going forward.

Judge Georges looked grim as he took several minutes to digest a police report of the man’s original offense. “Young man, what do you want to do with your life?” he asked when he was finished reading. “Do you want to be the person in this report? What do you want to do?” The young man looked down and then muttered, “I want to be successful.”

Georges looked at his parents and then back at the young man.

“What’s your culture?” “Haitian” was the quick reply. “Haitian,” said the judge. “Then you know how hard people had to work for you to be here. What they went through as a country.”

I’m Haitian, too, Georges told the young man. So is the court officer. The probation officer. Another attorney sitting in the gallery. All Haitians.

“Do you think about your parents at all when you’re out doing whatever you want?” the judge demanded. “You know, you have to work hard to be successful. You have to be able to tell yourself ‘no.’ Discipline!” Georges said with a Kreyol accent.

He continued: “I’m proudly from this neighborhood. I grew up on Hancock Street, in Kane Square. This is a great neighborhood. But I didn’t get here without my friends and family. Some of the people who are my closest friends today were my closest friends when I was 14-15-20-21-22 years old. They were my support system, along with my parents. If you’re hanging out with people right now who don’t care about you, you’ve got to say goodbye. Now. You’ve got to be smart enough to let them be the past. Because if you’re back in front of me again, I’ll do the only thing I have left to do, and that’s put you back in jail.”

The judge paused, then said, “But I’m not going to send you back to jail. You’re still a kid. You’re 22, but you’re a kid. We are going to make sure you are moving on the right track.”

At that, Georges advised that the court would stand in a brief recess. When he returned ten minutes later, he presented a new directive: The young man would be going home with a GPS bracelet to monitor his whereabouts around the clock. He would have to adhere to a strict curfew — 8 p.m. to 7 a.m., seven days a week. If he were to get a job that requires an adjustment to the hours, they can be adjusted.

There was one final condition: Judge Georges wants him to visit him at Dorchester Court once a month for the duration of his probationary period, which will now extend an additional year.

“You are going to come see me and we’re going to see how you’re doing,” said the judge.

– Bill Forry

For the record: This editorial incorrectly identified Serge Georges as the chief justice of the Dorchester District Court, which is not in the District Court Department but rather one of the eight divisions that make up the Boston Municipal Court Department. Judge James Coffey is the First Justice at the Dorchester Division.

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