The Honorable Judge Domenic Russo, whose compassion for addicts as the First Justice of the East Boston Division of the Massachusetts Trial Court lead to a widely successful Drug Court in the neighborhood, died on Sunday, May 25.
Judge Russo, who had a brilliant career in law that spanned five decades, was admired and respected by everyone that worked alongside him in East Boston prior to his retirement from the bench.
Judge Russo showed no signs of slowing down in his last few days at the Courthouse. During an interview with the East Boston Times on his last day at the courthouse, a steady barrage of phone calls and court workers enter and exit the room; judges calling to say good-bye, parole officers needing a signature to complete a case.
“I sign everything in red ink, it is harder to copy on a machine.” Judge Russo joked with a smile at the time.
Judge Russo began his remarkable career in law in 1956 as a practicing attorney in Boston. Ten years later he was First Assistant Clerk Magistrate at the Brookline Municipal Court until 1980.
In 1980 he was appointed Associate Justice at the Milford Division of the Massachusetts Trial Court where he remained until 1993. During this time he was also the Managing Justice at both the Lynn Division, District Court Department and the Lawrence Division, District Court Department.
In 1993 he was commissioned as First Justice to the Milford Division, District Court Department. He had also served as Managing Justice at the Peabody Division, District Court Department Jury of Six Sessions from 1991-1993 where he personally designed and installed the first fully operational computer driven electronic data and docket control filing system in a Massachusetts jury session.
That year was also the year he began to serve as First Justice at the East Boston District Court where he began to nurture a relationship between the court house and the community of East Boston that is unparalleled.
“In East Boston, the success has been the fostering of this concept of community court,” remarked Judge Russo at the time. “Every year I would hold an open meeting in the community to see what we could do to serve the community better.”
These meeting gave birth to a myriad of ideas and continuous efforts to improve the relationship between the people and the court.
“In a community court you have to do things that the community endorses,” said Judge Russo. “Making the community safe, quiet and enjoyable for the residents.”
Under Judge Russo the East Boston District Court implemented programs to lessen the expenses of court costs for those who pay for legal representation, enlarge the small claims court and instituted a Drug Court that Judge Russo said he was “very proud of” where only 5% of users that have left the court have relapsed.
The drug court and the numerous addicts that Judge Russo helped to get back on the right path has been his legacy here in Eastie.
Judge Russo’s vision did not stop in East Boston. He brought his experience of a community court to the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada where he was a faculty member and instructor of the “Courts and the Community” program from 1998-1999, sharing the success in East Boston with a host of Judges from across the nation.
He also traveled to Brasov, Romania as part of the Judicial Exchange Program in 2000 as an advisor on what in the Romanian Judicial System may need tweaking. One thing he saw was the communist influence still remaining in the courts.
“I saw that the judge and the prosecutor sat on the bench together while the defense lawyer was in the pit, I thought this is something that needed to be changed,” commented Russo.
In June of that year he received correspondence from a Judge in Romania informing him that his suggestion of changing the dynamic of the court had been accepted, putting the defense and prosecuting lawyers in equal and opposite positions in the court room.
But with all his unmatched achievement, Judge Russo always humbly rejected the notion that he alone is the root of the East Boston District Court’s success.
“We as a court and when I say “we” I mean every single member of this court, not me acting alone,” said Judge Russo. “There are people in this court that have devoted their lives to the community they serve, they are the unsung heroes, they are the people that should be recognized.”
There is a Constitutional Law stating that United States Judges must retire from the bench once they reach the age of 70.
As he walked out the door of East Boston District Court on his final day Judge Russo said, “this is a great law and I plan to take full advantage of it.”
District Attorney Daniel Conley said, “As a young lawyer I appeared before Judge Russo many times and despite a tough exterior he was very approachable. I had the opportunity to chat with him privately after court on many occasions and was very helpful and always gave sound advice on how to be a better lawyer. I enjoyed that opportunity and times I appeared before him. He was a fine judge and will be missed.”