Judge Paula M. Carey: A Lifetime of Service

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by Trial Court Chief Justices

Voice of the Judiciary


After twenty years of public service, Chief Justice Paula Carey retired in January.  What follows are reflections from the Trial Court Chief Justices.

Superior Court Chief Justice Judith Fabricant (ret.)

Other tributes to Paula Carey will cite her many innovations and accomplishments, dedication to justice, commitment to equity, loyalty to colleagues, energy, selflessness, and the other qualities we have all observed over her twenty years as a judge and eight and a half years as Chief Justice of the Trial Court.  All of that warrants recognition and honor.

I noticed another quality in the years we worked together:  Paula Carey paid attention.  She listened closely, asked questions, read, absorbed, processed, and responded, making judgments from information gathered and changing course as warranted.  She paid attention in conversations with one person or many, in meetings in person or on Zoom, and in reviewing written materials.  She gave her attention to those she met when she visited a courthouse – from the officer at the door, to the case specialist in the clerk’s office, to the custodian who cleaned the courtrooms, to the First Justice or RAJ.   She gave her attention to chiefs, judges, clerks, and probation officers, as well as to legislators and executive branch officials, lawyers, advocates, and litigants.

The scope of the role of Trial Court Chief is enormous, extending to areas of law, practice, and administration, that no single person could have touched on in previous roles, still less mastered sufficiently to make informed decisions.  Chief Justice Carey recognized that and undertook the consultation and exploration she needed to become familiar with each area.  She asked questions, listened to answers, read widely, and learned.

Some in the role might have chosen to delegate entire functions, relying on others’ expertise.  There were times when I and others urged her to do that, for the sake of her own survival through endless days and weeks of meetings, conversations, reading, and problem-solving.  She did not take that advice, well-meaning though it was.  She drew on the expertise of others in unfamiliar areas, paid attention to it, and developed her own views so that she could perform the role in its full scope.

As the first Chief Justice of the Trial Court under the structure established by the Court Reform Act of 2011, Paula Carey has set a high standard for the future.   Her successor should and surely will take guidance from many features of her service.  The quality of her attention to every person and every issue stands out as especially worthy of emulation.

District Court Chief Justice Paul C. Dawley

Given her many accomplishments, it is difficult to put into words what Chief Justice Paula Carey has meant to the Trial Court and the entire judicial system in Massachusetts.

From the time she was first appointed to the Probate and Family Court in 2001, she has made a major impact on the administration of justice.

As a Trial Court judge, she administered justice fairly and impartially; as Chief Justice of the Probate Court, she managed and led with innovation and energy; and as Chief Justice of the Trial Court, she led the entire judicial system with great competence and integrity.  In all of her roles, her service has been defined by her never-ending effort to improve the system and to seek excellence.

Chief Justice Carey’s judicial career has been highlighted not only by her skills as a judge, administrator, and leader, but also for her tireless support of judges and court staff.  She strove to bring out the best in all of us.  She improved the Court system with her dedicated efforts focused on judicial education, recidivism reduction, access to justice, and a steadfast commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

I have had the privilege of working with Chief Justice Carey on a daily basis over the past eight years and can attest that whether it was in a one-on-one meeting or in front of a large public event, she was always the embodiment of personal decency, kindness, and courtesy.  No matter what issue she was working on and how much pressure she was under, she demonstrated professionalism, patience, dignity, and respect to all.  While her mission to improve the system will no doubt be long lasting, Chief Justice Carey’s single greatest contribution was promoting and strengthening a culture of civility.  By her own example, she valued inclusion and collegiality, and her fundamental human decency and thoughtfulness has brought great credit to the Judiciary.

Boston Municipal Court Chief Justice Robert Ronquillo, Jr.

Tireless, inclusive, patient, determined, diligent, kind, and compassionate. All these adjectives describe not just Chief Justice Carey the leader, but also Paula Carey, the person. None before her have matched her energy, commitment, and love of all things Trial Court. As a result, her accomplishments have been the most significant and transformative that I can recall during my twenty-one years in the Trial Court.

The Commonwealth is losing not just a great judge, but a great leader. Without a doubt, we are a better judicial system for Chief Justice Carey’s leadership, vision, and courage. Her legacy will live on as we carry forth the important work she has started, endeavoring to reach her inspired vision for the Trial Court.

I am personally grateful for Chief Justice Carey’s leadership and support, but I am most grateful for her friendship.

Probate & Family Court Chief Justice John D. Casey

It is not easy to accurately reflect the impact that Chief Justice Carey has had on the Massachusetts justice system, and harder still to do so in a few words. She has influenced positive changes at all levels of the justice system. Chief Justice Carey always kept in mind how her decisions affected the individuals who access our court system, the judges who hear cases, the staff who implement policies, and the justice system as a whole. Harmonizing these different points of view could be challenging, but Chief Justice Carey never shied away from making the difficult decisions. I am grateful for that.

I will always be thankful to Chief Justice Carey for her patience, support, and positivity as I learned the role of Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court. She has a way of encouraging you, even when you know you could have done better. She always asked, “How are you?”, before asking, “How is the Probate and Family Court?” Although always a Probate and Family Court judge in her heart, she never favored the court, or penalized the court if we did something different than how she would have done it. Her ability to connect one-on-one with people is exceptional. Regardless of what other crises she may have been dealing with, if you were meeting with her, Chief Justice Carey focused on you, listened, made suggestions, and never made you feel like she had more important matters to deal with.

Chief Justice Carey is a remarkably strong and caring leader and friend, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from her. Hers is a legacy of commitment to and love for everyone who works in the Trial Court. There will never be a question of whether she gave everything she had to her role as judge, Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court, or Chief Justice of the Trial Court.

Chief Justice Carey leaves the Trial Court a far better organization than when she became Chief Justice – and all of Massachusetts is lucky to have had her leadership.

Juvenile Court Chief Justice Amy L. Nechtem

Chief Justice Carey’s humanity, care and kindness was evident is every aspect of her leadership. In many of her public addresses, she often used a lighthouse metaphor to highlight the responsibility of those so empowered to light the way for others. The reality was, of course, that Chief Carey’s own light shone brightly, steadily guiding the Massachusetts Trial Court for over twenty years. She was a beacon of passion, compassion, and brilliance, with a laser focus on the equitable delivery of justice, resulting in enhanced access to justice. Chief Justice Carey’s ability to improve our justice system, ensuring justice for all, inspired our collective resolve. Her boundless enthusiasm, energy, and selfless commitment has left our Trial Court better, stronger and focused on the future.

Chief Carey was a visionary leader resulting in accomplishments benefiting the people of Commonwealth of Massachusetts and beyond. It was an honor, a privilege, and a joy to serve on Chief Justice Paula Carey’s team. We will continue to follow that bright light that is Chief Justice Paula Carey’s legacy.

Housing Court Chief Justice Timothy F. Sullivan

During my tenure as Chief Justice of the Housing Court, I have often reached out to Chief Carey for guidance and support on many challenging issues, both personal and professional. Regardless of the time of day, Chief Carey did not hesitate to lend a listening ear and offer a helping hand, which showcases her helpful, compassionate, and empathetic nature. Importantly, Chief Carey understands the value of family, and has been supportive in allowing me to focus on major milestones in my family, including when my twin daughters were preparing to go to college.

Chief Justice Carey’s tireless commitment to public service has been inspiring to witness, and her many contributions to the judiciary have been remarkable. Chief among those contributions has been her focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the courts. Chief Carey has also been a pillar of support for the Housing Court as we have continued to navigate the many challenges brought about by the pandemic. I am grateful to Chief Carey for her unwavering support of, and commitment to, several key Housing Court initiatives, including housing court expansion and digitization, which, among other things, have supported access to justice and enhanced the user experience. After the sudden passing of Chief Justice Ralph Gants, Chief Carey picked up the torch without hesitation and continued to work with internal and external stakeholders to ensure that the most vulnerable residents of the Commonwealth were able to access the courts and were directed to community-based resources. Despite the unprecedented challenged posed by the pandemic, I was encouraged by Chief Carey’s steadfast leadership, and she demonstrated to all who worked with her that she is a quick study. When dealing with the impact of the pandemic on court operations and eviction matters, for example, Chief Carey took the time to learn the intricacies of summary process (eviction) proceedings, while at the same time deferring to subject matter experts.

Chief Carey’s friendship, mentorship, and leadership will certainly be missed.

Land Court Chief Justice Gordon H. Piper

Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey’s retirement marks three years I have so far served as the Land Court’s Chief Justice, all under her superb leadership. She stands out as a tireless, inspiring head of the Trial Court, and as a powerful and effective leader of its leadership.
Chief Justice Carey’s boundless energy, and her unending focus and optimism, carried many of us through the great challenges of recent times. The pandemic; the persistence of racial, ethnic, gender discrimination; the economic strains felt by so many in Massachusetts—all these and more Chief Justice Carey helped the courts navigate in positive ways.

We all are grateful for Chief Justice Carey’s dogged work making the courts a more open, diverse, hospitable, and comprehensible place for court users to seek and receive justice—fairly and impartially. Her efforts also have helped all who work in our courts feel that we are welcome and fully participating in carrying out our shared mission. Much remains to be achieved, but Chief Justice Carey has made great strides, and will continue to inspire.

But it’s also about the little things. Chief Justice Carey enthusiastically and ably dealt with the “details” that help the Trial Court, including the Land Court, the smallest of the seven departments, move through its daily work. I value her genuine interest in the matters that are of great consequence to the Land Court and its users. As a court of specialized and limited jurisdiction, the Land Court Department regularly confronts the need to transfer cases back and forth with the other departments, and to assign judges of one of those other departments to sit to hear one of our cases, and vice versa. For such a small court, we generate a disproportionate share of these requests, all of which are addressed to Chief Justice Carey to decide. She, with help from her expert staff, bored down deeply to understand these matters, built consensus among the involved departments, and forged practical and sensible outcomes for the parties and the Trial Court. Chief Justice Carey also took the time and interest to understand the needs of the Land Court in responding to new stresses placed on the Commonwealth’s registered land system, which the Land Court oversees and administers. Chief Justice Carey has helped the court with the promulgation of orders, rules, and guidance to the bar and the Registries of Deeds intended to streamline the court’s work in this arena. She has supported expanding resources to enhance the court’s ability to serve the public, the conveyancing bar, and the land records offices.

Chief Justice Carey has been a strong ally of the Land Court in its initiative, rolled out in the past year, to address judicially the presence, in land records across Massachusetts, of odious restrictions and covenants based on race, religion, ethnicity, and other invidious grounds. Chief Justice Carey was closely involved in the promulgation and implementation of a new Land Court standing order to remedy these unfortunate relics of past discrimination, and has helped the Land Court’s efforts to have news of this novel cause of action spread widely among the bar and the public.

These are a few examples of Chief Justice Carey’s deeply immersive style during her years serving as the judicial head of our Trial Court. Both as a bold and capable leader setting major policies for the entire Trial Court, and as a skilled manager of many important details that the Chief Justice of the Trial Court must handle to keep the business of the courts moving, Paula Carey has led us all with distinction. I join a very large and loud chorus in praising her for all she has accomplished, and in wishing her well as she commences a richly-deserved retirement.

Chief Justice of the Superior Court Heidi E. Brieger

As Chief Justice of the Trial Court, Paula Carey faced a number of substantial management and administrative hurdles, but along with her “Partner in Justice” John Bello, she brought her full self — and more — to the task every single day. Some Chiefs fit the position, and some Chiefs create the position: Paula Carey’s Chiefdom expressed her values and her fierce commitment to doing justice in the Commonwealth. The Trial Court is stronger, more conscious of its obligations to the community, and altogether better as a consequence of her hard work and caring for each and every one of us.



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