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Words of law is a regular feature of Massachusetts Law Updates, highlighting a particular word or phrase and its meaning in law.

Today’s word is judge.

judge, n. (14c) A public official appointed or elected to hear and decide legal matters in court; a judicial officer who has the authority to administer justice. • The term is sometimes held to include all officers appointed to decide litigated questions, including a justice of the peace and even jurors (who are judges of the facts). But in ordinary legal usage, the term is limited to the sense of an officer who (1) is so named in his or her commission, and (2) presides in a court.  Judge is often used interchangeably with court. – Abbr. J. ( and, in plural, JJ.)

 –  Black’s Law Dictionary, 10th ed., Bryan A. Garner, Editor in Chief, Thomson Reuters, 2014.


“The Judges…should always be men of learning and experience in the laws, of exemplary morals, great patience, calmness, coolness and attention.  Their minds should not be distracted with jarring interests; they should not be dependent upon any man or body of men.  To these ends they should hold estates for life in their offices, or in other words their commissions should be during good behaviour, and their salaries ascertained and established by law.  For misbehaviour the grand inquest of the Colony, the House of Representatives, should impeach them before the Governor and Council, where they should have time and opportunity to make their defense, but if convicted should be removed from their offices, and subjected to such other punishment as shall be thought proper.”

–  John Adams

As reprinted from Thoughts on Government, Boston, 1776, itself reprinted from the Philadelphia edition of 1776.  From Papers of John Adams, Volume 4, III “Thoughts on Government”, Adams Papers Digital Edition, Massachusetts Historical Society.


“The administration of justice is a fine art, and the lawyers and many others are its generators, but the efforts of all can reach no higher than the personality of the judge permits.  Perfection, if the judge seeks it, requires the knowledge of the law and faithful application of the law; diligence and efficiency; unfailing courtesy without sacrifice of firmness and decisiveness; evenhandedness, while retaining a jealous regard for the individuality of every person; restraint, eternal restraint, particularly as to both the quality and the quantity of speech; courage and strength in the face of criticism.  Above all, integrity in all its nuances.  In a sense, the system is self-perpetuating, because the judge who reaches for these goals has, by example, a part in the decisions which inspire some men and women of excellence and ideals to become judges, and they inspire others in their turn to the next generation and the next and the next.  In searching for perfect justice, we seek the impossible, but the search is worth our total efforts.  What we in the courts do, and how we do it, is seen not only by the litigants before us, but by the entire community.  The stakes are high.  Our performance will help to determine whether constitutional principles are nourished and whether human rights are advanced.”

–  Edward F. Hennessey, Excellent Judges, (Boston: Flaschner Judicial Institute, 1997), p. 11-12; quoting in part his memorial honoring Justice Kirk, addressing the Court as Chief Justice, in 385 Mass. 1217 (1982).

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