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State SJC chief justice named Distinguished Professor

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland, PhD’98, has been appointed Distinguished Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities at Northeastern University. He will join the faculty full time effective Aug. 27, 2014.

Ireland, who is retiring from the bench in July, was the first African-American on the state’s Supreme Judicial Court and is widely recognized for his work on matters of social justice and court reform. He has served as a part-time instructor at Northeastern since 1978, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, the School of Law, and in the Law, Policy, and Society program.

During his tenure as a member of the state’s judiciary, Ireland led efforts on a number of noteworthy legal decisions, worked to improve the state’s court system, and pushed for diversifying the judiciary and reforming the state’s probation department. Notably, he ruled it unconstitutional for teenagers facing life sentences to not have the possibility of parole, which changed the way juvenile cases are handled statewide. Ireland also oversaw the court’s ruling that law enforcement gathering individuals’ cellphone records to track their movement was unconstitutional.

In his new full-time role at Northeastern, Ireland will leverage his deep knowledge and experience at the intersection of law, politics, and governance. In Spring 2015 he will lead a new course called “The Third Branch of Government,” which will examine the interplay of the judiciary with the legislative and executive branches as well as with external entities like business and the media.

“Chief Justice Ireland has helped shape some of the key legal transformations of our time,” said Uta Poiger, dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities.

“Students and colleagues at Northeastern will greatly benefit from his immense experience on the bench and as chief administrator of the state’s court system, as well as his contributions to legal scholarship. It is an honor to welcome him to his new role.”

Ireland will also expand his longtime efforts to diversify the judiciary at all levels through increased training programs and scholarship and fellowship opportunities for minorities. He will strengthen Northeastern’s 25-year partnership with the Justice George Lewis Ruffin Society, an organization founded in 1984 to support minority professionals in the Massachusetts criminal justice system. Ireland will also work with Northeastern’s Institute on Race and Justice, which is led by College of Social Sciences and Humanities Associate Dean Jack McDevitt.

“After teaching at Northeastern for 36 years, I look forward to working with students and faculty in my new, full-time role,” Ireland said. “I am especially excited about sharing my first-hand accounts and insights into how government operates and responds to outside forces.”

Ireland has received numerous awards, recognitions, and honorary degrees throughout his career, including most recently the Boston Bar Association’s 2014 Citation of Judicial Excellence. He has authored the Juvenile Law volume of Thomson/West Publishing’s Massachusetts Practice Series as well as several law review articles, and has been on the faculty of the Appellate Judges Seminar at New York University Law School since 2001. In November 2010 Ireland published “In Goodridge’s Wake: Reflections on the Political, Public, and Personal Repercussions of the Massachusetts Same-Sex Marriage Cases,” in New York University Law Review.

This past November, Ireland shared his experiences as a justice during the 2003 Goodridge v. Department of Public Health case with the Northeastern community as a featured panelist at an event titled “Gay Rights after Gay Marriage.” The event marked the sixth installment in the university’s educational series on civic sustainability, Conflict. Civility. Respect. Peace. Northeastern Reflects.

Ireland has been a jurist for 37 years. The Springfield, Massachusetts native began his legal career in 1969 as a Neighborhood Legal Services attorney and then worked as a public defender from 1971 to 1973 with the Roxbury Defenders Committee, eventually becoming executive director. From 1975 to 1977, he served as assistant secretary in the Massachusetts Executive Office of Administration and Finance.

In 1977, Gov. Michael Dukakis—now a Distinguished University Professor at Northeastern—appointed Ireland as judge of the state’s Juvenile Court, where he served for 13 years. In 1990, he was appointed as an associate justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. Ireland was first appointed as an associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court in 1997 by Gov. William F. Weld and became the senior associate justice in 2008. In 2010, Gov. Deval Patrick appointed him as the state’s first African-American chief justice.

Ireland earned his bachelor of arts from Lincoln University; juris doctor from Columbia Law School; master of laws from Harvard Law School; and doctorate in law, policy, and society from Northeastern. He has served as a member of the Northeastern University Corporation since 1999. His wife, Alice Alexander, J.D.’79, served as assistant dean and director for cooperative education at the Northeastern School of Law from 1985 to 2005.