Roderick L. Ireland

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Roderick L. Ireland
Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
In office
December 20, 2010 – July 25, 2014
Nominated by Deval Patrick
Preceded by Margaret H. Marshall
Succeeded by Ralph Gants
Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
In office
1997 – December 19, 2010
Nominated by William Weld
Succeeded by Fernande R.V. Duffly
Personal details
Born (1944-12-03) December 3, 1944 (age 73)
Springfield, Massachusetts
Alma mater Lincoln University
Columbia Law School
Harvard Law School
Northeastern University

Roderick L. Ireland is a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, and the first African American to serve at that position. He was nominated for Chief Justice by Governor Deval Patrick on November 4, 2010,[1] and sworn in on December 20.[2]He retired from service on the court on July 25, 2014.[3]

Early life[edit]

Ireland was born on December 3rd, 1944,[4] in Springfield, Massachusetts, specifically on Terrence Street,[5] the son of Helen Garner Ireland,[6] an elementary school teacher, from Spartanburg, South Carolina and George Lovelace Ireland.

Personal life[edit]

Ireland is married to Alice Ireland, and has had three children with her: Elizabeth, Michael, and Melanee. He is a member of the Elliot Congregational Church in Roxbury, Massachusetts.[7]

Early education[edit]

Ireland graduated from Lincoln University with a B.A. in 1966, from Columbia Law School with a J.D. in 1969, from Harvard Law School with an LL.M. in 1975, and from Northeastern University's Law, Policy, and Society Program with a PhD. in 1998. [8]

Roxbury Defenders Committee[edit]

In 1971 alongside Wallace Sherwood, Ireland formed the Roxbury Defenders Committee (also known as the Roxbury Defenders).[9] At the time, while the Massachusetts Defenders Committee did exist, Sherwood and Ireland felt there needed to be a site more local to Roxbury, a low income, predominately minority neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts. However, as the committee was linked to the Massachusetts Defenders Committee, it received its funding from the same place: Massachusetts Committee for Law Enforcement and Administration of Criminal Justice.[citation needed]

Mission Statement[edit]

The mission of the Roxbury Defenders Committee was broken into three parts:

1. To provide vigorous and comprehensive service to the client population

2. To provide legal services without first being appointed by the court

3. To provide, on a referral basis, related social services.

The Legal Line[edit]

In order to create more awareness of the services that they were offering, Sherwood and Ireland created the Legal Line, a weekly, one hour program on the radio station WILD, where they fielded questions from listeners as well as speaking on legal problems that arose during their proceedings.[citation needed]


Ireland left the Roxbury Defenders Committee in 1974.


In 1977, Ireland was nominated to the Boston Juvenile Court, and in 1990, to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals. He was appointed to both courts by Governor Michael Dukakis.

In 1997, he was appointed Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court by Governor William Weld. He is the first African-American associate justice and also the first African-American chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court. He resigned from the high court in 2014, and was replaced by Associate Justice Ralph Gants.

Chief Justice Ireland has served on the faculty of both Northeastern University School of Law and Northeastern University's College of Criminal Justice. He is currently Distinguished Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities at Northeastern University.



In 2015, the town of Springfield, Massachusetts renamed the street Ireland grew up on, Terence Street, to Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland Way in honor of Ireland.[citation needed]

In 2017, the Hampden County Hall of Justice was renamed the Roderick L. Ireland Courthouse in honor of Ireland.

Honorary Degrees[edit]

Ireland has received honorary degrees from Excelsior College,[10] University of Massachusetts Boston [11]


He is the author of Massachusetts Juvenile Law, a volume of the Massachusetts Practice Series.