on July 09, 2015 at 6:30 AM
SPRINGFIELD – A panel of judges told a group of nearly three dozen local high school judges that falling outside “the mainstream” shouldn’t force them further away from their goals.
Hampden Superior Court judges Mary Lou Rup and Mark Mason joined Springfield District Court Judge Charles Groce in addressing young participants of the Third Annual Springfield Summer Legal Institute about their experiences ascending to the judiciary.
Mason, who is openly gay, Groce, who is black, and Rup, who broke into the legal field when women were scant, talked about diversity in the judiciary and society in general.
“Unfortunately, the legal profession is not sufficiently diverse and the bench certainly is not sufficiently diverse,” Mason told the students during a panel discussion at Hampden Superior Court.
The discussion was part of a week-long agenda of law-centric exercises made possible by a $27,000 grant from MassMutual Financial Group.
Other activities include tours of a local law office, presentations on business and finance at Western New England School of Law, a professional etiquette seminar, Federal Courts day and a mock trial.
“It’s the skill sets we think will make them successful anywhere,” said Patrice Sabach, assistant vice president and legal counsel from MassMutual.
Dorothy Varon, also of MassMutual, said that even this week, students gained enough confidence to approach the financial giant’s President and CEO Roger Crandall at a reception this week.
“They walked right up to a CEO of a Fortune 100 company, they looked him in the eye, asked him questions,” Varon said.
Students entering or enrolled in Greater Springfield high schools apply for the free program each year. This year there were 33 participants.
During the judges’ panel discussion, Rup jokingly gestured to the portraits hanging around the room of white-haired retired judges.
“What do you notice that’s common about all of them?” she asked, drawing laughter. “When I was growing up, the big professions, doctors, lawyers, judges, were all white guys. And straight guys – or maybe they weren’t but who knew?”
She said she grew up in an era when women were expected to marry, become secretaries, teachers or nurses.
“That sort of struck me as unfair,” said Rup, who was a prosecutor and a defense lawyer before being appointed to the bench in 1992.
Groce told the students to be open to being inspired by others who do not necessarily look like them or share the same backgrounds, and not to buy into a negative mindset.
“You must be careful of the ‘everything sucks’ people. Because everything doesn’t suck,” Groce said.
He also told students that he was first inspired by his grandfather, who grew up in rural Mississippi during segregation.
“He told me: ‘I did hard work so all you have to do is work hard.’ So after that – bam! I was out the door and I was going to get it,” Groce said.
Sabach said the summer legal institute and other programs like it are part of the “Just the Beginning” Foundation. That was founded in Chicago around the time President Jimmy Carter appointed a number of minorities and women to the federal judiciary.
“We haven’t done very much, but . . . more women, more blacks, more Hispanics have been appointed to the Federal Courts . . . . The point is, that’s still just a beginning,” Carter said while reflecting on his appointments.