Judge Williams appointed to Edgartown District Court
Judge H. Gregory Williams, the new First Justice of the Edgartown District Court. Photos by Ezra Blair
Judge H. Gregory Williams, a Cape resident and former state prosecutor, was sworn in as the new First Justice of the Edgartown District Court at a ceremony Friday afternoon in the Dukes County Courthouse.
District Court Chief Justice Lynda Connolly administered the oath of office in an official ceremony attended by local and state officials and well wishers in the ornate courtroom where Judge Williams will work. The term of a first justice is five years, subject to renewal.
Prior to the swearing in ceremony, Rosemary Minehan, regional administrative justice for region one, described the importance of the first justice. "The first justice is appropriately referred to as the administrative head of the court, because it is the first justice who sets the direction of the court and the tone of the court," she said. "The first justice acts as a guide to the court with its interaction with the community."
She said that Judge Williams is more than up to the task. "His decisions reveal a depth of understanding and a dedication to his study of the law," she said. "As first justice I know that he will, as he always has, carry the responsibilities of his judicial office with wisdom, dignity and humanity that the public has a right to expect from our judges in this commonwealth."
District Court Chief Justice Lynda Connolly administered the oath of office to Judge Williams.
Justice Connolly had equal praise for Judge Williams. "Judge Williams has the intellectual and personal integrity to be a credit to this community, to this court, and to our commonwealth," she said as she stood next to Judge Williams behind the large and stately bench at the head of the courtroom. "He also has a wicked sense of humor. He has what it takes to wear the robe lightly, and this is extraordinarily important in a community that is as close-knit as the community here on Martha's Vineyard."
After taking the oath of office, Judge Williams thanked his fellow justices. He also acknowledged his predecessor Brian Rowe, who stepped down as first justice on December 1, 2004, after nearly 20 years in the position.
"It is a cliché for me to say that he will be a hard act to follow, but he will be a hard act to follow," said Judge Williams.
He added, "I want to especially thank him for refraining from skinning a wild animal here in the courtroom." Judge Rowe, an avid hunter, planned to leave for Maine for a hunting trip following the ceremony.
Judge Williams also acknowledged the employees at the courthouse. "Much of my function as first justice of this court will be to keep out of the way of these people as they do what they do so well," he said.
Liza Williamson, District Court clerk magistrate, read a poem she wrote to welcome Judge Williams to his new position.
Judge Williams concluded his speech with his first unofficial action as first justice. "In the spirit of district court I would ordinarily assess each of you a $50 first-justice-swearing-in-fee, but that assessment is being remitted," he said with just a hint of grin.
Before the ceremony was adjourned for a reception next door at the Whaling Church, Liza Williamson, District Court clerk magistrate, gave Judge Williams a comedic run for his money with a poem that had the audience in stitches.
In comments preceding the Friday ceremony, Ms. Williamson said that she was very pleased by the appointment of Judge Williams, who has been sitting on Edgartown District Court bench on a regular basis over the past two years. "We are definitely on same page when it comes to the role of the district court in this community," said Ms. Williamson, who works closely with the presiding judges. "He shares my view that the court is here to serve the community and should be accessible and friendly."
She added, "I think I have been most struck by his humility. He is approachable and kind, truly a scholar and a gentleman."
Ron Rappaport, a prominent Edgartown attorney and town counsel for five of the six Island towns, said Judge Williams "is an excellent choice to be the presiding judge of Edgartown District Court." Mr. Rappaport said Judge Williams has a very good legal mind and is deliberate, conscientious, and compassionate — qualities that are important to the dispensing of justice at the district level.
On the local level, district court is where everyday justice is meted out in cases that range from small claims disputes to criminal matters, said Mr. Rappaport, and as such it is important to have someone who is compassionate and caring in the position.
According to a press release announcing the appointment, Judge Williams was appointed as Associate Justice of the Springfield District Court by Governor Paul Cellucci in 1999. Since 2001, he has served as a Circuit Judge in the Coastal Region of the District Court. He is the Presiding Justice of the Southern District of the Appellate Division of the District Court, and is the managing civil justice for that region.
Prior to his judicial appointment, Judge Williams was an Assistant Attorney General in the Western Massachusetts Division, and served as the division's Deputy Chief. Prior to working in the Attorney General's Office, Judge Williams was in private litigation practice at the law firm of Brooks, Mulcahy, Sanborn and Williams since 1978.
Judge Williams received his undergraduate degree from Western Maryland College in 1972, and received his Master's Degree in English from Queen Mary College at the University of London. In 1977, he graduated from Washington and Lee University Law School where he served as Law Review editor. He resides in Marstons Mills with his wife, and he has three children.