Orange District Court judge speaks to gravity of role, encourages Mahar students to reach goals

  • Orange District Court Judge Laurie MacLeod speaks to a youth and law class at Mahar Regional School in Orange on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Orange District Court Judge Laurie MacLeod speaks to a youth and law class at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Orange District Court Judge Laurie MacLeod speaks to a youth and law class at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 3/17/2022 11:19:05 AM
Modified: 3/17/2022 11:18:53 AM

ORANGE — It was in March 2020 when the Western world was starting to feel the squeeze of COVID-19 and one of Laurie MacLeod’s family members suggested a Zoom pizza party.

“And I said, ‘What’s Zoom?” she recalled Tuesday. MacLeod, like millions of Americans, soon had her question answered, and toward the end of the month she found herself suggesting her workplace use the software program to conduct business.

“I said to our chief probation officer, ‘Let’s do court on Zoom,’” the Orange District Court’s presiding judge recalled.

State courts closed on March 13, 2020, and jury trials are scheduled to resume next month. It was an experience MacLeod couldn’t have prepared for but one she had a feeling would resonate with Ralph C. Mahar Regional School students, who have seldom had a normal school day in two years.

MacLeod was one of more than 60 active and retired judges to speak to students and members of the public around the state this month about the importance of an impartial, independent judiciary governed by the rule of law. The judge spoke to dozens of students in the Charlotte Ryan Theater as part of the Massachusetts Trial Court’s annual National Judicial Outreach Month program.

Other Franklin County programs include Judge Claudine Wyner’s presentation at the Warwick Free Public Library, also held Tuesday, and First Justice William Mazanec III’s coming talk at the South County Senior Center in South Deerfield on March 25.

Introduced by Robin Allain-Moody, coordinator of Mahar’s Humanities and Social Studies Department, MacLeod explained her job as a district court judge and her place in the judicial process.

“I make the decisions on the very basic level. I’m not an appeals court judge. An appeals court is a panel of judges above me who decide if I make a mistake or not. It’s an awesome responsibility to try to not make the mistakes that the appeals court corrects,” she said. “I don’t mind being told, ‘You made a mistake’ or ‘You screwed up.’ But if I screwed up, that means I might have made a decision that affected someone’s life in an improper way.”

Compared to some more serious crimes, MacLeod said district court cases can sometimes seem minor or trivial, “but it’s not minor to anyone who comes to court,” as the decisions she makes could forever affect someone’s life.

MacLeod has been a judge for 13 years, having been appointed to the bench by former Gov. Deval Patrick. She had most recently been in private practice and earlier worked as an assistant district attorney. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Hampshire College and a law degree from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law after she realized she wanted to be an attorney.

MacLeod mentioned she had previously envisioned herself becoming a judge, but that she always thought that opportunity was meant for other lawyers.

“I must say, I want to encourage anybody who wants to do anything in life — one of the things that held me back was that I thought it was other people who became judges,” she told the students. “You know, somebody smarter than me, somebody with a bit more experience, someone who went to a better school, you know?”

MacLeod said she has never heard a homicide, rape or arson case, which are handled in superior court, though she often sees heartbreaking domestic assault cases.

She recalled one case, in her days as an assistant district attorney, involving a woman who had been badly beaten by her boyfriend, who was also the father of her children. She fled the state, and MacLeod was forced to prosecute the case in her absence. She recalled the defense attorney asking to see photos of the victim’s injuries to share with his client, who “bolted out of the courthouse, and he wasn’t seen for several years.”

MacLeod said the defendant was arrested on a warrant years later and convicted.

“I felt like I did right by her,” she said.

Reach Domenic Poli at or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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