Friday, October 06, 2006

South Boston Courthouse To Be Re-Dedicated

by Brian Wallace
Joseph F. Feeney was a poor boy from South Boston, who worked tirelessly to become a respected prosecutor, lawyer, jurist, and member of the South Boston community.
Born in South Boston, Massachusetts on May 26, 1918 to Irish immigrant parents, Michael Feeney and Mary Joyce Feeney, the family returned to Galway, Ireland while Joseph was an infant because Michael could not find work. They remained there for several years; indeed Gaelic was Joseph's first language. The family returned to America, however, Michael still could not find work and he left his wife and child in the United States. Mary, who worked as an office building cleaner, died of cancer when Joseph was ten. Having been orphaned and abandoned, Joseph was left homeless, and was taken in by several different relatives temporarily. After a year, he found a permanent home with an aunt. Ellen O'Malley, a widow, who raised him on E Street in South Boston as her own son with her other 6 children. While attending Boston English High School, from where he graduated, Joseph obtained a part-time job with then Congressman John W. McCormack, of the Ninth Congressional District, who became his surrogate father. After high school, Joseph became a full time aide to Congressman McCormack, who became Majority Leader and eventually Speaker of the House of Representatives. Joseph attended American University and Catholic University at night while working in Washington for the Congressman. He was appointed Legislative Clerk to Congress, in which capacity he was responsible for processing legislation in the House. Joseph enlisted in the United States Navy at the inception of World War II. He was assigned to the USS Wisconsin, saw active battle in the Pacific theater, and sustained injuries impairing his hearing in one ear. He achieved the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He remained in the Navy until the conclusion of the war, and was present at the execution of the surrender of Japan. Throughout his life Joseph remained active in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Fitzgerald Post, in South Boston and the Disabled American Veterans.
After World War II, Joseph returned to South Boston and continued to work in Congressman McCormack's office while putting himself through Boston University Law School at night. Upon graduation he passed the Massachusetts bar, and was appointed an Assistant United States Attorney. He subsequently became an Assistant District Attorney for Suffolk County, under then District Attorney Garrett Byrne. He was one of the prosecutors assigned to the Brink's robbery case and was instrumental in obtaining a confession from "Specs" O'Keefe, which led to the conviction of the Brinks robbers. That year the Great Boston Junior Chamber of Commerce named Joseph Feeney as one of the "Ten Most Outstanding Men in Boston." Joseph became was campaign manager for Foster Furcolo in his campaign for governor, and when Governor Furcolo was elected his first appointment to the judiciary was Joseph F. Feeney as a Special Justice of the South Boston District Court . At age 39, he was one of the youngest judges ever appointed in Massachusetts.
As a special justice, Judge Feeney was permitted to engage in the practice civil law, and he founded the law firms of Feeney & Malone, and then Feeney & Freeley, both in Boston, where he concentrated in personal injury and labor law, representing primarily railroad workers and longshoremen, many of whom were from South Boston. Judge Feeney developed a reputation as a tireless worker, sitting as a judge at the South Boston District Court during the day, including Saturdays, and then practicing law at night. Judge Feeney also continued to serve as Special Counsel to Speaker McCormack until his retirement in 1974. In South Boston, Judge Feeney developed a reputation for innovative sentencing, often sentencing defendants to community service in South Boston. He often would require young criminal defendants to work in the local churches and rectories, or require that they enlist in the armed forces. During the busing crisis in the early 1970s, Judge Feeney ruled that demonstrators had the constitutional right to freedom of assembly, and found not guilty those who demonstrated peacefully, which decision was heralded by many commentators as responsible for maintaining peace in South Boston during those turbulent times. Judge Feeney also sat in several other districts, including the Roxbury District Court and the Wareham District Court. In 1980, Judge Feeney was appointed an associate justice of the Boston Municipal Court, and he became Chief Justice of the BMC in 1986. He retired at age 70 as required by Massachusetts law, but was recalled and sat in the Quincy District Court for several years. During the last eight years of his career Judge Feeney worked full time while battling prostate cancer.
Judge Feeney married the former Joan Carroll in 1954 and they had four children. They lived in South Boston, then Dorchester, then Milton. Throughout his life Judge Feeney was very active in the South Boston community. He was the Grand Marshal of the St. Patrick's Day parade in 1960, when it had to be postponed twice due to snow, and he opened the South Boston District Court each year to the public during the St. Patrick's Day parade. He was a member of the South Boston Citizen's Association, the Knights of Columbus, and the Hibernian Society. He was also a member of the Clover Club. Judge Feeney was the founder of the Massachusetts Judges Conference, and was respected by his colleagues in the judiciary for his substantial efforts to obtain fair compensation and benefits for judges in Massachusetts. Judge Feeney died on May 16, 1991. He is remembered by many in South Boston community for his devotion to the community and compassion for its citizens.
Chapter 88 of the Acts of 2006
Whereas, The deferred operation of this act would tend to defeat its purpose, which is forthwith to designate the South Boston Court House as the Chief Justice Joseph F. Feeney Court House, therefore it is hereby declared to be an emergency law, necessary for the immediate preservation of the public convenience.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same as follows:
The court house on East Broadway in the South Boston section of the city of Boston shall be designated and known as the Chief Justice Joseph F. Feeney Court House. The division of capital asset management and maintenance shall erect suitable markers bearing this designation in compliance with any applicable standards.
Approved May 19, 2006

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