(Fact - Drawn from Memory)
When I was a young schoolboy, my father was employed as a janitor at the Dorchester District Court, about a minute’s walk from our house. Then as now, Dorchester had one of the highest crime rates of any section of Boston, so the court was always busy. Dad would occasionally take me there on weekends and show me the boiler room, the holding cells, the courtroom dock; he would let me sit on the judge’s bench and survey the court scene from on high. Sometimes, I’d see leftover diagrams on chalkboards outlining how a crime had been committed. When he took me to the holding cells, he would always say, “You don’t want to end up there.” My father was a real fixture in our neighborhood – one of the dads who was always there, ready to repair a flat bicycle tire or loan a fin or a sawbuck ($5 or $10) or protect life and property.
It was a big day for our family when he applied for a position as a Court Officer at the Dorchester District Court, and an even bigger day when he got the job. He was issued a uniform and a heavy brass badge that had a raised seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the words “Court Officer Municipal Court Dorchester Mass”. We were all there when he called out in his deep voice his first court opening:
“All rise. Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye, all persons having anything to do before the Honorable, the justices of this court draw near, give your attention and you shall be heard. God save the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Court is open. You may be seated.”
My father never missed a day’s work at the Court. He took pride in what he did, as did we. We knew that, while the judge on the raised bench might be the one making the decisions, the Court Officer was the one overseeing the atmosphere of the courtroom. Even today, a Court Officer is charged with maintaining order, ensuring that litigants and attorneys alike treat the process with due respect, correcting the comportment of those who have watched a little too much “reality” television, and setting the tone for the proceedings.
I tell this story as a tribute not just to my father but also to my friend Herb Johnson. Herb served as a Court Officer in Boston’s Probate and Family Court during my entire 21 years there and remains at his post today. Herb rarely misses a day’s work. He takes pride in the quality of his work, does the opening proclamation with gusto and never ever lets the litigants get out of line. Herb lives in Dorchester where he has been a force for good. Just as he keeps those he encounters in the courthouse on the straight path, he has worked tirelessly to be a positive influence in the lives of his young Pop Warner football players. In courtrooms and in tough neighborhoods with high crime rates, we need fixtures like Herb: someone who was always there, ready to lend a hand or admonish one to straighten up, someone who remembers the respect and dignity we need to maintain to remain a community governed by the rule of law.
Herb Johnson safeguards the flowers as Sandra Giovannucci awaits her swearing in as
Acting Register for Suffolk County Probate and Family Court