Mass. appeals judge honored

McHugh cited for innovation

Judge James F. McHugh served as the special adviser on technology to the chief justice for four years. Judge James F. McHugh served as the special adviser on technology to the chief justice for four years.
By Christopher J. Girard
Globe Correspondent / August 26, 2011

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James F. McHugh, a veteran justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, has been named the winner of the William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence and will be honored Nov. 17 in Washington, D.C.

Named after the former chief justice of the US Supreme Court, the award is given annually to a state judge by the National Center for State Courts and recognizes integrity, fairness, judicial excellence, and professional ethics, according to a statement on the organization’s website.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. will present the award in a ceremony at the Supreme Court.

“I am, first if all, overwhelmed by the award, for I never expected anything like it,’’ McHugh wrote in an e-mail last night.

“More deeply though, I think it is a testament to the many, many people throughout the Massachusetts judiciary who really are committed to maintaining our system as one of the finest state judicial systems in the country,’’ he said.

Mary C. McQueen, national center president, said in a statement, “Justice McHugh has served as an innovator and court leader throughout his 26-year judicial career.

“His tireless efforts have achieved positive results on issues ranging from information technology and case flow management to judicial ethics in order to improve the court system for the public and for those who work in the courts,’’ McQueen said.

The seven justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court nominated McHugh for the award, citing his clarity, intelligence, and perceptiveness, “as well as his ability to think creatively about the courts’ systemic challenges, to build consensus, and to implement change,’’ said the center’s statement.

Other judges and community leaders also submitted letters of support.

McHugh served as the special adviser on technology to the chief justice for four years.

He played a key role in replacing 14 software systems with a central system for users in all courts and departments that significantly improved the trial court’s efficiency in the face of recent severe budget cuts, the statement said.

“Justice McHugh was an early adopter of best practices in case management, including the use of mediation programs in civil cases, to increase timeliness of dispositions in a fair and efficient manner,’’ the NCSC said.

In December 2010, the Supreme Judicial Court named McHugh to a panel to investigate the judicial branch’s hiring and promotion practices following a scandal involving the Probation Department.

McHugh, born in South Dakota in 1944, attended Boston University School of Law after serving in the US Navy.

In 1971, McHugh joined a Boston law firm. In 1985, Governor Michael S. Dukakis appointed him to the Superior Court; in 2001, Governor Paul Cellucci appointed him to the Appeals Court as an associate justice.

McHugh, of Boston, has taught law at Boston College and Northeastern University.

Christopher Girard can be reached at