Judge Francis Larkin

I was born in Milford and grew up at 282 Main Street. We lived upstairs over my grandmother. I had a very dramatic first day of school. When I was heading home at the end of the day, my mother was with me and trees were falling down all around us. It was the Hurricane of ’38. There were no reliable weather forecasts in those days and no one knew it was coming. My first three years of school were at the Chapin Street School.

After my time at Chapin Street, I went to the Oliver Street School. Then my parents suggested that it would be good for me to go to St. Mary’s. That was a good move. The nuns were great people. They could be a little scary sometimes, but they were very dedicated to the students. Their whole life was teaching. I had a couple of sisters who really played major roles in my life. One was Sister Rose Concepta, who was a legendary figure at St. Mary’s in those days.

Another favorite nun was Sister Joseph Anne, who was a language teacher. Fast-forwarding to 1968, I was selected by the State Department to go to Santiago, Chile, for a three-month period to draft the telecommunications code for the government of Chile. I had to write most of it in Spanish. One day I decided to call Sister Joseph Anne and tell her what I was doing and that I owed my ability to do that in Spanish to her. She and Sister Rose would always come to our class reunions, right up to the fiftieth.

After graduating from St. Mary’s, I went to Holy Cross. I won a four-year scholarship that had been established by one of the former priests at St. Mary’s. That was the beginning of a love affair with Holy Cross which continues and grows to this day. I was so fortunate to go there. After that, I went to another Jesuit institution – Georgetown Law School. I got a degree and also a wife there.  

I could never do math. I couldn’t add two and two and get four. Fortunately, I married Virginia who was a math major at Trinity College in Washington, D.C. She graduated in 1955, just at the start of the computer age. She was hired by the Navy Department, right out of college, to work on the original Univacs. Her assignment during the time she was there was to design a computer program to track Soviet submarines under the icecaps all over the world. Then her dad died and she came back to Massachusetts. Here she was hired by Lincoln Labs at MIT to track Russian planes coming over the North Pole. She contributed much more to the national defense than I did, that’s for sure.

It was difficult to come to Milford and be in the role of a judge, particularly before many people that I knew. That was stressful, but I found joy in trying to achieve justice and trying to help people. In a district court as in Milford, we’re not dealing with murderers or rapists. We’re often dealing with people who’ve made one bad mistake that could ruin their life. I was always particularly concerned about that with young people who would come before me. A criminal conviction could come back to haunt them, as in getting into college, going into the Army, etc. I did what had to be done, but I tried to temper it with a bit of compassion. It has been a great satisfaction when I’ve walked down Main Street, or been somewhere and someone who I couldn’t remember ever meeting would come up to me and say, “I am so grateful for what you did 25 years ago,” or “”You really saved me,” or “It changed me.” That’s really great to hear.

I didn’t have an abiding desire to go to law school, but I wasn’t good at math and I couldn’t stand the sight of blood, so …  law school. My ambivalent feelings lasted only until the first class. Into my first class in criminal law walked an adjunct professor who was there to teach only one class. Edward Bennett Williams. He went on to become a legendary criminal defense lawyer. He was a Holy Cross and Georgetown graduate. In addition to his work as a lawyer, he became the owner of both the Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Orioles. In class, he had the most dramatic way of presenting things. He had a tremendous gift for imagery and presentation. One of the nice things about going to Georgetown Law School was and is that it is located a block from the Supreme Court and also near the trail courts.

One of Williams’s clients in a famous case involved Bobby Baker, who might be called a bag man for Lyndon Johnson. The issue, which came to trial in 1963, was whether Baker had received money from a group of bankers, who were interested in a particular piece of legislation. It turned out that Baker had walked out of a meeting with the bankers with a large amount of cash, and not long after that, the bill favored by the bankers passed. In time, this came to light. Baker was indicted and the bankers were indicted as co-conspirators.

The defense for the bankers was that they didn’t know where the money was going. It was just some sort of gesture. I recall what Williams said about that in the closing arguments. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, these men were not a group of slack-jawed country bumpkins. They were a group of marble-hearted, beady-eyed bankers. It would have been easier to walk out of the Louvre with the Mona Lisa than to walk out of that room with that money without them knowing where it was going.”

In my last year at law school, I was elected national president of the Law Students of America. It afforded me the great opportunity to travel to law schools all over the country.

After law school, I was appointed to the faculty, where I taught for one year, and then went into the service. I did basic training at Fort Benning and then went to judge advocate-general school at Charlottesville, Virginia. After a couple of interim posts, I was at the Pentagon to argue cases at the United States Court of Military Appeals for the Army. My biggest case at that time involved the master Russian spy, Rudolf Abel. Abel was ultimately traded for downed U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers. The issue for us was whether a military person in the American embassy in Moscow was involved with Abel, and I was able to make that connection. That was probably the largest case I had.

Virginia knew I wanted to come back to Massachusetts, so she came back here while I was finishing my Army days. She call one night and say, “I’ve got a beautiful home in Cohasset, by the sea,” and another night, “I’ve found a beautiful house in Duxbury, by the sea.”

Every night, it would be something like that, and I’d say, “Yes, but it’s not Milford.” There was a popular novel at that time titled, By Love Possessed. Virginia said, “If they ever write the story of your life, it should be titled, By Milford Possessed.

After the Army, I was fortunate enough to secure a clerkship on the United States Court of Appeals on the First Circuit. I stayed two years with my judge – Judge Horrigan.

Near the end of my time with Judge Horrigan, I received a call one night from Milford attorney Pat DeCapua, saying that Father Drinan, the legendary dean at Boston College, would be speaking at a meeting of the Milford Bar Association at the New England Steak House. He suggested that I should go. I was in Providence, working for Judge Horrigan, and didn’t have much time to spare. Pat called again in the afternoon and told me I should really go.

I decided to go, and within two minutes of talking with Father Drinan, he said, “How would you like to come with me and be the associate dean of BC Law School?”  Something like that would never happen today. There would be search committee after search committee. You’d have to be vetted. In those days Father Drinan had to power to just go out and pick someone. Somehow we had just hit it off, and I was with him for fourteen years. Eventually I became the dean of the Law School as well as being an associate judge. That’s what I call the golden period of my life.

Judge DiVitto, my predecessor in Milford, died suddenly. My father suggested that it would be a great source of satisfaction to him, and probably good for me, if I returned to Milford as the presiding judge. At that time I was counsel to the law firm of Edward McCormick. He had graduated first in his class at BU Law, had been the president of the Boston City Council, and had been a distinguished attorney general of Massachusetts.

In 1962, Ed McCormick ran against Ted Kennedy in the Democratic primary for the Senate in a very celebrated race. For McCormick, he was running against the wrong person at the wrong time. After he lost the election, he was started a law firm. He wanted someone to do his federal work. He got a lot of federal work, not only because he was a great lawyer, but also because his uncle, John McCormick, was the speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives. John had no children, and Eddie, his favorite nephew, was like a son to him.

I did much of Eddie’s appellate work, and one of the most interesting cases was at the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, involving a non-dairy item called Coffee-Rich. The Wisconsin legislature had enacted a law to protect the good people of Wisconsin by keeping Coffee-Rich off the market, on the pretense that they might be confused by it. We took the position that under the commerce clause, that was unconstitutional. I argued that case and won it. I thought that was a big win, beating the dairy industry in Wisconsin.

Another case that I remember well began when I got a call from Joe Rosenfeld, owner of Rosenfeld Sand & Gravel. He was also president of the Massachusetts Concrete Association. Joe was a wonderful man, a great humanitarian. We had a statute in the Massachusetts tax code that stated that if you were buying replacement parts to be used in an industrial plant, you could write them off. The cement industry had taken the position that their trucks should be viewed as rolling industrial plants, but that had been rejected by local and state taxing authorities. We took the case before the Supreme Judicial Court and won a unanimous decision.

I’ve been very active in politics with the Democratic party. After the senatorial campaign of 1962, there was still quite  a bit of residual activity between the McCormicks and the Kennedys; mostly on the side of the McCormicks. At the first debate of the campaign, McCormick opened with, “If your name was Edward Moore, rather than Edward Moore Kennedy, your campaign would be a joke.” We in the hall thought that was a great line. However a large number of people watching took it as something evil being said about the president’s brother. We had been running close up to that point, but after that we dropped off to about 70-30. There was a residual antipathy, at least perceived, after that point.

Eddie ran for governor against John Volpe in 1966. I was involved in that campaign. At that time I came to the attention of Ted Kennedy and did some speech writing for him, and did some other work for the Kennedys. I was kind of bridging the gap between Kennedy and McCormick. I was then picked to be the Massachusetts coordinator for the Humphrey campaign. I was also appointed to the Democratic Advisory Council. We’d meet once a month at Ted’s home at Charles River Park, with people such as John Kenneth Galbraith, Paul Samuelson, Daniel Patrick Monahan, and General James Gavin. It was a thrill and an incredible tutorial for me to be at those meetings in Ted’s home, and sort of having a foot in both camps.

I was very active in the Humphrey campaign. I was his floor leader for Massachusetts at the infamous 1968 Chicago convention. I continued to be very active in politics for the next two years. Although I was a special judge in Newton, there was no prohibition against being in politics. When I came back to Milford, I had to cut all ties to such things. That meant giving up a lot of parts of my life, which was a bit difficult in the beginning. It turned out that everything worked out well, and I have no regrets.  It was good to still be in this area as my parents got older.

I was a judge in Newton for two years before I came to Milford. I refer to it as one of the golden periods of my life. I was appointed by Governor Frank Sargent in 1970. He was a Republican and I’ve been a lifelong Democrat. A very active Democrat. In those days we had something called a special judgeship. It was a part-time judgeship. In Milford we had Judge Shaw who served in that capacity. I could be a judge in the morning and dean of the law school in the afternoon. That was just down the road from Newton.

My time in Newton was just at the height of the Vietman War. It was also the height of protests against the war. Newton was a hotbed of the protests because it was so close to the Boston colleges. A couple of times when I went into the courtroom at 9 a.m. there were about 150 young people there. The protesters would lie down in front of busses that were filled with draftees. Newton had a tough police chief and he’d have them all arrested. Also, Newton had what was an unusual bi-law which I thought had some Constitutional infirmities. I didn’t want to give the protesters a criminal conviction. We had a procedural device in those days called a continuation without a finding. I told them their case was continued for six months and if they behaved during that time, the record would be washed clean. That occurred twice during my tenure in Newton. It didn’t endear me to the Newton police, although later the chief and I became very dear friends.

Some referred to me derisively as “Let-’em-go” Larkin, but I kind of wore that as a badge of honor. When there was a serious matter, when I needed to be tough, I was. One who came before me had broken windows in the library, just a few weeks after it was built. I think he’s still serving a life sentence. As to the protesters in Newton, I didn’t applaud what they were doing, but I understood that they felt that it was in the best interest of the country. However, if they were to come back to court a second time, it would have been a vastly different outcome.

Late one afternoon at the Milford Court House, my secretary, Eleanor ???, a wonderful person, called into me and said, “There are two young men out here who are looking rather sad, and they want to see you.” They were Chuck Caligione and Bobby DeVita, both now attorneys. I didn’t know them at the time, but now I know both of them very well. The bottom line here is that they had been going to a “so-called law school,” called the Fall River School of Law, in Tiverton, Rhode Island. They had been promised that after three or four years they would be able to sit for the Massachusetts Bar. The school had no accreditation. After they had been going there two or three nights a week for four years, a group came from the Massachusetts Board of Regents and saw a school with no library, no anything. They didn’t get accreditation. Caligione and DiVita knew that I had been dean of BC Law and could possibly help them.

Somewhat reluctantly, I went to see the place. I agreed to teach a course there for six months or so. Then I went on the board. They got rid of everyone who had been there. The name became the Southern New England School of Law. Two years later, because of some pretty good connections I had in Boston, we were allowed to apply for accreditation again. I made the presentation and we got preliminary accreditation. Six months later we got full accreditation in Massachusetts.

A year or so later they asked me to become dean of the law school. We brought the school up to all the codes, even of the American Bar Association. Since we had the Massachusetts accreditation, everyone going there, including Chuck and Bobby, could take the Massachusetts bar. The next year I got the New England Association of Colleges accreditation. A few years after that, we tried to become the state law school, but we ran into some vitriolic opposition, essentially from some of the Boston law schools.

Eventually that worked out and the school became part of the UMass system (UMass-Dartmouth) in 2010. I’m very proud of that accomplishment. Many students who can’t afford to go to the other law schools in the state can afford to go there. I’ve taught at other law schools and the students have been great, but often seem to have a sense of entitlement. Our kids at Dartmouth are great kids, too, but many have had a bit of rejection in their lives. Those are the kind of people I like to work with.

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