Hon. Barbara Dortch-Okara (retired) appointed State Ethics Commission chair
New England Law professor, legal trailblazer
(Boston, 12/20/13) New England Law | Boston: The Honorable Barbara Dortch-Okara (retired) has been appointed to a five-year term as chair of the State Ethics Commission. The New England Law | Boston professor will head the non-partisan, independent state agency, which is devoted to fostering integrity in public service in state, county, and local government; promoting the public's trust and confidence in that service; and preventing conflicts between private interests and public duties.
“I am honored to appoint Judge Dortch-Okara as chair of the State Ethics Commission," said Governor Deval Patrick in announcing the appointment. “She has an extraordinary background as an attorney, a trial court judge, and a chief justice. I am confident that she will be a superb chair, and I thank her for her lifelong commitment to public service to serve the Commonwealth and her willingness to accept this important position.”
The State Ethics Commission is organized into three separate divisions: Legal; Public Education and Communications; and Enforcement. The commission strives to accomplish its mission by conducting ongoing educational programs, providing clear and timely advice, and fairly and impartially interpreting and enforcing conflict of interest and financial disclosure laws.
“We are very proud that Professor Dortch-Okara has been selected for this essential post and congratulate her as she assumes her new responsibilities,” said Dean John F. O’Brien. “Her students at New England Law benefit from the extensive experience and valuable perspective she brings after many years of practice and on the bench. We are delighted to have her as a colleague and look forward to her continued contributions in both the academic and public sectors.”
During her 39 years as an attorney and judge, Professor Dortch-Okara served as associate justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court for 23 years before retiring in 2012. In 1998, Judge Dortch-Okara was appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court to serve as the chief administrative justice of the Massachusetts Trial Court. She was the first African American and the first woman to hold that position.
Appointed to the bench in 1984, she served as justice of the Boston Municipal Court for five years and was instrumental in launching an alternative sentencing program for women. Formerly she held positions as associate general counsel of the Massachusetts Port Authority, attorney adviser for the Massachusetts office of the U.S. Department of the Interior, and assistant corporation counsel for the City of Boston.
She received the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association's 2011 Trailblazer Award, the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys' 2007 Judicial Excellence Award, and an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1996 from New England Law. She teaches Criminal Law, Evidence, and the Law and Ethics of Lawyering.