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Wayne Budd’s work as chair of the Boston Police Reform Task Force leads to historic changes

The legendary legal career of New England Law | Boston trustee Wayne Budd ’81 (honorary) and ’89 (honorary) is all the more remarkable for the fact that he hadn’t planned to become an attorney—even as he was enrolling in law school. The son of the first Black police officer in the history of Springfield, Massachusetts, Budd matriculated as a night student at Wayne State University Law School in the mid 1960s without ever having met a successful lawyer of color.

“I had no awareness that a Black person could build a career in the law,” says Budd. “I viewed my legal education as a springboard to a career in business or government service.” Through his day job, however, in the industrial relations department of Ford Motor Company (his Boston College A.B. was in economics) and the Wayne State network, Budd met a number of successful Black attorneys. “That’s when I started to believe that I could make this my profession.”

Budd moved to Boston in 1967 and twelve years later cofounded one of the country’s largest minority-directed law firms, Budd, Reilly, and Wiley. He left the firm in 1989 when he was appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. Budd was the first African American to hold such a post in a New England state. Under his tenure, the office was recognized for its work combating drugs, street crime, and gang violence. Budd also served as president of the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association (1974–1975) and the Massachusetts Bar Association (1979–1980). He was not only the first African American to head a state bar association anywhere in the U.S. but also the youngest president in the history of the MA Bar Association. 

In 2011, Budd received The American Lawyer’s Lifetime Achievement Award, joining a select list of past honorees that includes Howard Baker, Christopher Warren, Judith Kaye, and Walter Mondale. Budd currently serves as senior counsel in the litigation department at Goodwin in Boston. He originally joined the firm as a partner in 1993.

No challenge too large or small

If there’s a through-line in Budd’s wide-ranging career, it’s that he’s always embraced a challenge—whether on the national stage or behind the speaker’s podium at New England Law. One such moment came in the early years of his relationship with the school. “I was in town for the 1992 Law Day Dinner,” Budd recalls, “and the weather was terrible. My boss, then Attorney General William Barr, was scheduled to deliver the keynote address. Try as he might, however, AG Barr couldn’t get out of Washington because all the flights were grounded.”

Reviewing his options, then New England Law Dean John O’Brien ‘77 sought advice from then Middlesex District Attorney Tom Reilly, who was also in attendance. Reilly is reported to have said, “It’s time to bring in the lefty from the bullpen. Ask Wayne.” Budd agreed, with two conditions. “Tom was my dearest friend, but time was short,” says Budd. “I asked for 30 minutes and a quiet room in which to collect my thoughts. I guess it went okay, because John and I have been close friends ever since.”

That small, unexpected challenge came at a time when Budd was prosecuting one of the highest-profile civil rights cases of the decade, the videotaped police beating of Rodney King. Budd was number three at the U.S. Justice Department, and the litigation came in the wake of a California state jury verdict that acquitted three L.A. police officers. The outcome sparked several weeks of riots—and heightened public scrutiny of the federal case. Charting a steady course through the storm, Budd and his team secured the conviction of two officers for violating King’s civil rights. 

A reckoning in the midst of a pandemic

Budd’s most recent high-profile assignment came in June of 2020 when Boston Mayor Marty Walsh convened an 11-member Boston Police Reform Task Force with Budd as its chair. 

Wayne Budd’s friend, President John O’Brien commented, “Wayne is an incredibly busy man. Yet, he took on this role out of a sense of duty to the community. He knew he could make a difference, so he didn’t hesitate. That tells you a great deal about who Wayne Budd is.”

The Task Force comprised community leaders, advocates, legal professionals, and members of the law enforcement community. Its mission was to review and recommend changes in four areas: use-of-force policies, implicit bias training, the body camera program, and strengthening community oversight.

“Such a brief would be challenging under normal circumstances,” notes Budd. “Tackling this agenda within a fourteen-week timeframe in the midst of a nationwide racial reckoning and global pandemic was as difficult a task as I can remember. The fact that we reached unanimous consent on so many substantive, systemic recommendations is a credit to the expertise and dedication of every member of the group.”

In framing the specific points in its report, the Task Force urged Mayor Walsh to “view these recommendations as the floor rather than the ceiling on police reform,” a spirit which Walsh embraced when he and Police Commissioner William Gross officially embraced the group’s entire slate of changes on October 13, 2020. In committing to a 180-day implementation period, Walsh pledged to “use every tool at my disposal to make this a reality.”

While pleased with the immediate outcome, Budd emphasizes that systemic reform is a long-term, community-wide project. “We’ve made some progress with the adoption of these measures,” he says, “but this work is never done. We can always make things better. And the obligation to help is on all of us in the legal community. It may be police reform, it may be the public education, or some other area. Wherever your passion and expertise lay, answer the call and get engaged.”


This piece was originally published in the 2020 Edition of The Bridge, New England Law's Alumni Magazine. Flip through a digital copy of the edition: here.