Goodridge, as it’s known among scholars and armchair historians of LGBTQ rights, was a monumental decision, one that ultimately paved the way for nationwide marriage equality in the United States. But ask Ireland which cases stand out among the many he’s heard, and he’ll recall cases from early in his career as a juvenile court judge alongside Goodridge.
“I’m proud of every case I sat on,” he says. “I often tell people when I think about my judicial career, the cases that really stand out tend to be when I was a trial court judge, making decisions about custody of children. Those cases stand out as much as the Goodridge case—those were real children with real lives, and I knew that any decision I made would impact this child, this family. They were very important to those people.”
Ireland, who is a distinguished professor of criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern, began his legal career in 1969 as a neighborhood legal services attorney. In 1971, he and Wallace Sherwood, an attorney who also taught in Northeastern’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, founded the Roxbury Defenders Committee, a free public defender program. Prior to its creation, there was no public defender’s office in Roxbury. People in the Boston neighborhood received legal representation from the Massachusetts Defenders Committee.