'Framed' ex-justice calls his honor 'humbling'

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PITTSFIELD — "This is not a solemn occasion," Judge John Agostini said. "This is a hanging."

Those were among the remarks made by Agostini shortly before the unveiling of the portrait of retired Justice Francis X. Spina on Friday afternoon in Berkshire Superior Court.

Spina, 72, who grew up in Pittsfield, had a long and varied legal career, during which he served as a public defender, assistant district attorney, assistant city solicitor, private practice attorney, Superior Court judge, state Appeals Court judge and, from 1999 until his retirement in 2016, one of the seven justices on the state's Supreme Judicial Court.

Spina's portrait, painted by Pittsfield native Michael Rousseau, joins 15 others of former Berkshire judges in the courtroom.

"I suspect that you have noticed there is only one living person whose portrait hangs in the courtroom," Spina told the crowd filling the courtroom gallery. "I hope this is not an omen."

Spina said the portraits provide not only a historical, though incomplete, record of judges from Berkshire County who served on the SJC and serve as a reminder to the judges who currently sit in Berkshire County, they are "custodians of the guiding principle which we refer to as the rule of law."

The portraits, Spina said, help to convey a sense of duty and gravitas to citizens when they are called upon to serve as jurors.

Agostini, who affectionately referred to Spina as "St. Francis," spoke of his compassion and approach to helping people in the midst of apparent mental health crises who felt they had no place left to turn except the Berkshire District Attorney's Office, when both worked there as assistant district attorneys.

In one case, Agostini said, Spina assured a young woman who was convinced that the mob was after her that the state had installed "mob detectors" at the turnpike exit that would alert the DA's office if a Mafioso crossed into Berkshire County — an answer that, he said, seemed to ease the woman's mind.

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"She left feeling that she had been listened to," Agostini said.

After the ceremony, Spina said it was "humbling" to have his portrait included among the other justices.

During the ceremony, remarks from SJC Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants and Gov. Charlie Baker were read aloud by Agostini.

Gants said Spina "personifies the ideal of judicial excellence." In his letter, Baker spoke of Spina's dedication to Berkshire County and Western Massachusetts and described him as a terrific problem-solver.

After graduating from Amherst College and, later, the Boston College Law School in 1971, Spina worked as a staff attorney at Western Massachusetts Legal Services, working on welfare rights cases and landlord/tenant law. He rose to the position of managing attorney in the Springfield office before moving on to work as the assistant city solicitor in Pittsfield.

He was appointed to the Superior Court in 1993, to the Massachusetts Appeals Court in 1997 and to the Supreme Judicial Court in 1999 by former Gov. Paul Cellucci.

Spina closed his remarks by thanking the governors who nominated him to his various appointments and thanked them for their confidence in him.

"I consider myself blessed," he said.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@berkshireeagle.com, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.


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