Message from MCFM President Kim Whelan: Many of you may have already heard of the passing of Judge Edward M. Ginsburg on June 24th. Wonderful things have been written about Judge Ginsburg and I wanted to amplify the important contributions he made to family mediation in Massachusetts. In 2020, MCFM recognized Judge Ginsburg for his valued support of our mediation community by awarding him the John Fiske Award for Excellence in Mediation. It seemed only fitting to ask John Fiske to reflect on Judge Ginsburg’s legacy with respect to the mediation profession. John sent me the wonderful narrative that follows about the important role that Judge Ginsburg (and John) played in jumpstarting family mediation in Massachusetts. (Please share your comments below of your own fond memories of the Judge.)
Reflections from John Fiske:
When I started mediating divorces in 1979, I quickly discovered the seminal article Judge Ginsburg wrote in the Boston Bar Journal, “Predictability and Consistency in Alimony and Support Orders.” His simple formula of one third of the difference in the two incomes helped me settle most of my 1,000 or so divorces over the years.
I met Judge Ginsburg in his lobby in Cambridge. It was 1979, and I was talking to anyone standing about mediation: cab drivers, train passengers, ministers, anyone who would listen. Sheila McGovern was a clerk in Middlesex and she told me to go see Judge Ginsburg. We met in his lobby and I told him I wanted to start mediating divorces and he was interested. He said his court was so far behind it took six years to get a divorce and he would try anything to improve the process.
A week later, my secretary came into my office across the street from the court and said there were four people in the waiting room sent by the court. I took the husband, wife and their lawyers into my conference room and I sat at the head of the table wondering what to do next and the wife said brightly, “We understand we’re some sort of an experiment!” (They immediately agreed the husband could get his snow blower back and then got in a huge
argument over child support. As they were leaving, I told the husband at least he got the snowblower. The wife’s lawyer told me a year later that the husband had started a bit of a fist fight with him as they exited down the stairs.)
Judge Ginsburg called me and said he was going to continue sending me cases because otherwise I would just talk about mediation and never do it. Then he did what he said. Every case he sent to me settled because couples were so thrilled that they could talk to each other and agree instead of going back on Monday for another day-consuming motion session.
Judge Ginsburg then chose about 10 lawyers to develop a mediation model with three mediation meetings followed two months later by a court hearing to approve the separation agreement. We settled dozens of cases and Judge Ginsburg became a big proponent of mediation to the bar and to his colleagues: “Mediation works” was his message.
In about 1998, Judge Ginsburg decided MCLE should start training lawyers to become mediators. He recruited excellent lawyers and trainers to run a 30-hour training program to satisfy our mediation confidentiality statute. He reassured probation officers worried they would lose their jobs and ended up including a number of them in the training. The training program ran twice a year with the blessings of the Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Courts. And that program is still going strong.
Judge Ginsburg cared so much about the Probate and Family Court. We can all hope the Court will continue to build on the valuable legacy that Judge Ginsburg created.
John A. Fiske