Elizabeth Fahey ’74

Elizabeth Fahey ’74

Written by Nataly Cifuentes ’16

Elizabeth Fahey '74

Elizabeth Fahey ’74

With a dedication to public service, Elizabeth Fahey has become a Superior Court judge for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, serving on both national and international cases.

As an Elmhurst, Convent of the Sacred Heart High School graduate, Elizabeth Fahey applied and was accepted to Manhattanville College. Having both the academic and financial incentive to attend, she received her Bachelor of Arts in both History and Economics as a member of the Class of 1974.

During her years at Manhattanville, Fahey made lifelong friendships among her classmates with whom she still keeps in touch with to this day. She was most significantly influenced by her professors Cora Brady and Barbara Debs, who taught “Religious Sources of Political Radicalism” and “Survey of Art History,” respectively. The education she received at Manhattanville helped her prepare for and be accepted into law school, which had always been her calling. After completing her undergraduate studies in only three years, she took a year off before continuing her studies. During this year, she worked in the Alumni Office at Brown University before attending Law School at Boston College.

For the first six years after earning her law degree in 1977, Fahey worked as Assistant to the District Attorney in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. In this role, she gained significant experience in trying cases, especially those related to rape and sexual assault. “These cases made me realize the incredible trauma that goes along with those kinds of crimes, and I haven’t forgotten,” Fahey reflected.

From 1983 to 1999, Fahey’s focus shifted as she worked in private practice in Boston where she specialized in civil rights, municipal liability, product liability, medical malpractice, and general liability. Although she enjoyed her time with private practice, Fahey found that she liked trying cases in the courtroom and believed she was sufficiently familiar with trial procedures and the responsibilities of a judge.

To Elizabeth, becoming a judge was the next step in her career. “I still had a long learning curve, but it was one I enjoyed a lot,” she shared. “I think there is a huge benefit in participating and working in public service.” In 1999, she was sworn in as a Superior Court Judge for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Throughout her career, Elizabeth has been a part of many important programs. She participated in the U.S. State Department-sponsored Rule of Law programs, traveling to China on four occasions and once to both Macedonia and Mongolia. During these trips, she met judges and lawyers from various countries to discuss a wide range of legal issues. Such topics included the importance of having a fair trial with jurors (as opposed to allowing judges to make all decisions) and the independence of the judiciary, which stresses the importance of evidence-based court decisions.

Later in her career, Elizabeth took a leave of absence from 2007 to 2008 to work as an international judge in the War Crimes Chamber of the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina to resolve cases resulting from the Bosnian War.

Elizabeth spoke at Brandeis University in 2009 about the experience. During the discussion, Fahey shared, “I have always been interested in war crimes. It never occurred to me that I would be able to get a job as an international judge.” She considered it both an honor and a challenge to serve as a judge in such important international affairs. Fahey was aware that the cases heard would be recorded as a very important part of history, and every decision needed to be made with the utmost care.

In addition, Fahey realized that the language barrier made this an even greater challenge, as relying on translation made decision making more difficult. The war affected so many people, separating families either temporarily or permanently. Because many of the victims and the perpetrators knew each other, as well as each other’s families, the cases were complex and had a large audience. This was also a learning experience for her because she had to learn how to preside under a new judicial system, one that had different statutes and operated with a three-judge panel instead of having juries.  “The cases that I had were very interesting, all involving incredible hardships to the alleged victims. But it was also very nice to meet the Bosnian national judges, as well as international judges. It was extremely worthwhile work, in a totally new environment, and I loved it,” Elizabeth said.

Elizabeth remains involved in professional development surrounding global conflicts. Recently, Fahey participated in a panel at Mount Holyoke College called Reconstructing Societies in the Wake of Conflict: Transitional Justice and Economic Development. A consortium of women’s colleges brought together fifty emerging women leaders from around the world with representation primarily from Asia, Africa and Europe. These women discussed the different approaches being taken to “rebuild their communities and promote sustainable economic livelihoods following political violence and human rights violations.” Fahey contributed to this panel by speaking about the meaning of the Rule of Law in the development of the trial practice in Bosnia. Although there was no official representative from Bosnia in attendance, this was a topic most women were familiar with, especially those from countries recovering from war. “Some countries agree that it is probably more effective and efficient if they reconcile. Reconciliation allows the people to forgive and move forward,” Fahey concluded.

Fahey enjoys working with both civil and criminal cases. However, the most difficult aspect of her profession is sentencing those who are found guilty. She said, “We basically see the panoply of human experience in the courtroom. It’s a very broadening experience.”

Although women and men have not always been treated equally throughout her legal career, Fahey believes that nothing is an obstacle if you don’t let it become one. “I was fortunate enough to come from a very supportive family and was able to get a good education. These two things prepare you for most of what you have to face in life,” Fahey reflected.

To Fahey, her experience at Manhattanville introduced her to lifelong friends and cultivated her interest in public service which has shaped her career. As advice to the current students’ generation, she offered, “Get as good an education as you possibly can. Work hard. Volunteer for work and anything else that interests you, and spend as much time with your family as you possibly can.”

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