Bonin, key player in court struggle, dies at 90
Short stint as chief justice was focus of Aloisi book
ROBERT M. BONIN, who lost his job as chief justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court in 1978 for attending a lecture by author Gore Vidal, died on Monday at the age of 90.
His obituary details his distinguished background – Boston Latin School, Boston University, BU Law School, service in the Army JAG Corps, respected trial attorney, first assistant to former Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti, chief justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court, followed by more private legal work up until his retirement at age 88.
What the resume dump doesn’t reveal is that Bonin was the focal point of one of the great political struggles in Massachusetts history. He was named chief justice by then-Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1977 to implement reforms and ultimately shake things up in the court system, which didn’t take kindly to his appointment. Previous chief justices had always come from the ranks of the court’s judges, but Bonin parachuted in from Bellotti’s office. He was not welcomed, and ultimately was forced to resign in 1978.
James Aloisi, the former secretary of transportation and a frequent contributor to CommonWealth, wrote a book about Bonin in 2011 entitled The Vidal Lecture: Sex and Politics in Massachusetts and the Persecution of Chief Justice Robert Bonin. In a precede to an excerpt from the book that ran in CommonWealth, Aloisi said Bonin was unprepared for the attacks on him and the complicity of the Boston news media in those attacks.
Bonin insisted he went to hear Vidal lecture and didn’t know the purpose of the event, but his appearance at a fundraiser for the 24 men facing Superior Court trials was his undoing. He was censured by the Supreme Judicial Court, the Legislature approved a resolution calling for his removal, and the Governor’s Council voted to withhold his $800-a-week salary.In his resignation letter to Dukakis, Bonin said his reputation “may have been damaged”: but “my integrity is intact.”
More than 30 years later, in a Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly package of stories related to the release of Aloisi’s book, Bonin indicated he hadn’t changed his view. “I deny being a revanchist looking to even old scores,” he wrote. “I ‘hold fast my righteousness…my heart does not reproach me.’”