Bonin book stirs the pot

A book on Robert Bonin’s ouster in the late 1970s as chief justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court is rekindling some old feuds.

The book, The Vidal Lecture: Sex and Politics in Massachusetts and the Persecution of Chief Justice Robert Bonin, focuses on Bonin’s ouster in the wake of a lecture he attended given by author Gore Vidal at a fundraiser on behalf of 24 men charged with sodomy and statutory rape.

Bonin insisted he went to hear Vidal and didn’t know the purpose of the event, but the controversy ultimately led to his downfall in the face of opposition from court officials resistant to the change Bonin was ushering into the courts and a media complicit with the old guard.

The book, written by former state transportation secretary James Aloisi and excerpted in CommonWealth’s winter issue, provides a fascinating look at how Massachusetts politics was practiced in the 1970s. Political alliances were more brazen; ethical standards were different. The Globe’s court reporter, for example, maintained a law practice on the side.

Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (subscription only) covered the book’s release with a story that interviewed many of the characters who are still alive, including former governor Michael Dukakis, who appointed Bonin; Thomas Dwyer Jr., who worked for the late Suffolk County district attorney, Garrett Byrne; the 80-year-old Bonin himself, and a number of prominent attorneys.

Dukakis said Bonin’s removal from the bench was appropriate. “I thought he had the right qualities to do the job, but, as chief judge, he exercised very poor judgment,” he said.

Dwyer accuses Aloisi of libeling his former boss by implying his feud with Bonin was fueled by anti-Semitism. “That’s one of the reasons why I went ballistic over this book,” he says.

Aloisi, in a letter to the editor, said his book never suggested Byrne was anti-Semitic. “Mr. Dwyer’s comments demonstrate how polarized the city’s legal establishment was back in 1978, and how polarized some of it remains today,” he wrote.

Bonin, in a separate letter to the editor, praises Aloisi, dismisses Dwyer, and offers up some examples of the back-stabbing that ultimately brought him down. “I deny being a revanchist looking to even old scores,” he writes. “I ‘hold fast my righteousness…my heart does not reproach me.’”

                                                                                                                                        –BRUCE MOHL


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