Brian Honan: In Memoriam

By R. Peter Anderson, First Justice

channel7aI never had the opportunity to tell Brian Honan how much I thought of him. One of the disadvantages of being a judge is that a judge cannot be too friendly with or too effusive about an attorney or public official because of the importance of maintaining judicial impartiality and independence. I therefore had to keep to myself my very positive view of Brian Honan, a sense developed over time through numerous encounters in court and elsewhere.

My first defining experience with Brian came toward the end of my first year as judge in the fall of 1991. I was sitting in early October in the Roxbury Court and at the end of a very long day there was one more bench trial to go. Brian was the Assistant DA. The charge was assault and battery but it was really about sexual harassment. The complaining witness was a security guard at Dana Farber and she was showing two of her fellow guards her wedding pictures. She testified that the defendant put his hand on her thigh, told her she looked nice in jeans (she was off duty; he was not), and snapped her bra strap. The defendant and his witness said it never happened. I found that Brian had proved the Commonwealth’s case beyond a reasonable doubt. The reason I remember this case after all these years is that I was struck at the time that this was a difficult case without any physical injury and most young, overworked DAs would have continued this case or not have tried very hard. Brian, however, understood that the victim was not looking for revenge but just wanted to be heard and believed. After the trial Brian recommended a continuance without a finding and the defendant accepted that rather than appealing for a jury trial (we had a two trial system then). I remember thinking then: “Wow, this is a guy who respects women and takes his work really seriously.”

Brian and I met up again in December in the jury session. He tried countless cases before me. He had a great way with jurors. For example, operating under the influence of liquor cases are hard for the Commonwealth. Many jurors remember times when they had too much to drink and often think “there but for the grace of God go I.” Brian would defuse that sentiment by stating in his opening remarks: “The Commonwealth is not saying Mr. Jones is a bad man. We are not saying he is public enemy #1. We are just saying that on March 12, 1992 he made a big mistake when he got into his car after consuming too much alcohol.” I have repeated those lines when I have been a faculty member at various training sessions for young lawyers seeking to learn about presenting cases to a jury.

In one case Brian had the misfortune to have Herald reporter Monica Collins on a jury. She wrote a column about the experience which ripped his performance and haircut up and down. That case was the only time I remember calling him into my office. I figured he was feeling pretty low and I wanted to tell him that I thought he had done a good job and that the column was unfair. He had, after all, obtained a conviction. He actually was pretty philosophical and handled the matter with what I came to see was his characteristic self-deprecating humor. I did notice he changed his hair style shortly thereafter, but I gather from the articles of recent weeks he never did escape ribbing about his haircuts.

channel7bOn another occasion a defendant on the witness stand was trying to explain some aspect if his driving behavior due t the nature of his car.He said he was driving a particular make of SUV and that “you [Brian] would probably not understand how it works.” I happened to have observed Brian driving in and out of the parking lot and knew he drove exactly that make of vehicle. That characteristic Brian Honan twinkle appeared in his eye and he proceeded to rip the witness’s testimony to shreds.

Both he and I moved on from Dorchester but occasionally our paths would cross. In 1999 I became the First Justice in Brighton and he was of course the City Councillor. He was always a major support to the court and was especially interested in my initiatives in the area of substance abuse, including the Brighton Drug Court. The last time I saw him was at the Drug Court graduation this summer. He was a great lawyer, a great public servant, and a great human being. We will not see his like again soon.