Brockton Family Court Judge Makes the Case for Tough Decisions
April 12, 2010
By Dennis Tatz
The Patriot Ledger
A steady stream of some of the court system's most heart-wrenching cases is all in a day's work for Judge Catherine Sabaitis [pictured left as she receives the Outstanding Alumnus Award in 2005].
The judge has seen a lot in her nearly 20 years on the bench.
"Then and still now, I'm idealistic enough to believe in the honor of public service," Sabaitis, first justice of the Plymouth Probate and Family Court since 1995, said in an interview. "I still love my work."
She said the most heart-wrenching cases are those involving child custody.
"You weigh all the factors in the best interest of the child," she said. "I listen. I try to keep an open mind."
Sabaitis, 56, said having to choose which parent or even grandparent gets custody of a youngster is one of her hardest jobs.
A Brockton native, Sabaitis was the only child of Albert and Alice Sabaitis, who instilled in her the need for a good education.
"I'm happy they worked to help me and support my goals," the judge said. "I couldn't let them down."
Like others of her generation, Sabaitis said she received inspiration from the ideals of President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert. The civil and women's rights movements also caught her attention.
"I always loved politics," she said. "I remember as a little girl staying up late to watch the Democratic and Republic conventions."
As a sophomore at Archbishop Williams High School in Braintree, Sabaitis flirted briefly with a career in journalism before deciding she wanted to be a lawyer.
She was a college intern for then-U.S. Rep. James Burke, D-Milton, when the televised Watergate hearings in Washington, D.C., were gripping the nation.
Sabaitis was in the gallery the day White House counsel John Dean testified about the conspiracy and cover-up that eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
"I knew it was an enormously significant event at the time," she said.
After graduating from Stonehill College, Sabaitis went to the New England School of Law and then began a private practice concentrating on issues involving families.
In 1984, she became the first woman to be assistant city solicitor in Brockton.
An opportunity to return to family law a few years later proved to be too enticing, but this time, Sabaitis would have an opportunity to be a judge.
In 1990, Gov. Michael Dukakis appointed her to serve as an associate justice in the Plymouth Probate and Family Court; she was the first woman to hold the post.
"Not everyone is suited to be a judge in the probate and family court," she said. "You have to be a little bit of a psychologist and a social worker. You have to be a good listener and have an appreciation of the human condition."
Sabaitis became first justice in 1995 following the retirement of Judge James Lawton.
She wasn't finished with her education, however. She went to the Suffolk University School of Management and earned a master's degree in public administration.
Sabaitis recognizes that her decisions are targets for criticism.
"I learned a lesson a long time ago that there is no perfect resolution," she said. "What I do hope is that people feel they were treated respectfully and fairly."
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