Home > Uncategorized > The late Judge Joseph L. Tauro honored at memorial service

The late Judge Joseph L. Tauro honored at memorial service

The late United States District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro, who paved the way for improved care for thousands of persons with developmental disabilities in Massachusetts, was honored on June 7 in a memorial service at the Moakley federal courthouse in Boston.

From 1972 through 1993, Judge Tauro oversaw Ricci v. Okin, a combined class-action lawsuit first brought by the late activist Benjamin Ricci over the conditions at the Belchertown State School. The lawsuit resulted in a consent decree that included the then Belchertown, Fernald, Wrentham, Dever, Monson, and Templeton state schools.

Photos courtesy of Ed O.

Portrait of Judge Tauro at the Moakley courthouse memorial service

Tauro, who died in November at the age of 87, had visited Belchertown and the other Massachusetts facilities in the early 1970s to observe the conditions first hand. He noted two decades later in his 1993 disengagement order from the consent decree that the legal process had resulted in major capital and staffing improvements to the facilities and a program of community placements.

Together, those improvements and placements had “taken people with mental retardation from the snake pit, human warehouse environment of two decades ago, to the point where Massachusetts now has a system of care and habilitation that is probably second to none anywhere in the world,” Tauro wrote.

Among those attending the June 7 memorial service were former Governor Michael Dukakis, who signed the consent decree in 1975 on behalf of the State of Massachusetts, and Beryl Cohen, the original attorney for the plaintiffs. 

Speakers at the June 7 service included U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Senior U.S. District Judge Michael A. Ponsor, Governor Dukakis, and Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. Manfred, an attorney, clerked for Tauro after graduating from law school.

Also attending the service were Ed and Gail Orzechowski, advocates for persons with developmental disabilities. Ed Orzechowski’s 2016 book, You’ll Like it Here, chronicled the life of the late Donald Vitkus, a survivor of the Belchertown school.

In March, as Ed Orzechowski received the 2019 Dr. Benjamin Ricci Commemorative award from the Department of Developmental Services, he credited three men with improving the lives of persons with developmental disabilities in Massachusetts — Benjamin Ricci, Beryl Cohen, and Judge Tauro.

Ed O. and Dukakis at Tauro service

Ed Orzechowski (left) with former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, who signed the 1975 consent decree in the landmark Ricci v. Okin lawsuit overseen by Judge Tauro.

Gail and Beryl Cohen at Tauro service

Gail Orzechowski, an advocate for the developmentally disabled (left), with Beryl Cohen, the attorney for the plaintiffs in the 1972 class action lawsuit, Ricci v. Okin. Gail’s sister, Carol, is a former resident of the Belchertown School.

Program remembrance of Judge Tauro

A written remembrance of Judge Tauro in the memorial service program.




  1. Anonymous
    June 12, 2019 at 9:44 am

    Thank you for this, and all that you and COFAR do, Dave.


  2. janet marcus
    June 12, 2019 at 11:09 am

    Thank you for sharing this info, Never knew much about Judge Tauro other than what my mother told me. She thought he was wonderful. He apparently was a compassionate, caring individual. He would be extremely disappointed in what is happening with the mentally retarded citizens today. Our politicians seem to just want them gone (out of sight – out of mind. Well there are certainly less of the older ones including my sister Nancy Brennion. However, with medical advances there will be more saved who live longer. The question is where will they live when their parents advance in age. The Judge was truly a remarkable man. Suspect he was well aware there was enough money to take care of the less fortunate,


  3. Sue S
    June 12, 2019 at 4:40 pm

    I was so sad to learn of Judge Tauro’s passing and sadder still to learn, at that time, that there was no public service. No way for those of us who benefitted so much from his compassion and dedication to say thank you. No way to pay your respects, place to send flowers, a card, he was just gone. Happy to learn that there was finally a memorial service to pay tribute to this unique man.

    One can only guess how many people were and have been positively affected by Judge Tauro. He saved lives and set into motion a system that ensured those lives were no longer just an existence but were lives that were worth living, then and in the future.

    RIP Judge Tauro and thank you.

    Thank you Dave for sharing this.


  4. milla
    June 14, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    Unfortunately, those changes are now being reversed or neglected, by corrupt politicians. We need another courageous individual, like Judge Tauro to pick up the torch and keep those changes in place for our family members. RIP Judge Tauro…God bless you Sir


  5. milla
    June 14, 2019 at 1:53 pm

    What a decent, moral, loving human being. We need more like you Judge Tauro!


  6. Gloria
    June 15, 2019 at 10:00 am

    Thank you David for sharing this with us all. My daughter is one of those that has been positively affected by Judge Tauro. God Bless


  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: