Judge Patti B. Saris grew up in the West Roxbury neighborhood of Boston and attended Girl’s Latin, the sister school of Boston Latin School. She then went on to Radcliffe College, the sister school of Harvard University to study to become a journalist. In fact, she remained focused on journalism for quite some time, first writing for the Harvard Crimson on the women’s movement on campus in 1969. She rose among the ranks to become the associate managing editor of the Crimsonand felt more convinced to pursue a career in journalism. It was not until her father encouraged her to take the law boards exam, because of her argumentative traits and logical thought process, that Judge Saris began looking at law. After scoring well on the exam, Judge Saris decided to enroll at Harvard Law School, where she imagined she would write about law. Knowing where she ended up, her plan to write about law did not last long. Once at Harvard Law Saris notes she “absolutely loved the way that lawyers thought; I loved the issues of the Constitution and I loved the edginess of it.”
Saris graduated in 1976, in a class where only 15% of the graduates were women. She then went on to work on a distinguished clerkship with Justin Braucher on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, where she was also his first female clerk. She later went on to work as a staffer in the U.S. Senate for Senator Edward M. Kennedy, whose father went to Boston Latin. The Latin school connection never ends. Although, she imagined that she would be working on civil rights legislation, she was instead assigned to regulatory reform. It ultimately allowed her to work on a variety of legislative efforts to improve the function of our government. She later co-wrote a book with Judge Abner J. Mikva entitled Congress: The First Branch of Government. After Senator Kennedy chose to run for president in the 1980 election, Judge Saris was left in Washington D.C. allowing her to take on more responsibility. This raised her personal profile in D.C. as a negotiator and drafting legislation. By the time she left D.C. Saris had experience with all three branches of government.
She returned to Massachusetts in 1981, worked briefly in private practice, and then joined the U.S. attorney’s office in 1982 working on civil litigation. In 1986, Judge Saris became a U.S. magistrate judge. As a magistrate judge, Judge Saris moved on from solely looking at civil cases. She began looking at criminal cases and became a leading judge in intellectual property cases.
From 1989 to 1993, Judge Saris became an associate justice in the Massachusetts Superior Court. In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed her to fill a vacated seat on the U.S. District Court. Judge Saris continues to work in the U.S. District Court, and since January 1, 2013 Judge Saris is the chief U.S. district judge for the District of Massachusetts.
Outside of the courthouse, Judge Saris is active on the Federal Judges Association, was chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Defender Services from 2002-2005, and has been the chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission since December 2010. The U.S. Sentencing Commission, since she became chair, has focused two of their last three reports on the role of mandatory minimum sentences. Having had conversations with the Judge on this topic, it is something that she deeply cares about and she has namely contrasted the mandatory minimums associated with possession of firearms versus drugs.
From the stories I have heard about Judges and the extensive career Judge Saris has had, you would really expect her to be an aggressive force in court. But instead she is a friendly, aggressive force. Judge Saris treats everyone who comes in front of her in court as a human and emphasizes helping each person return to a lawful, safe life. When she convicts individuals she seeks justice for the communities impacted and considers how jail time could set someone’s rehabilitation to a lawful life back rather than move forward. She truly cares and tries to find the best solution, which makes it easy to see why she is Chief Judge. If you ever want to see Judge Saris do her job you can find her in the Moakley Courthouse on the 7th floor in courtroom 19.