By Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE — Sitting in her new office above downtown Lawrence, Judge Lynn Rooney smiles when asked if she wanted to be a judge when she grew up.
“No .... It’s really something you aspire to. I didn’t think it would happen. There a lot of lawyers, but not a lot of judges,” she said.
But seven years after Rooney was named to the bench, her path has taken her to the Fenton Judicial Center where she is now the First Justice of Lawrence District Court. The working mother comes to the Immigrant City after spending five years in Lowell District Court.
As First Justice, Rooney, 48, is essentially in charge of the district court, overseeing four other judges and working closely with the clerk magistrate and chief probation officer.
Just a little over a month into her new role, Rooney said she hasn’t made any big changes, but is “sort of collecting, listening to any concerns and trying to start a dialogue.”
Soon, she plans to visit local police departments and introduce herself.
“People here work very hard and have been so incredibly welcoming to me. But there are always ways to do things better,” she said.
The daughter of a police chief, Rooney’s brother John is seven years older than her. After John Rooney went to law school and became a prosecutor, it sparked her own interest in a legal career. “I was just fascinated by it,” she said.
As a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Rooney worked in a criminal defense clinic. After graduating from Boston College law school, Rooney went to work as a prosecutor in the Middlesex District Attorney’s office. She was involved in high profile cases, including the sexual molestation convictions of defrocked Catholic priests John Geoghan and Paul Shanley, and the murder trial against British nanny Louise Woodward.
At the same time, she and her husband of 20 years, Salem District Court Judge Robert Brennan were raising three daughters. The girls now range in age from 12 to 18. One entire wall of Rooney’s office is covered with handmade artwork her daughters made for her, including flowers and a portrait of a family cat. A beach scene depicts her family with the entire Brennan clan, which also includes her father-in-law, former Lawrence District Court Judge Thomas Brennan.
Rooney said she understands the role of the working mother well, noting she couldn’t have excelled in her career without support, including a nanny that remains a close part of her family today. “If you don’t have a support system, one side or the other will suffer,” she said.
“It’s not easy. There are always those competing thoughts. ‘Am I cheating on my job? Am I cheating on my children?’ she said. “I think that’s why you see a lot of women, at a certain point, stop practicing law.”
Rooney said occasionally brings her children to work with her. On the flip side, she has a strict rule about bringing work stress outside the courthouse.
“I don’t take it home,” she said.
Rooney said she starts each day with a 5:30 a.m. workout, a routine that helps her focus and relieves stress. Luna nutrition bars are always stashed in her desk for “the crash in the afternoon,” she said. An animal lover, Rooney and her family have a black lab and three cats.
“And the more I can be outdoors the better. That’s why these windows are good,” she said, pointing to the large windows in her third-floor office.
As a judge, Rooney she looks at “whole person,” something that often gets overlooked. People end up in court for “a lot of different circumstances. It’s something that’s easy to lose sight of.”
While she listens intently, Rooney said “I firmly believe there’s has to consequences for people’s actions. While I do listen, I hold people accountable.”
When people come to the courthouse, Rooney said she wants them to feel safe and treated fairly.
“I want people to know they can come to the courthouse and we will listen to them,” she said. Even if the verdict or judgment isn’t in their favor, Rooney said it’s important that people know “they are listened to and heard.”
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.