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Cypher ’80 Nominated to Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

An Emerson College alumna, Elspeth “Ellie” Cypher ’80, has been nominated to sit on the highest court in Massachusetts.

Cypher, a Senior Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, was nominated to serve as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) by Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito on Wednesday, February 8.

The SJC is the Commonwealth’s highest appellate court. The Chief Justice and six Associate Justices hear appeals and write opinions on civil and criminal cases from across the state. If confirmed by the Governor’s Council, Cypher will replace Justice Margo Botsford, who is retiring.

“Justice Cypher will bring nearly three decades of broad civil and criminal, trial, and appellate experience, including the last sixteen years on the Appeals Court, to the Supreme Judicial Court,” Baker said in a press release. “I am confident that, if confirmed, Justice Cypher’s temperament and understanding of the law will continue to advance the strong tradition of the Commonwealth’s highest court.”

Cypher graduated from Emerson, magna cum laude, and earned a J.D., cum laude, from Suffolk University Law School in 1986.

Michael Brown, an assistant professor in the Journalism Department, had Cypher in his American government classes.

In an Alumni Profile on the Emerson College website, Cypher credits Brown with encouraging her to go to law school. “He hired me as a clerk when he was practicing law, so he was very instrumental in my career,” she said in the Q&A.

Brown said Cypher was “as smart as anybody I ever knew,” but didn’t really know what she wanted for a career.

“And simply because she was just so smart, I said ‘Go to law school,’” Brown recalled. “Law school trains your mind and expands your skills, and I said, ‘After that experience, you might have a better sense of what you want to do.’”

After getting her degree, she spent a couple of years as an associate at a Boston law firm, then became an assistant district attorney in Bristol County, where she eventually rose to become chief of the appellate division, arguing cases before the SJC. In 2000, she was the recipient of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly’s Lawyer of the Year Award for her work in the long-running prosecutions of James Kater for the 1978 murder of Mary Lou Arruda, according to a bio on the Massachusetts Appeals Court webpage.

That same year, then-Gov. Paul Cellucci appointed her to the Appeals Court, where she currently chairs the personnel committee and helps Chief Justice Scott Kafker with case and court staff management.

“Justice Cypher is one of the Appeals Court’s finest judges,” Kafker said in the press release. “She is fair, experienced, and wise, and would be an admirable addition to the Supreme Judicial Court.”

For many years, Cypher taught courses on legal writing; criminal procedure; criminal law; and women, law, and the legal system at what is now the University of Massachusetts School of Law – Dartmouth. She has served as co-chair of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s criminal law section, according to the bio.

A native of Pittsburgh, Cypher and her wife, Sharon Levesque, live in Assonet, Massachusetts, and have one son.

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