Phillip Rapoza is the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude from Yale College and a Doctor of Law degree from Cornell Law School. Prior to serving on the bench, he was an assistant district attorney and, later, a private practitioner. He was appointed to the bench in 1992 and served as a judge in the Trial Court at both the District Court and Superior Court levels. In 1998, he was appointed to the Massachusetts Appeals Court and in 2006 was named Chief Justice of the court. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the US Council of Chief Judges of the State Courts of Appeals and is a Life Fellow of the Massachusetts Bar Foundation.
Between 2003 and 2005, prior to his appointment as Chief Justice, he took an unpaid leave of absence from the Appeals Court to work for the United Nations, serving in the former Portuguese colony of East Timor as chief international judge on the Special Panels for Serious Crimes. The Special Panels was a war crimes tribunal established by the UN to prosecute crimes against humanity and other serious offenses committed during Timor’s struggle for independence. Chief Justice Rapoza returned to Timor in 2006 and 2009, each time under the auspices of the United Nations.
Chief Justice Rapoza has been involved in other international initiatives in Haiti and Cambodia. He is also the President of the International Penal and Penitentiary Foundation headquartered in Berne, Switzerland. He has lectured and published widely on the issues of accountability under international criminal law and transitional justice in post-conflict societies.
The grandson of Portuguese immigrants, Chief Justice Rapoza has been recognized by the Portuguese government for his international work and in 2002 the President of Portugal awarded him the rank of Commander in the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator. In 2007, he received the Municipal Medal of Merit from Lagoa, his family’s ancestral town on the island of St. Michael in the Azores. In that same year, he was awarded the Brazilian Medal of International Merit.
In 2009, Chief Justice Rapoza received the Alexander George Teitz Memorial Award in recognition of his “commitment to religious freedom and ethnic tolerance worldwide, as demonstrated by his actions and accomplishments, including his career as a leader in international criminal justice [and] his work for the United Nations.” The award was made by the Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the United States, founded in 1763 by the descendants of Sephardic Jews from Portugal and Spain.