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‘Justice’ Always at the Forefront for Carmen Ortiz

How the former US Attorney met the challenges of many high-profile cases.


The Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy at Boston College Law School kicked off the semester September 12 by hosting a special event featuring the center’s Distinguished Visiting Professor, Carmen Ortiz, former US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. Students, faculty and community members gathered to learn about the role and challenges Ortiz faced during her seven-year reign.

Nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate in 2009, Ortiz became the first woman and first Hispanic to be US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. Prior to taking on this role, Ortiz served as an Assistant US Attorney in the Economic Crimes Unit for more than a decade. In Ortiz’s earlier legal career, she worked as a Director for District Courts and an Assistant District Attorney for the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office. She also participated in the Honors Program at the US Department of Justice in the Criminal Division. She has received several awards, honors and distinctions for her work over the years.

During her remarks, Ortiz highlighted some of the challenges she and her team faced while prosecuting several high-profile cases in the US Attorney’s Office, including notorious Irish-American gangster James “Whitey” Bulger and Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Ortiz said she tried to achieve justice for all, despite obstacles that arose as a result of the nature of the cases. “At the end of the day you can’t make everyone happy but you always try to do the right thing,” she said. As a young person, Ortiz said she had yearned to be a prosecutor in order to “advocate for peoples’ rights.”

In the Bulger case, Ortiz said she faced three big challenges: managing relationships with law enforcement; negotiating plea agreements with Bulger’s fellow gangsters and cohorts; and striving for justice for the many victims and families of victims who suffered from Bulger and his gangs’ crimes. Bulger, who evaded prosecution for years because he was tipped off by a disgraced FBI agent in a corrupt informant scheme, was a fugitive of justice for upwards of 16 years. He was nabbed in 2011 by federal authorities in California and brought to justice by Ortiz and her team in 2013. Bulger was convicted for crimes connected to 11 murders, racketeering, money laundering, extortion, drug trafficking, and beyond. He was sentenced to two life terms in prison.

The former US Attorney also talked about the Boston Marathon bombings, which left three people dead and nearly 300 injured and how she had to navigate multiple law enforcement agencies, organize information instantly, and report regularly to then-Attorney General Eric Holder. Ortiz detailed the importance of collaborating with multiple jurisdictions related to the different counties in which Tsarnaev’s crimes occurred. She also touched on her work with the victims and their families as well as the challenges of handling a death penalty recommendation for Tsarnaev.

Ortiz highlighted other cases and animatedly talked about her passion and work in expanding community outreach and ensuring community sensitivity and accessibility to the US Attorney’s Office.

As the current Rappaport professor at BC law, she is teaching a seminar on Terrorism and National Security.

Photograph by Christoper Soldt, MTS, BC