Beyond Vassar

My Whole Life I Have Fought Against Bureaucracy

By Monica Boguski Calzolari ’81

A passionate advocate for human rights, Roderick (Eric) MacLeish Jr. ’75 is one of Massachusetts’ leading attorneys representing the sexually abused, mentally ill, and disabled. Early in his career, he earned a reputation for taking on controversial cases and attracting media attention.

Law offices of Greenberg, Traurig, LLP
Law offices of Greenberg, Traurig, LLP

At the law offices of Greenberg, Traurig, LLP, MacLeish (right) shakes hands with Rodney Ford (father of Gregory) while a tape of the deposition of Cardinal Law plays.

His opponents have called him a “pit bull” and “bulldog,” describing his unshakable tenacity in pursuit of justice. MacLeish, who has received human rights awards from two of the commonwealth’s leading disability advocacy organizations, spends an average of 500 hours a year on pro-bono work. In 1982 he defended an inmate at Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane and fought for the next 10 years to improve conditions for the other 425 patients. In 1991 he won a $1.3 million settlement for a sexual abuse victim —“the largest jury verdict at the time in Massachusetts.”

To date, MacLeish has represented more than 325 alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests. Ten years ago, before the Catholic Church scandal received national media attention, MacLeish commented, “I had the privilege of representing 101 individuals who had been sexually abused by former[Massachusetts] priest James Porter.” In 2002 MacLeish represented Gregory Ford, who filed a suit against Cardinal Bernard Law for failing to address alleged abuse by former Boston priest Paul Shanley. And last April he exposed to the public previously sealed documents about Shanley in a two-hour national press conference covered by CNN. Some believe that MacLeish’s bold strategies put enough pressure on Pope John Paul II to summon eight American cardinals to Rome last spring to discuss the issue of sexual abuse by priests.

MacLeish learned about the power of the media and the responsibility for reporting the truth from his father, a former television commentator. Besides holding several key press conferences to share the atrocities his clients have faced, the Massachusetts lawyer has also hosted a televised legal affairs talk show on New England Cable News Network.


People at press conference
People at press conference

Rodney Ford, Susan Fulchino, and MacLeish (left to right) at a press conference following the deposition of Cardinal Law. Ford and Fulchino are parents of alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests. Fulchino’s husband also was allegedly abused by a priest.

What inspired his interest in freedom and justice, he said, was in part his experience of being the “ugly American” in an all-male boarding school in England at the age of 8. MacLeish recalled, “No one spoke to me for one whole year.” This harsh treatment by his classmates “gave [him] a taste of being an underdog, of being someone without power and in isolation.”

Being one of the few males at Vassar during the early years of coeducation further strengthened his resolve. MacLeish had some vague sense that he wanted to do “social good” and that he was “pretty good at arguing.” But it wasn’t until he entered Boston University School of Law that he finally found his calling. He went from being academically rebellious to graduating cum laude and being editor of the Law Review. Now a frequent speaker and prolific writer with dozens of published articles, it matters little that his mother, an aunt, and a cousin also went to Vassar. Eric MacLeish has made his own mark on the world.

Bodyguards, bomb threats, a gunshot, and a threat to his daughter’s life are the price MacLeish has paid in pursuit of justice. While he admits that his work is “extremely intense,” he also characterizes it as “very rewarding.”

Father Porter pleaded guilty to 41 counts of child molestation and remains in jail today. Cardinal Law’s recent resignation is further testimony to the profound influence MacLeish has had in Catholic Church reform.

Calzolari, President of Results Marketing in MA, has donated her time to the Vassar Clubs of S. California, Central Florida, Kansas City, and now Boston where she edits the newsletter and chaired the Annual Benefit in 2001 and 2002. She can be reached at

Photo credit: The Boston Globe via