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Michael Mone, trial lawyer and leader in state legal community, dies at 77

Mr. Mone had served as president of the Massachusetts Bar Association. “To me, he was one of the great, great legal counselors in the very best sense of the word,” said Margaret H. Marshall, a retired chief justice of the state Supreme Judicial Court.
Mr. Mone had served as president of the Massachusetts Bar Association. “To me, he was one of the great, great legal counselors in the very best sense of the word,” said Margaret H. Marshall, a retired chief justice of the state Supreme Judicial Court.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/file/2018

As a lawyer representing injured patients, Michael E. Mone made Massachusetts legal history 40 years ago when he won a ruling that changed the window for filing medical malpractice suits.

Though that case alone secured his reputation, colleagues say an equally lasting legacy could be found in his day-to-day friendships, the countless phone calls seeking advice that he fielded, and the scores of clients he represented for free.

“To me, he was one of the great, great legal counselors in the very best sense of the word,” said Margaret H. Marshall, a retired chief justice of the state Supreme Judicial Court.

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Mr. Mone, whose kidney cancer was missed by radiologists more than a decade ago and as a result was undiagnosed until 2015, died in his sleep Monday in his Brockton home. He was 77 and had been a leader of numerous legal organizations.

“The law, for him, was an opportunity to do good,” said William Delahunt, a former US representative and a friend since college.

A permanent resident on the Best Lawyers in America list since it was first published in 1983, Mr. Mone had served as the 50th president of the American College of Trial Lawyers and also been president of the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys and the Massachusetts Bar Association.

Yet colleagues said those leadership roles and his success as a trial lawyer were just part of his impact.

Some of his medical malpractice clients secured settlements in the millions of dollars. Other clients he represented for free – particularly lawyers and judges facing disciplinary actions by the state’s Board of Bar Overseers and Commission on Judicial Conduct.

If Mr. Mone felt a lawyer deserved to regain a law license, or if he thought a recommended punishment for a judge was too harsh, he stepped in.

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“Mike was known as a lawyer’s lawyer and a judge’s lawyer,” said Joan Lukey of the firm Choate Hall & Stewart in Boston, whose election as the first female president of the American College of Trial Lawyers Mr. Mone had championed.

“He took their cases and threw himself in with the same energy that he gave to his malpractice cases,” she said. “He wouldn’t take a dime from those judges and lawyers.”

A longtime partner with the Boston firm Esdaile, Barrett, Jacobs & Mone, he had an enviably busy practice.

And though “he was unmatched as a trial lawyer, that only scratches the surface of who he was and what he gave back to everyone,” said his son, Michael E. Mone Jr., with whom he practiced at the firm.

In phone conversations that might stretch 10 to 20 minutes or longer, Mr. Mone offered free advice to “lawyers who had a case, were going to start a case, didn’t know who to sue, needed strategic advice, or were starting a trial and just wanted to pick his brain,” his son recalled.

In that way, Mr. Mone’s expertise was brought to bear during countless trials he didn’t argue, sometimes in courtrooms where he never set foot.

“He just gave back so much to the profession that he loved,” his son said. “He loved being a lawyer.”

Mr. Mone’s mastery was apparent even before he stepped in front of a jury. He carefully chose cases and said no if he didn’t think malpractice had occurred. What followed was the painstaking process of gathering evidence, deposing witnesses, and grasping the intricacies of a medical procedure gone wrong.

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“He would then just close himself off for hours and let it all distill,” said Suzanne Delvecchio, a retired state Superior Court chief justice, “and he would put the case together: What was his opening going to look like? Who was on his witness list? He was a brilliant strategist.”

He also had to present complex cases “so that a jury would understand – that’s 99 percent of it,” she added.

“And he had the best sense of humor, and that came out in the courtroom,” she said. “There was this terrific fellow in front of the jury, who was optimistic and cared about his client.”

Born in Brockton in 1942, Mr. Mone was the second of four sons. Their parents, Edward Mone and June Kelliher, moved to East Douglas, where Mr. Mone grew up.

He graduated from Worcester Academy and went to Middlebury College in Vermont, where his friends included Delahunt and Ron Brown, who would later serve as US commerce secretary before dying in a 1996 plane crash.

The three led a campus organization supporting John F. Kennedy for president, and they drove to Burlington, Vt., to meet him at the end of the 1960 campaign.

“He remembered shaking Kennedy’s hand and thinking how thin and frail he looked, and how calloused his hand was from shaking so many hands,” Mr. Mone’s son said.

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Mr. Mone graduated from Middlebury in 1964 and from Boston College Law School in 1967.

In 1965, he married Margaret Supple, a nurse who is known as Margie. Their families spent summers in the Onset village of Wareham in homes a street apart, though they didn’t meet until their late teens.

“It was a Cape Cod summer romance,” she recalled, adding that at first she set him up with friends. Those relationships didn’t last. Theirs did, and she worked as a nurse while he attended law school.

“He absolutely worshipped her,” their son said. “He adored her.”

And in recent years, she tended to much of her husband’s care. “He kept saying, ‘Everyone should marry a nurse,’ ” she recalled.

The landmark ruling Mr. Mone won in 1980 addressed the state law that malpractice suits must be filed within three years of when injuries occur. His client didn’t learn until four years after the fact that a doctor had missed a cancerous growth on an X-ray.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that plaintiffs could bring lawsuits for three years after discovering the injury, instead of starting the clock at the moment the malpractice occurred.

That ruling affected Mr. Mone as well, when two radiologists misdiagnosed a tumor in his kidney as a benign cyst in 2009. By the time he was diagnosed in 2015, the cancer had spread.

Mr. Mone settled with the insurance company representing the hospital and radiologists, not because he wanted or needed the money, but to ensure they understood the impact of their error on a patient’s life.

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“I have no harsh feelings for these doctors,” Mr. Mone told the Globe in 2018. “Very, very good people sometimes make a mistake.”

The family will hold a private memorial service and will announce a public gathering to celebrate Mr. Mone’s life in the months ahead.

In addition to his wife, and son, he leaves his three brothers, Peter of Chicago, Bill of Orleans, and Ted of Amherst; and two grandchildren upon whom he doted. “He just loved being a grandfather to Owen and Olivia,” his son said.

Mr. Mone “was so generous, so courageous, so tough, so self-effacing, so funny that everybody admired him,” Marshall said.

At the 1999 funeral for George V. Higgins, author of books such as “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” Mr. Mone spoke in his eulogy about how difficult it was to watch death interrupt a friendship. “I, like many of you, have fought against this day,” he said in the church.

And so it is now for Mr. Mone’s friends.

“He wasn’t just my father. He wasn’t just my law partner. He was my best friend. And he was my best man at my wedding,” his son said.

Delahunt said there is “an incredible void in my life now. And I’m not alone. There will be people of my generation who for a long time will look at a phone and say, ‘I wish I could call him and have a laugh, and talk with him.’ ”

“I loved him,” Delahunt added. “My heart is heavy.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.