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Judge who blocked Trump’s traveler ban known as ‘fearless’

Judge Allison Burroughs. Bruce Rogovin/Rogovin.com

People know Allison Dale Burroughs as fearless.

As a prosecutor who cracked down on organized crime in Philadelphia during the 1990s at the US attorney’s office, Burroughs garnered a reputation as a whip-smart attorney who was attracted to challenging, demanding work, said John Pucci, who worked alongside her in Philadelphia.

Donald K. Stern, former US attorney for Massachusetts, who hired her to work in that office, remembers her as an independent prosecutor who was never afraid to speak her mind.

“She went after drug kingpins and against fraudsters,” Stern said, “Or people who were either dangerous or powerful — it didn’t have an effect on her. She had a job to do.”


Early Sunday morning, that independent streak was on full display, as Burroughs, now a federal judge in Massachusetts, blocked an executive order issued by President Trump meant to bar entry to the United States for refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The case fell to Burroughs by chance, as the judge on call for emergencies over the weekend.

In a rare late-night session, Burroughs and Magistrate Judge Judith Dein imposed a seven-day restraining order, which clears the way for lawful immigrants to enter the United States from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Syria. Burroughs found that Trump’s order violated their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection and would cause “irreparable harm.”

The ruling, which goes further than similar ones in New York and Virginia, prevents both the detention or removal of approved refugees and visa or green card holders from the seven affected nations — a move that has prompted some lawyers to encourage those with green cards to pass through Logan International Airport.

Despite the court rulings, the White House continued to defend the executive order. In a statement released Sunday, Trump said, “To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”


Several of Burroughs’ colleagues learned of her role in the proceedings from the newspaper on Sunday morning and were far from surprised by the strong ruling.

“I had no doubt that she would do what was right, as compared to folding under the executive branch,” said Pucci, a Springfield lawyer. “She won’t be afraid of making a hard decision, regardless of what party is chasing it.”

Though known for progressive views, colleagues have said that politics don’t get in the way for her. She was nominated to the bench by President Obama in 2014, but Stern said she never operates with an agenda.

“I don’t think it’s a political statement on the part of Allison or New York,” he said.

Burroughs, who declined to comment for this article, apparently found the calling to public service early in her career. After the Massachusetts native graduated from Middlebury College and the University of Pennsylvania’s law school, she clerked for the trailblazing Judge Norma L. Shapiro of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania from 1988 to 1989.

After her clerkship, Burroughs went to work as a prosecutor in that district, where she made her mark as a member of the organized crime strike force, according to Pucci. The elite team of prosecutors targeted the Mafia — during that time, taking down notorious Philadelphia don Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo and his underlings.


By 1995, Burroughs had transferred to the US attorney’s office in Boston, where Stern said she was a “star from the beginning.” She took on economic and cyber crimes, according to Jonathan L. Kotlier, a former colleague. She was drawn to the complexities of such cases after studying computer science at Middlebury, he said, an apparent “backup” vocation if she decided not to practice law.

She became a partner at Nutter, McClennen & Fish, where she never shied away from controversial cases. She defended Eldo Kim, a Harvard undergraduate who tried to get out of a final exam by sending a bomb threat. She negotiated a deal that allowed Kim to avoid prosecution by completing a diversion program.

In 2014, Nancy Gertner, a former federal judge, was part of the committee that recommended Burroughs to her current position.

“She is someone who knows her way around the US attorney’s office, knows her way around the Boston legal community, and more significantly,” she said, “we knew she would have guts.”

Despite the impressive resume, friends and colleagues praise her for staying down to earth and approachable, while staying open about her experiences raising her twin boys.

Alex Whiting, who worked with Burroughs as a prosecutor at the US attorney’s office in Boston, also said he was always struck by another thing.

“She is fair, and she has great judgment,” said Whiting, now a professor at Harvard Law School. “Prosecutors have a lot of power, and she was always thoughtful of how that power was being used.”


Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.