Conrad J. Bletzer, former Newton District Court presiding chief justice, dies at 90

Mr. Bletzer said he hoped those entering his courtroom “come out feeling that the justice system works.”
Mr. Bletzer said he hoped those entering his courtroom “come out feeling that the justice system works.”Bachrach

Twenty years before he became presiding chief justice at Newton District Court, Conrad J. Bletzer was registering local youth hockey players at his Brighton law office.

“I’m a great believer that if you play sports, you’re less likely to get into trouble,” he told the Globe in 1990, just before being sworn in as a judge by Governor Michael S. Dukakis. “At least that was my experience with my kids.”

His son and future law partner, Curt Bletzer, was a varsity football player at Holy Cross, and his grandsons, Curt Jr. and Kevin, were varsity football players at Boston College.

A past president of the Brighton Central Little League and the founder and former president of Brighton’s youth hockey association, Mr. Bletzer died Sunday in his Plymouth home. He was 90 and in 1959 had established his law firm, Bletzer & Bletzer.


“I always enjoyed working with him,” said Dyanne Klein, who had been a Newton District Court judge during Mr. Bletzer’s nine-year tenure, and succeeded him as presiding justice. “He was gracious and fair as a judge and respectful of all who appeared before him.”

In 1997, Mr. Bletzer presided over the arraignment of Louise Woodward, an 18-year-old au pair accused of shaking Matthew Eappen with such force that she caused the infant’s death.

Mr. Bletzer denied the defense attorney’s request to free Woodward on her own recognizance and ordered her held without bail. Woodward subsequently was convicted of second-degree murder. Another judge reduced the conviction to involuntary manslaughter and sentenced her to time served, which allowed her to leave prison.

In the 1990 Globe interview, Mr. Bletzer said he hoped citizens entering his courtroom would leave feeling as if justice had been served.

“I’m not saying that everyone is going to be happy with the outcome of their cases, but people should come out feeling that the justice system works,” he said.


Mr. Bletzer stressed that he was “not a hard-liner or a soft-liner. It always depends on the case.”

Henry Shultz, who is in his 50th year as Newton District Court’s clerk magistrate, said Mr. Bletzer was respected as “a lawyer’s lawyer” and was “one of the most knowledgeable judges I have ever known. In all our years together, I never heard him say a bad word about anybody — lawyers, police, court staff, or defendants.”

Shultz said he enjoyed walking with Mr. Bletzer, and that when they stopped for lunch, the wait staff would greet the judge: “Hi, Connie, how are you?”

Heather Bradley, now first justice at Hingham District Court, was a Boston College student when she took a criminal law class that enabled her to observe Mr. Bletzer’s courtroom.

“From day one, I was so impressed with his commanding presence but, more importantly, his compassion and fairness,” she recalled. “He is the reason why I chose to go to law school with the hope of pursuing a career that might lead me to the bench.”

Bradley said she was among countless people impressed by Mr. Bletzer’s work on the bench and as an attorney, adding that she was grateful “to have such a wonderful role model.”

The oldest of four sons, Conrad John Bletzer was born and grew up in Brighton. His father, Conrad F. Bletzer, was a Globe compositor. His mother was the former Irene Concannon.


Mr. Bletzer graduated from St. Columbkille High School in Brighton, where he was a multi-sport athlete. He attended Boston College, leaving after his junior year to serve in the Army in Germany during the Korean War.

“When my father returned, he went directly to BC Law School, was admitted through the GI Bill, and became president of his class,” said his son Curt. “He actually never received an undergraduate degree.”

Mr. Bletzer, whose father died in 1948, worked nights as a messenger and in the layout room at the Globe to support his family and earn college tuition.

Mr. Bletzer, who ranked at the top of his class at St. Columbkille High and BC Law, married Paula Smith in 1955. For many years they had a winter home in Clearwater Beach, Fla.

Conrad Bletzer Jr. joined his father’s law practice in 1983, and Curt did in 1989. Each had served as a Suffolk assistant district attorney.

Maurice Sullivan, who was an attorney with Bletzer & Bletzer, regarded his golfing buddy as a mentor.

“I never saw Connie turn away anybody seeking advice or counsel,” Sullivan said. “He had just the right temperament for a judge and was exceptionally well-known in the Brighton community.”

In the late 1960s, Mr. Bletzer was instrumental in helping the Brighton Pee Wee and Bantam teams join the new Neighborhood Hockey League. He also had been a commissioner, coach, and referee in the 1960s and ’70s for what is now Allston Brighton Youth Hockey.


Brighton’s teams practiced and played at an outdoor rink at Cleveland Circle, often with a chill wind blowing off the reservoir.

“Connie did it all when the neighborhood really needed him,” said Mike Cashman, past president of Allston Brighton Youth Hockey.

Cashman recalled that Mr. Bletzer filled in as a referee, ran a raffle, and volunteered in the kitchen at hockey banquets at St. Gabriel Elementary School.

Mr. Bletzer, a three-season Boston College season ticket holder, coached four of his children in Little League baseball and youth hockey. He also hosted annual Boston Marathon parties in his Greycliff Road home near the race course.

In addition to his wife, Paula, and his sons Conrad Jr. of Medfield and Curt of Boston, Mr. Bletzer leaves three other sons, Charlie of Plymouth, James of Minneapolis, and Christopher of Brooklyn, N.Y.; a daughter, Paula Taylor of Concord, N.H.; a brother, Carl of Portsmouth, N.H.; 15 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in St. Columbkille Church in Brighton. Burial will be in Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne.

“Family, his many wonderful friendships, and his love for the Allston-Brighton and Newton communities were important to him,” said Conrad Jr., “and he has passed on those traits to his children, who have embraced them.”

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.