Francis Ford (judge)

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Francis Ford
District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts
In office
Preceded by Seat Created
Succeeded by Joseph Louis Tauro
United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts
In office
Preceded by Frederick H. Tarr
Succeeded by John A. Canavan
Personal details
Born (1882-12-23)December 23, 1882
Boston, Massachusetts
Died May 26, 1975(1975-05-26) (aged 92)
Nationality American
Alma mater Harvard University
Harvard Law School
Occupation Attorney

Francis Joseph William Ford (December 23, 1882 – May 26, 1975) was a U.S. District Court Judge in Boston from 1933 to 1972, after serving briefly as senior judge during his final year of service. (NY Times, 5-28-1975.)

The sculptor Kahlil Gibran was commissioned to create a bronze bas relief of Ford in 1977, which was placed in the John W. McCormack Post Office and Courthouse in Boston. A dedication was held on November 7, 1977. (Memorial program; 11/7/77).


Ford spent his childhood in South Boston and attended the Boston Latin School. Following graduation he entered Harvard and befriended former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (NY Times Obituary, 5/28/75) Following graduation, he attended Harvard Law School and graduated in 1906. (Memorial Service program, 11/7/1977.) He did not, however, receive his degree until 1907 because he could not afford the $20 diploma cost. (NY Times Obituary, 5/28/07).

He married Anna Creswell and they had one child, Barbara Ford.


Ford practiced law from 1906 to 1933. (NY Times Obituary, 5/28/75). Ford was appointed U.S. States Attorney by his Harvard classmate, Roosevelt, in Boston on September 22, 1933. (Id.) He also served as a member of the Boston City Council from 1917 to 1923. (Memorial service program, 11/7/77). Ford was particularly alarmed at the growing rate of marijuana use among Boston teenagers. Ford, along with Boston Police Commissioner Joseph Timilty, created a campaign with the Federal Narcotics Bureau to “nip the evil flower of marijuana in the bud.” ("Police Act to Keep Kids from Becoming Killers", Boston Sunday Post, 12/12/37). This was primarily the result of an incident in South Boston during which teenagers fired at police while apparently under the influence of marijuana. (Id.) The teens had just come from a “tea party” in South Boston, which at the time referred to a party at which marijuana was smoked. (Id.)

As U.S. Attorney, Ford successfully prosecuted two mail-robbers in U.S. v. Rettich which was upheld on appeal (Rettich v. U.S., 84 F.2d.118, 1936). In this case, the defendants were found guilty of both conspiracy to assault a mail truck driver and robbing the driver of U.S. mail. They were also indicted and found guilty for assaulting the trick driver with a dangerous weapon, thus “effecting a robbery of said registered mail.” (Id. at 119). The defendants’ main argument was that the trial court erred in allowing certain evidence ($10,000 found buried in Rettich’s yard) because it was obtained through illegal search and seizure. The court wrote that "evidence secured even by an unlawful search and seizure by state officers, when not acting in behalf of the federal government, is admissible in a prosecution for a federal offense in the United States Courts, whether seized under an invalid search warrant or without any warrant at all." (Id. at 119).

Later, Ford unsuccessfully ran for District Attorney of Suffolk County, Massachusetts. (Memorial Service Program, 11/7/77.) On June 24, 1938, Roosevelt appointed him as a U.S. District Court Judge. In 1972 he was named Senior Judge of the United States District Court although he retired soon thereafter. His longtime clerk was Austen Jones.

The Dr. Spock Trial

Ford presided over the 1968 trial of childcare specialist and anti-Vietnam War activist Benjamin Spock (“Dr. Spock”), William Sloane Coffin (the chaplain of Yale University) Michael Ferber and Mitchell Goodman. (NY Times Obituary, 5/28/75.) In this case the defendants were indicted with conspiring to “counsel, aid and abet diverse Selective Service registrants to neglect, fail, refuse and evade service in the armed forces of the United States and all other duties required of registrants under the Universal Military Training and Service Act, to fail and refuse to have in their personal possession at all times their registration certificates (and) valid notices of classification (and conspired to) unlawfully, willfully and knowingly hinder and interfere, by any means, with the administration of the Universal Military Training and Service Action.” (U.S. v. Spock, 416 F.2d 165, 168, 1969). Essentially, they were charged with conspiring to aid and abet draft dodgers. (“One Disappointing Trial,” Book Review of The Trial of Dr. Spock by Jessica Mitford;,8816,901559,00.html). The jury found the defendants guilty of violating the Selective Service Act of 1948.

The jury found the defendants guilty of conspiracy in large part due to special questions submitted by Ford to the jury. (U.S. v. Spock, 416 F.2d 165, 1969). He also informed the jury that the legality of the Vietnam War was not a relevant issue. (Excerpt from It Did Happen Here, Schultz, Bud and Ruth; University of California Press, 1989, ). Following the trial, Dr. Spock stated that “Ford was not going to listen to any arguments that the government was wrong about the war.” (Id.) Spock also later stated that a friend of his, when leaving the courtroom, overheard Ford say, “They brought a bunch of slick New York lawyers to try to interfere with justice here, but they’re not going to do it.” (Id.)

Among the questions Ford submitted was the following:

“Does the Jury find beyond a reasonable doubt that defendants unlawfully, knowingly and willfully conspired to counsel Selective Service registrants to knowingly and willfully refuse and evade service in the armed forces of the United States in violation of Section 12 of the Military Selective Service Act of 1967?” (Id. at 180). The second question substituted the word ‘counsel’ for ‘aid’ while the third question substituted the word ‘counsel’ with ‘abet’. (Id. at 180). The jury returned a verdict of guilty, while answering most of the special questions in the government’s favor. (Id. at 168). When Ford sentenced the defendants to two years in prison he stated, “Rebellion against the law is in the nature of treason.” (Excerpt from Schultz;

His verdict was overturned by the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court held that Ford had committed prejudicial error by submitting the ten special questions to the jury. (See. U.S. v. Spock, 416 F.2d 165, 1969)


There was widespread criticism of Ford following the Spock trial.

Howard Zinn, in his book Disobedience and Democracy: Nine Fallacies of Law and Order wrote, “In sentencing Dr. Spock, William Coffin, Michael Ferber, and Mitchell Goodman to jail terms on July 10, 1968, Judge Francis Ford in Boston quoted Justice Fortas that ‘Lawlessness cannot be tolerated,’ and added his own words: ‘Where law and order stops, obviously anarchy begins.’” (Zinn, 16). Zinn continued, “That is the same basically conservative impulse which once saw minimum wage laws as leading to socialism, or bus desegregation leading to intermarriage….” (Zinn, 16).

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Legal offices
Preceded by
new seat
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts
Succeeded by
Joseph L. Tauro