Conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1992.
Hosted by Will Bachman.

Episode: 90

Shannon Frison, Marine and Judge

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Show notes

Shannon Frison joined the United States Marine Corps during her time in law school. She spent her second year at officer candidate school and became commissioned as an officer. After law school, she returned to Massachusetts, worked for a year at the TAs office, took the bar, and went on active duty with the Marine Corps. After serving at Marine Corps Air Station, New River, North Carolina, she worked for a litigation firm called Dwyer and Clora before opening a law firm. In 2009, she applied for the bench in Massachusetts and was appointed to the Boston Municipal Court. She then applied again to the Superior Court and was appointed to the Superior Court in 2013 where she stayed until 2024 when she retired from that position and reopened a law firm.


The Decision to Join the Marine Corps

Shannon was initially an athlete in college but later discovered the judge advocate program in the Marine Corps while taking a firefighters course. She found the Marine Corps offers a physical experience that is not sanitized or lighter training, and lawyers are considered line officers. They go through the full Marine Corps infantry officer training, which is the minimum required for being a judge advocate. Shannon shares her transformation from the Marine Corps to active duty service, stating that she was physically and mentally transformed. She learned about boundaries, limits, and how to lead people effectively. The training in the Marine Corps is designed to push individuals to their limits.


Training in the Marine Corps

One of the challenges she faced during her training was a 15-foot jump from a tower, which she struggled with for six months. Despite being encouraged by others, she struggled with this mental block and graduated late. This experience made her realize her weaknesses and strengths. She explains how she managed to overcome this mental block. Shannon’s experience in the Marine Corps has had a significant impact on her personal growth and development. She has learned to appreciate her limitations and the challenges they present, and has been able to adapt and improve her skills throughout her time in the military. This experience has helped her become a better person and better equipped for her future roles in the Marine Corps. Shannon shares her experience of jumping off a helicopter after completing the swim qualification, which helped her overcome anxiety and mental anxiety. She also shares that her time in Harvard and the Marine Corps taught her that she would not always be the best at everything, as she met many outstanding individuals in those environments.


A Career on The Bench

Shannon talks about her time as a judge, where she applied to the bench through an application process. The Massachusetts system of selecting judges mimics the federal system, but it is an application process. People may recommend applicants, and applicants must fill out a long, dramatic application that asks for every detail in their life and legal life. She explains the rigorous vetting process for applicants before they reach the governor’s desk, where they meet with their lawyer for further vetting. Once the governor nominates them, Congress and the governor’s counselors confirm their nomination to the bench. If they get their seat and commission on the bench, it is a lifetime position and they don’t need to do it again unless they go to another court.


Explaining The Difference between Courts

Shannon discusses her experience working in the Boston Municipal Court and Superior Court, two different courts in Massachusetts. The Boston Municipal Court and district courts handle a variety of cases, including criminal, restraining orders, traffic tickets, and small claims matters. She states that all cases begin in these courts. The Superior Court is a court of general jurisdiction, handling more serious matters such as rapes, robberies, and murders. Judges must do both civil and criminal trials, with each session lasting three months. Finally, Shannon discusses her experience as a judge from 2009 to almost 2020. She has gained more education about law and has learned about various areas of law. She is concerned about her own safety, as threats and assaults are more common in Massachusetts. The court system enforces safety measures for judges, but she has taken steps to keep her address out of the public eye.


The Role of Race Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Shannon emphasizes the importance of addressing racial disparities in sentencing. She believes that conversations about race should be solidly on the table all the time, especially in sentencing. She emphasizes that the goal of sentencing should be rehabilitation, deterrence, education, and other goals, rather than satisfying the prosecutor’s office or victim’s family. She suggests that mandatory training on issues of bias would be beneficial, especially at the police level. She believes that more education is needed for officers to better understand the historical and consistent disparities in the criminal justice system. However, she acknowledges that people may become weary of discussing race, and it is difficult to keep it on the table. Finally, she stresses that it is essential to continue pushing for change. She believes that people must believe in the existence of these disparities and work towards changing them. Shannon discusses the need for more training for police officers, specifically in areas such as bias training and soft skills. She suggests that there is a need for more education and training to better understand the psyche of these individuals.


A Speaking Career Focused on Law

Shannon mentions her speaking career, which includes engagements around trial advocacy, race and bias, and navigating legal careers. She enjoys speaking to law students, undergraduates, new lawyers, affinity law groups, and associations. She also speaks regularly for different Bar Associations in Massachusetts and continues legal education for lawyers. Shannon explains why she decided to retire from the bench because she believes that a job has a season in one’s life, and she wants to be part of shaping and advocating for various aspects of society, policies, politics, and culture. She believes that 15 years of her professional life is enough, and it’s time to move on and do other things, as everyone is in a lifecycle and should focus on what they aim to do while they are on the planet.


Influential Courses and Professors at Harvard

Shannon shares her experiences with professors at Harvard, including Martin Kilson, and J. Lorand Matory. Kilson was a government major who taught courses on city development, race, and ethnic groups. Matory, an anthropology professor, taught seminars on Afro Atlantic religions, which taught about non-Christian religions created during slavery. She believes these courses and information have stayed with her throughout her career.



04:24 Career change and military training

14:17 Overcoming mental block in military swim qualification

19:47 Becoming a judge in Massachusetts

27:30 Judicial experience and safety concerns

31:48 Criminal justice system reform and addressing racial disparities

39:46 Police training and community relations

44:07 Judicial experience, identity, and advocacy






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90.Shannon Frison


Will Bachman, Shannon Frison


Will Bachman  00:02

Hello, and welcome to the 92 report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman. And I’m here today with Shannon Bryson. Shannon, welcome to the show.


Shannon Frison  00:16

Thank you. Thank you very much.


Will Bachman  00:19

So she had to tell me about your journey since graduating from Harvard.


Shannon Frison  00:25

Oh, wow. Since Harvard, it seems like ages ago now. I left. I left Harvard was sad leaving my roommates. And I went right into law school. So I went down to DC, and attended Georgetown. During my time in law school, I joined the United States Marine Corps. So the summer after my second year, that summer I spent at officer candidate school and became commissioned as an officer at that time. After law school, I came back up to Massachusetts, worked for a year at the TAs office in Norfolk County, took the bar waiting for bar results, and then went back onto active duty with those bar results to the basis school. Which all officers have to go through after Officer Candidate School. Then I went to Naval justice school up here in Newport, Rhode Island, via the Marine Corps, and then went off to my duty station, which was Marine Corps Air Station, New River, in Jacksonville, North Carolina. I spent my tour of active duty there, both doing some civil work for Marines, and also prosecuting for about half of that time. When I left there, I came back to Boston and worked for a litigation firm, and a small or medium, say 25 or so lawyers, white collar litigation firm, called Dwyer and Clora. I stayed with them for about seven years. And at that point, I branched off and out on my own, where I opened price and law firm for the first time and did a bunch of work for a couple of years. Criminal cases, military justice cases, employment law. And if they’re at about the two year mark, or just prior, I decided to apply to the badge in Massachusetts, that was in 2009. That was in 2009. So I was 39. I applied to the bench. I was appointed by Governor Deval Patrick, to the Boston Municipal Court. I stayed on that court for about four years. And then I applied again to the Superior Court and was appointed to the Superior Court in 2013. I I’ve stayed I’ve been on the Superior Court in Massachusetts, from 2013 to 2024. Just last month, retire from that position, and reopen for ice and law firm. Which I am currently ramping up right now.


Will Bachman  03:41

Amazing. I have so many questions. First. Thank you for your service. It’s nice to chat with a fellow vet. What What possessed you Why did you decide to join the Marine Corps? When you’re in law school?


Shannon Frison  04:00

I, when I was in law school, you know, I went right from undergrad and you know, you from Head Start, you’re in school straight through all the way up and that’s how I did it. And, you know, I said, Okay, I’m in law school, I’m going to be a lawyer unless something really crazy happens here. And that’s great. But I wanted a second career. I wanted to not be a lawyer and that’s it. I wanted another career alongside it. And I wanted that other career to be at least partly physical in nature. So when I first made that decision, I took the firefighters exam in Massachusetts, and did pretty good on it did pretty well. And while I was in In the process of, you know, preparing to take the physical exam and sort of I was I was kind of being courted at that time, you know, as a black female person who would check a lot of boxes, so to speak, and doing having done really well on the exam. And while I was in that process, I found out about the judge advocate program in the Marine Corps, and kind of found out about it accidentally. And once I found out about that, I decided that that is more in line with what I want to do. Where I could serve the country, as well as, you know, sort of satisfy this need for a second career and physicality.


Will Bachman  05:59

How can we about that part a little bit? Were you a athlete in college or? Or tell me about the, the sort of the need that you felt to have this physical career?


Shannon Frison  06:10

Yeah, I wasn’t. There wasn’t really an athlete in college, I was an athlete in you know, sort of it all up until college, you know, I was I play tennis, and I taught tennis. That’s really what I did with all my summers, from undergrad summers in law school summers, except the one summer I went to OCS. So I was really, you know, I really fancied myself a tennis player back then. But I didn’t actually play on the team at Harvard. And I didn’t play any sport at Harvard. So you know, this. You know, I can’t say exactly where it, where it came from. But you know, even even with that background, I mean, I liked all sports, and I was always, I guess, what you call a tomboy, where I was always playing sports and playing what would be considered back then the boys sports and, and all that good stuff. But my main, you know, sport of choice, I guess was was tennis. So it didn’t, you know, I don’t know if it came from that, or why it was that I wanted to do something that was physical, something that was hard, physically, you know, I just feel like, as a young person, that really should be a part of your life, something physical, in addition to your education and career goals. So the Marine Corps certainly fits that bill. They’re gonna give you that, if nothing else, so,


Will Bachman  07:50

so tell us about that.


Shannon Frison  07:51

I got that. And then some. Yeah, so


Will Bachman  07:53

what tell us a bit about that. Being an attorney, Judge Advocate corps in the Marine Corps? What, what is the is it sort of, to what degree do you get that physical experience? Is that the full Marine Corps infantry officer training that you go through? And then, you know, once you are a Jag? Do you continue to be expected to go out and run with a heavy pack on or something? Tell us a bit about about that?


Shannon Frison  08:24

Yeah, to basically, you, you do you know, the difference between the Marine Corps and all the other branches is that the lawyers don’t do a sanitized or you know, lighter version of the training. And the you know, you’re you are considered a line officer, no matter what you do in the Marine Corps, so there’s not a separate corps, where we have a lighter or shorter training as as lawyers, you are just that’s just your MOS. It really doesn’t affect a whole lot else. And so, you do go through, you know, I think, I think up until your, your MOS school, everyone’s in infantry. Everyone’s a rifleman, as the Marine Corps says, and so you are, you know, shooting and standing for weeks in the woods and being cold or being hot and, you know, crawling in the mud and, you know, swinging ropes and you know, all of the all of the different stuff that that Marines are known for in terms of the training you do all of that. And it just happens to be the when you’re done. You’re going to Naval justice school and your, your role in Marine Corps will be as a lawyer, but your training has been just like every other officers. So that that attracted me, I was


Will Bachman  10:08

so profoundly shaped by my experience as a submarine officer nuclear training and submarine, how were you shaped by the Marine Corps when you left, or your active duty service? How are you different as a person than when you went in?


Shannon Frison  10:29

Well, it’s, you know, you hear people talk about their family members returning from training, they’re transformed, and I was transformed your, you, you know, I was transformed physically. I was transformed mentally, in terms of having discipline instilled. And, and a lot more knowledge, also. And, you know, I think in that training, you learn, you learn a lot more about yourself. So you know, your boundaries, your limits, you, you may think you know, them before going into that kind of training, but that training really pushes you to, you know, where the rubber meets the road, and you have to do things, and you have to show what you can do, and you have to lead people, and you have to be competent at a task, or two or three. And, you know, there’s not a lot of fluff in the Marine Corps, there’s not a lot of fluff, you can either do it, or you cannot. And so I think you’ve learned so much about yourself in that setting in and you will be, you know, right out of training, you’re at probably your physical best. So it’s a, it’s a pretty serious transformation. Definitely,


Will Bachman  11:54

you know, you see, you learn about limits, is part of that, there’s, I’m interested in both sides of that. One is did you? So the first question is, did you find that you were, that you learned that your limits were actually much further than you, then you had thought before? Like it? You’re, you’re pushed much further mentally, physically, than, than you had experienced before tells a story about that?


Shannon Frison  12:20

Yeah, absolutely. In so many ways. So many ways, you know, I was kind of like the kid on the now I’m blanking on the movie, but, you know, I, I couldn’t run from here to there to, to begin training and really had to get used to running become comfortable running, get better at it, you know, it’s a big part of, of training, no matter what all else you might do, running is more than likely going to be involved. And so that, you know, that was something that I did not think that I could do well, and do at a standard that would suit the Marine Corps, the Marine Corps requirements, and, and be that meet that standard consistently. But certainly, in training, you know, in OCS, and that the basic school, it’s sort of designed to push you to your limits in terms of, you know, the, the, not just can you get through the obstacle course, but you have to do it in this amount of time. And you may have to do it when it’s cold. And, you know, I went through OCS in the, in the dead of summer and TBS in the dead of winter. And so I kind of experienced both extremes in Virginia. And, and neither is terribly fun when you’re when you’re in training. And so, you know, there were so many things that, that I started off feeling I could not do and the probably the the main one was was really kind of ridiculous every time I think back out and it was, you know, we have a swim qualification. And part of that qualification, you have to do a bunch of different to know sort of events in the water. And I could do those and I’ve gotten pretty good at those. But I was on remedial swim, what we call remedial swimming, we have to go on and practice all the time, because I had a mental block with making the jump from the from the tower. So you know, it was a 15 foot jump into the water to begin the testing. And, you know, it took me the entire six months of TBS and an additional month afterwards. I graduated late because I had this mental block and couldn’t just couldn’t do it. I did it once. At the beginning of the course I could never Do it again. And people offered to push me out, drag me jump with me drug me everyday to get me the jump off this thing and it was, it was a real mental block. And like I said, I graduated late and, you know, struggled with this thing that was physical, but but also mental. And, you know, until probably May, or June of that year, and my class may have graduated in May. So it might have been might have been sometime in June, before I graduated from the basis for so, you know, things like that, that, you know, and people’s challenges in the military setting are all different, you know, some people have physical challenges. Some people whizzed by physically and can’t tests on on the written examinations, and some people have trouble, you know, looking appropriate, getting your uniform together, you know, it’s it could be anything in so it, so it makes you realize, you know, what your weaknesses are and what your strengths are.


Will Bachman  16:07

Wait, so finish the tower story. So did you finally, like figure out a way to overcome the block, you finally jumped off,


Shannon Frison  16:14

I did i with the help of a really good SPC. Who, who was there, one of the, you know, I ended up being put with what they call the broken company, we say called it might company for people who had injuries, and were going to go back through training or back to some part of it or otherwise, not with their classes due to physical injury or ailments. And you know, the Marine Corps pretty blunt and brutal, we just call them broken. So I was with them. And one of the leaders, one of the captains decided to he just decided, no matter what I was getting out to out of this damn school, you know, so he created this step up thing in at the pool, using crates. So you know, they may be what, one or one and a half, two feet each, and I would just then I started jumping, and we would just stack up another one where I could just jump direct, gradually higher, until it reached the same height. And, you know, allowing me to pass that segment where then I could just do the rest of the event in the water and get on with it. And this is, of course, the most basic of certain qualifications. It’s not like the pilots or folks who go through the higher quality do this is just the basic, every every Marine has to get through this qualification. So I finally did with, you know, baby steps, or


Will Bachman  17:56

baby steps are a great way to do it. And then when you finally were able to jump off after that, that I’m curious what it felt like, did it, then all of a sudden be like, Oh, this is not so bad. And just, you could hop off easily? Or was it still something that was tough to do every time and,


Shannon Frison  18:12

you know, it really did sort of take away some of what was anxiety and whatever else. surrounding that. And the, you know, the, the, the swan qualification is such that, you know, unless you’re probably a grunt or other MOS is where they’re going to sort of put you through some more infantry type training, you really don’t have to do it that much more and uncertainly, not, you know, every duty station is a little different. And no one is real rabid about some of the qualification, you know, once you get out and start working, so it wasn’t something I had to do regularly. But it certainly did, you know, in a, in a pretty common sense kind of way helped me get over that, that mental anxiety about the height, which isn’t really that high. But you know, I don’t know what it was, for some reason, it just, you know, for weeks and weeks and months of doing all of the other events and getting pretty good at them. That part just had me stumped for some reason.


Will Bachman  19:29

That must have been so powerful to you, when you were able to overcome that, you know, that last step and that must have been such a lesson for you for your whole life to feel like okay, I can overcome these barriers, do something I didn’t expect I could do.


Shannon Frison  19:46

Absolutely. Totally. And so, you know, it sort of informed a lot of things thereafter. And you know, it also it also Let’s let me know, taught me that you that I would not be always the best at everything. I mean, I think Harvard and the Marine Corps teach you that you meet so many outstanding, phenomenal individuals in those two settings that, you know, sometimes you you’re, you know, excellence that you come with it seems dammed in comparison sometimes when you’re in those environments. So, you know, again, that that teaches you a lot about yourself, because when you’re always big fish in a little pond, I don’t think you get to learn much about your abilities.


Will Bachman  20:43

I would like to turn to your time as a judge, I’m fascinated to hear about this, if we could, if we could fast forward. Now, you said that you you applied to the bench, what does that mean? How does that work? I sort of had this idea just from sort of at the federal level, it seems like people just kind of get plucked, right? But it sounds like it’s something where if you want to be a judge, you say, Hey, I’d like to be a judge you fill out a form or something. How does it work?


Shannon Frison  21:11

Yeah, people do not get plugged in the federal system is a good one. As a good analogy, the Massachusetts system of of selecting judges mimics the federal system. So but it is an application process, people may certainly recommend to you to apply. And people did that with me, some judges and others recommended that I buy, which was even what got me to think about it. And you fill out a very long, dramatic application that asks for sort of every detail in your life and legal life that you might could think of. And so it’s a good thing to catalogue all of your achievements for applications like that. And that in and of itself, Ward’s off a lot of people who don’t want to be bothered with the application, but if you get it done, and submit it, there pretty much always vacancies. So there may be Boston Municipal Court vacancies, there may be District Court vacancies, there may be superior court appeals court even SJC, even though the SJC is a somewhat of a separate process, a special process. But in each of them, you are required to do an application to to throw your hat in the ring. And once you do that, you’re gonna go through a whole lot of due diligence. So they’re going to be talking behind your back about you, for a good little while, the judicial nominating commission will do due diligence calls to judges and lawyers and people who’ve known you in different capacities. And ask them about you and what they think of your temperament and suitability for the badge. They will then pass your name on to the joint bar. Commission, and they will do more due diligence. And you know, you get to know even less about what they do and who they talk to. And if you get past those two, and I’m sorry, before you get to that point, you do an interview with the with the J and C commissioners, and they are there are about 21 of them. And so in theory, you get to do a big 21 person interview. And, you know, if you get past them, then they do all of the due diligence that I just spoke about. And then if you give a thumbs up at those levels, you go to the governor’s desk, and if the governor so chooses, you will meet with his or her lawyer for further vetting. And at some point the governor has to decide who he is nominating to the that seat or those seats. And once the governor nominates you, just like the President will nominate you on the federal level. But Congress obviously has to confirm you. Same thing in Massachusetts, a body called the governor’s counselors have to confirm you. And they are an elected body of officials representing different regions of Massachusetts and they as a group have to confirm your nomination to the bench. If you get your all of that your your seat and your commission on the bench is a lifetime commission. So you don’t have to do it again. I Unless you’re going to another court. So I’ve actually been through that whole thing twice, because of the two different courts. So as I said, explain to


Will Bachman  25:09

me explain to me and not I’m not a, you know, attorney, not a legal expert. So explain to me the two different courts. And the you’re on the first one, I forget. You said, Boston Municipal Court, then you’re on Superior Court. What types of cases did those each have? Just give me some context on those? Sure.


Shannon Frison  25:25

The Boston Municipal Court and the district courts in Massachusetts are pretty much your neighborhood courts. So they are courts that handle the you know, so Roxbury was my home court, which handled cases from Roxbury and you would see mostly all pretty much all criminal cases in that setting. But in addition to criminal cases, you will have things like restraining orders, traffic tickets, you’ll have some small claims matters a little a little bit of civil, and their civil work has been expanded some now because the dollar amount of the amount in dispute has been increased. But it’s mainly smaller level civil disputes like landlord tenant, credit cards, things like that. But it’s mostly criminal work in those courts. And they are neighborhood courts. And so all cases begin in those courts, even ones that will eventually be indicted, still begin in the BMC, or the district courts, upon arrest. And so you have a lot of new arrests. So you have immediate, direct contact with the public a lot more, a lot more volume of matters in that courthouse setting. And so it’s it’s pretty busy, especially in Boston. At the airport. Yeah, the Superior Court is what we call a court of general jurisdiction in Massachusetts, which means all you know, the more serious matters, so matters on the civil side, where the amount in dispute is more than $50,000. Go to Superior Court, on the criminal side, people who are indicted by a grand jury, meaning you are facing charges that carry more than two and a half years in jail or prison. So sentences up to life sentences. The superior court has jurisdiction over so your rapes, robberies and murders will happen in Superior Court. And as a superior court judge, you’re you’re going to do both, you’re going to do civil trials and criminal trials, three months, each in each type of session at the time.


Will Bachman  27:58

How now, you sounds like you had some exposure to the criminal justice system before that, you know, as it both as a Marine Corps officer and then civilian running your own practice. But as a judge, how did your thinking and understanding of how the world works? Change? After I guess, from 2009, to almost 2020, for 15 years? On the bench? How did your How did your kind of understanding of how the world actually works change over that time?


Shannon Frison  28:35

Well, this time has afforded me a lot more in terms of education, about law, you know, you you tend to specialize to some degree when you’re practicing. So you’re not gonna learn all the different types of law, how could I have been when I was practicing, I would not have been able to tell you what Liz pendants was, or anything having to do with real estate or those types of civil matters. But being on the bench, or you’re sort of forced to, you know, engage in the learning curve is pretty steep, depending on what you did before coming on. Some people are coming from civil work, some people are coming from law firms, some people are coming from agencies, some people are private practice or criminal criminal defense bar. So everyone’s coming in with some special specialty. But as a judge, you gotta get real, well rounded real quick. And so, um, so I’ve learned an amazing amount about a whole bunch of areas of law. And, you know, that’s probably the biggest impact


Will Bachman  29:57

as a judge on those sorts of criminal cases, is were you ever concerned for your own safety? Did you have to take strong steps to kind of, you know, hide where your home address and so forth? Curious about your just personal security?


Shannon Frison  30:17

Yes. So the you know, there are, there are times where judges are threatened or even assaulted. And, you know, we really haven’t seen a ton of that in terms of assault in Massachusetts, but I do think threats are more common. And whether they’re to the judges to the DBAs. So, you know, on the government side of things, you’re Yes, you you do have to keep safety at the forefront. And the court system does a decent job, could be better, probably a decent job at enforcing some safety measures for judges in terms of egress and in, you know, into the ingress into the courthouse parking. You know, you can, I did certainly take measures to try to keep my address, not out in the public. So, it’s tough, and certainly being on social media and putting yourself back in the public doesn’t help. But, you know, I found that, for the most part, people mind their manners, not not every person. But um, you know, I’ve had a couple of incidents of either threats or someone vandalizing my car. But for the most part, people mind their manners.


Will Bachman  31:53

Talk to me about what you learned about preventing crime about things that you might not be optimized about how the entire criminal justice system works, you know, if there was just a news article that I just recently about, I think, you know, some very high percentage of all the assaults in the New York City subway system, for example, like maybe 60% Plus come from 38 people who have been arrested 1000 times. But, you know, are there things that you saw in the criminal justice system, that you’re saying, Wow, the system, if you were just building this from scratch, you would do it in a different way, or you would, you know, run differently, and in any direction, more police, fewer police, longer sentences, shorter sentences, like anything that you kind of perspective that you gain from that, inside, inside view.


Shannon Frison  32:56

We, you know, the one thing that I speak more often about the knot is about the role of race of bias in the criminal justice system. So, you know, I would have to say that if I’m starting somewhere, with what, you know, what should be changed, or what could be changed, it would be ways of addressing those disparities. And there, you know, there have been some since the murder of George Floyd, a lot of education going on around bias about our system, you know, Massachusetts, in the Massachusetts trial court, like other agencies, and businesses and institutions looked inward. After we all watched that horrific murder, and looked inward to see, you know, what, what are we doing with regard to race? And, you know, the, the trial court was no different in that respect. But we were a long way from, you know, solving that problem. The it’s multifaceted, so I won’t try to go into all of it here. But you know, I think that conversation and those conversations being solidly on the table all the time can only can only help in, in in when we talk about sentencing. You know, when people think of criminal law, we do think about jail time prison time sentences, whether they’re long or short. You know, you we may all watch a trial from beginning to end and but people are most interested in what was the sentence what’s the sentence going to be and do they agree with it or not? Um, I think I don’t think it’s a secret that we are over incarcerated in this country, you can only, you only need go so far as Google to find any number of sources to talk about how over incarcerated we are. As someone who has just left the business of incarcerating people, I made it my point to with regard to each person that was before me for criminal sentencing to fashion a sentence, that is as short as possible to achieve the goals of the sentencing. Not to satisfy the prosecutor’s office not to satisfy a victim’s family necessarily, not to satisfy some notion of this crime equals this amount of time, but really fashion a sentence that made sense that tried to try to have a goal of rehabilitation, deterrence, education, and, you know, whatever, in each situation, the goals are, because they can defer to make it as a shorter sentence as we satisfy that goal. Now, the more serious the crimes and the more violent, the more, you know, punishment becomes an issue or just separation from society even becomes an issue. But with the vast majority of non violent crimes, we are we are way over incarcerated.


Will Bachman  36:45

So that point that you raised about disparities, racial disparities in the criminal justice system, what would your recommendations be if the governor and the legislature, you know, came to you and we’re seeking counsel on what should be changed? What would some of your top recommendations be?


Shannon Frison  37:06

Well, the the beginning of the, the issue is, you know, it never starts, it doesn’t start on the bench doesn’t start with judges, it’s really throughout the entire process, wherever there is discretion, and there is discretion for every point in a criminal process from the moment someone calls the police, all the way up to the sentencing of someone who’s been accused, or convicted. Their discretion all along the way, from the very beginning to the very end. And so I think that some mandatory and considered mandatory and consistent training, on issues of bias would really help. And I think for, you know, something even more radical, perhaps, is, particularly at the police level, more education being required to lead and become a police officer. You know, if you think about the difference between your brain coming out of high school and your brain coming out of college, there’s a lot, there’s a lot that you’re lacking at the end of high school, you know, and at that age, and education level. So, you know, I think all along the way, there should be mandatory training, not one off training, you know, maybe once every couple of years for judges. And when you want to think about it, you can consider race and bias and the historical and consistent disparities, you know, you got to think about it while you’re sentencing people is gonna come up while you’re talking about the sentence. So it, it’s hard because people, as we’ve seen since the George Floyd, sort of, you know, rebirth, we’ve seen people get weary of the topic already. Again, it’s like, oh, yeah, turning to talking about race. Well, guess what, folks in the minority, or in historically minority populations, we’re tired of being affected by race. So, you know, so everybody’s tired in a different way. And it’s hard to keep it on the table. It’s hard to keep pushing, you know, there’s now a whole dei backlash. And you know, why, you know, we’re pretty fair weather as a country, you know, we can do some for two years without being tired of it. You know, who’s like the pandemic, it’s like, Come on, we can you can wear masks for a year without freaking out and being depressed. You know, let’s we got a book up some ever everybody can’t be a Marine, but we got to do better. We’ve been doing and be able to really work on something you know, I’m This is not something that goes away with a one off retreat. You know, what people have to have have have to decide to believe that these disparities exist and that these experiences are real, and decide to want to really changed that, you know, if it’s sort of, oh, yeah, I’ve just got to take this course along with these other courses. And it’s just, you know, that that doesn’t quite get us there.


Will Bachman  40:32

You mentioned, you’d like to see more training for police officers? What, what sort of specific topics, do you think that more training would be helpful? Is it just like, more like, specifically around bias type training? Or do you think he just more broadly, more, you know, kind of practicing soft skills of interacting with the general public or specific legal training, understanding the law, what sorts of topics you think are is the gap, where’s the gap and training that you’d like to fill?


Shannon Frison  41:10

I think there’s a lot, including, you know, just basic education, but certainly education around on mental health and substance abuse, and, you know, more social, social, economic reality realities of different communities and neighborhoods, as you said, soft skills or de escalating skills, you know, and there’s, there’s so much that I think, goes into being a police officer. I mean, to me, it’s a daunting job. And it is one that I think you you have to be you have to have broad shoulders to be a police officer, and you’ve got to be able to sort of switch hats quickly. And competently, right, you’ve got to go from protecting, to serving in be able to do that pretty, pretty adeptly. And everybody can’t do that. And that’s not in that sense. Sometimes that’s not the goal of some people who will join the police force. So I think, you know, some real, you know, a better look into the psyche of people who are taking on this job because it is so varied and difficult and stressful. You know, they’re just human beings. So we put a lot on them. And I just think they need a more education and more training to handle that really tough job.


Will Bachman  42:50

I’d like to go beyond the bench now and ask you just about I think that you have a bit of a speaking career, you’re active on social media. Talk to me about some of your, your those activities that you have going on. Yeah, that you’re you’re speaking and, and anything beyond beyond running your own private practice. Now, as an attorney, I’d love to hear about those sorts of those aspects.


Shannon Frison  43:20

Yes, I have been engaged in a lot of speaking engagements around trial advocacy, around race and bias around navigating legal careers. And, you know, so I very much enjoy speaking to law students, undergraduate students, new lawyers, affinity law groups and associations. And so, you know, not necessarily on a circuit, but I do speak pretty regularly for different Bar Association’s in Massachusetts, and, you know, continuing legal education for lawyers. So, you know, I think being having been a judge and having been willing still to engage with the public, was instrumental in sort of creating that following because most judges are pretty quiet about what they’re doing about their work about their thoughts about their lives. And that is, I would say, encouraged for among the judiciary, so to kind of be out in the public and subjecting yourself to comment and critique and anything else is a little bit different. But you know, from my perspective, of being black and female, LGBTQ in that Seat, one of my duties beyond meeting out justice was to be a representative of all of those parts of myself. And not to do the same thing that every other judge just sat in that seat has done the same thing that the two judges on either side of me are doing, but to bring those identities to the work. And I’ve been, you know, educating people on our history and how our history is still affecting us today is one of those things that I’ve taken to doing and how I participate on social media. And, and I think that, that sort of honesty about our history and about my myself, and my own experiences, in my family in my work, when I’ve been, you know, discriminated against when I have felt bias or seen it or known about it, you know, being open and honest about those experiences, I think has drawn people, to me to a great deal on social media.


Will Bachman  46:16

Why did you decide to retire from the bench?


Shannon Frison  46:22

I decided to retire because I’m just like everything else, you know, a job has a season in your life. And it doesn’t have to be your life. And at 53, about to be 54 This year, I realized there are other things that I want to do, that are impossible to do on the bench. Because you are very, very restricted in what you can do and say and participate in while you’re serving on the bench. And there are so many parts of our lives and policies and politics and culture. That’s happening right now that I would like to be a part of shaping. And advocating in, and I can’t do those things from the bench. So you know, 15 years, they you know, they certainly got got a good chunk of my professional life, that’s enough time to move on and do some other things. Because like I was just telling someone yesterday, no matter who you are, we’re all in a lifecycle. You’re somewhere in your life cycle, you can’t escape it. And so whatever all you aim to do while you’re on the planet, you better get to doing it.


Will Bachman  48:00

I’d love to hear about dialing back to Harvard. Are there any courses or professors that you had that continued to resonate with you?


Shannon Frison  48:12

Absolutely. A lot of them but some that I’ve spoken about. More recently, people who have been remembering some professors, Martin Kilson, Professor Kelston was one. I was a government major. And he was in the government department and I took a couple of courses with him. And he was just so passionate and knowledgeable on the topics and I learned a tremendous amount about the development of cities, as he would say, visa vie race and, and the ethnic groups and you know, how the different ethnic groups fared as compared to each other in the cities. And just so many concepts that that were new to me. were introduced to me through him and he was so passionate about his work and about his studies. So definitely him and Jay Loran matory, Professor matory, who is in the anthropology department, and I believe Professor oratory is now at Duke, I think. But when we were there, he was at Harvard, and he taught anthropology courses, which was not my major, but I took a couple of them with my roommate, Patric Russell at the time, one of my roommates because I was just really interested in the topic and the first couple of classes or courses were Afro Atlantic religions, which taught me about non Christian religions that basically slaves in Their descendants created during slavery. So voodoo, condom bleh Santeria those religion, and again, Professor matory, which is so passionate and knowledgeable, and that was a smaller seminar, both seminar type courses so, you know, extensive interaction with him directly. And he actually came to a celebration I had years later, when I won lawyer of the year, just before the year before I went on the bench. He actually came and celebrated with me and my family. But those those are two that really stand out that, you know, courses and information that I’ve never forget from both of them.


Will Bachman  50:49

Shannon, this has been such a wonderful conversation. I could keep asking you questions. I’m so curious to hear more. But I know our time is up here. For listeners that wanted to find out the latest what’s going on with you? Where would you point them online?


Shannon Frison  51:07

They can certainly connect with me at attorney fryston on LinkedIn, or from my website at www fryston law All


Will Bachman  51:20

right, well, we will include those links in the show notes. Shannon, thanks so much for joining today.


Shannon Frison  51:25

Thank you so much. Well, this was awesome.