Samuel E. Zoll, a retired Massachusetts judge who was credited by U.S. Sen. Scott Brown with helping turn his young life around, died Tuesday following a long illness. He was 76.
Zoll, who also was a state lawmaker and mayor, had been battling gallbladder cancer and died at his home in Salem, his family said.
Zoll started his judicial career in 1973 and was named chief justice of the Massachusetts District Courts in 1976, where he served until he retired in 2004 when he reached the age of 70, the mandatory retirement age.
He was known as a no-nonsense but fair judge. Brown said he learned that when he was arrested for stealing records when he was 12 and appeared before the judge.
In Brown's recent memoir, the senator recalled being called into Zoll's chambers, where the judge asked him about his family, how he was doing in school and whether he liked sports. After Brown told Zoll he enjoyed playing basketball, the judge asked him if he had brothers and sisters who looked up to him.
"He looked me dead in the eye - no smile - and said, `How do you think they're going to like seeing you play basketball in jail?"' Brown recalled. "That was like a sledgehammer hitting me in the head. It was the realization that I was going down the wrong path."
Brown said he kept in touch with Zoll throughout his career and visited him during his illness.
"There's no doubt that if not for the judge, I would not be a United States senator today. That was a point in my life where I was just lost," Brown said. "Finally, somebody in authority took me aside and said, `You know what, you can be a better person."'
Zoll wasn't afraid to hand out unusual sentences. He ordered Brown to write a 1,500-word essay. In another case, he ordered the family of a boy who appeared before him to eat dinner together for the next 30 days and even sent a probation officer to the house to make sure they were following his order.
Zoll, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, was born in Peabody and was a lifelong Salem resident. He received a bachelor's degree in accounting and a master's degree in business education from Boston University.
He worked as a school teacher in Danvers while attending Suffolk University Law School at night and running a small accounting practice. In 1962, he received his law degree and began practicing law in Salem.
He was elected to the Salem City Council at the age of 23. At 30, he was elected as a Democratic state representative and served two terms.
He was later elected mayor of Salem and left the office before the end of his second term in 1973 when he accepted his first appointment to the bench as a special justice in Ipswich District Court. Less than a year later, he was named presiding justice of the Salem District Court and was later named chief justice of the state's district court.
After he retired from the bench, Zoll was appointed by Gov. Mitt Romney as chairman of the Commonwealth Joint Labor-Management Committee, a panel that oversees collective bargaining negotiations between police officers and firefighters and municipalities.
He is survived by his wife, Marjorie, four children and five grandchildren.
This program aired on April 26, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.