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Late Judge Frank McCaffrey, Who Helped Start Vt. Drug Courts, Remembered For His 'Empathy'

Judge Francis B. McCaffrey Jr. in a courtroom
Judge Francis B. McCaffrey Jr. was a well-known judge in Vermont. He helped create the state's drug court and was considered a mentor by many in the legal community. He died Saturday, Oct. 27 at age 82.

Visitation services will be held Saturday at the Clifford Funeral Home in Rutland for Judge Frank McCaffrey, who died Oct. 27 at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center from cancer. He was 82.

Judge McCaffrey was well known in Rutland and across Vermont for his many years as a criminal court judge. He served as the state’s administrative judge overseeing all Vermont’s trial judges and, more recently, helped establish Vermont’s drug courts.

McCaffrey presided over Rutland’s drug court each Tuesday, long after he’d retired from his other duties.

Teri Corsones, executive director of the Vermont Bar Association, said she was always impressed by his demeanor on the bench and says he was incredibly generous with new lawyers.

"Just his genuiness and empathy for people and how he would take such a personal interest in each and every person he encountered," Corsones said.

She recalled meeting him at the start of her own career: "As a nervous young lawyer he would do his best to be very encouraging and be very supportive, and I know that reaction is shared by many lawyers in the legal community who looked up to him as a mentor."

"[McCaffrey] was an outstanding human being." — Joan Sonneborn, former volunteer and board member of Rutland Dismas House

“He was an outstanding human being,” said Joan Sonneborn, who said she first met McCaffrey in 2001.

“In the courtroom Frank slowed things down, made sure that people understood the decisions that were being made," she said. "He was just full of compassion and empathy for people.”

And that empathy spread far beyond the courtroom, according to Sonneborn.

She got to know McCaffrey through Dismas House, a nonprofit that McCaffrey’s wife, Rita Whalen, started in Vermont to provide shelter and support for men and women leaving prison.

Sonneborn said that once a month she and her husband would cook dinner and eat with the residents at Dismas House in Rutland — and, she said, McCaffrey would often join them.

“Some of the residents knew Frank from the court because they had stood before him in court,” said Sonneborn. “And now they were sitting at the dinner table with him and playing basketball outside at Dismas House, and he presented himself with great humility.”

“He cared deeply, and was very faithful,” said Sonneborn. “He lived out his faith in everything that he did."

"He just was way beyond what most people achieve in a lifetime," Sonneborn also said.

McCaffrey is survived by his wife Rita, four children and six grandchildren. A celebration of his life will be held next spring in Weston.   

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