Joseph C. Pelletier
|District Attorney of Suffolk County, Massachusetts|
|Preceded by||Arthur D. Hill|
|Succeeded by||Thomas C. O'Brien|
|Supreme Advocate of the Knights of Columbus|
|Preceded by||Patrick L. McArdle|
|Succeeded by||Luke E. Hart|
|Massachusetts State Deputies of the Knights of Columbus|
|Preceded by||James F. Cavanagh|
|Succeeded by||Daniel F. Buckley|
|Born||April 25, 1872|
|Died||March 25, 1924 (aged 51)|
|Resting place||Forest Hills Cemetery|
Joseph C. Pelletier (April 25, 1872–March 25, 1924) was district attorney of Suffolk County, Massachusetts and the Supreme Advocate of the Knights of Columbus. He was removed as district attorney and disbarred for blackmail and extortion.
Pelletier was born April 25, 1872, in Roxbury, to William Summers Pelletier, a successful merchant and banker described as "a model of goodness in his personal life." He attended the Boston Public Schools and then Boston College where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1891 and a master's degree in 1893. He earned a law degree from Boston University in 1895, the year after he passed the bar exam.
Knights of Columbus
Pelletier was a charter member of Franklin Council number 168 of the Knight of Columbus and its first Deputy Grand Knight when it was instituted on April 26, 1896. In 1898 he was elected Grand Knight and served two terms as District Deputy from 1898 to 1900. He was State Deputy of the Massachusetts Knights of Columbus from 1901 until 1906, during which time he oversaw the institution of the Boston Chapter, a group of Grand Knights who collaborated to work on larger projects. He served five terms as state deputy, more than anyone else. While state deputy, the state convention was held outside of Boston several times, to great success. He was Master of the Fourth Degree in Massachusetts in 1900.
He served as a delegate to the Supreme Convention from 1900 to 1908, and served as a Supreme Director from 1901 to 1907. He provided legal advice to the Order as Supreme Advocate for 15 years, from 1907 to 1922, He also served as a member of the Knights of Columbus Commission on Religious Prejudice. He was a member of the War Activities Committee to provide services for American troops in World War I and, following the war, he was appointed the Education Committee to run a series of night schools for returning veterans. France awarded Pelletier the Legion of Honor and Belgium made him a Knight of the Crown for his services during the war. Pope Benedict XV made him a knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great. After his death, the Massachusetts state council established a scholarship in his name at Boston College.
In 1905, Pelletier was appointed to the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission by Governor William Lewis Douglas. He was reappointed by Republican Governors Curtis Guild Jr. and Eben Sumner Draper. He resigned from the board in 1909 in order to focus on his campaign for district attorney.
Pelletier was first elected as district attorney in 1909. He easily defeated Edward P. Barry, Felix W. McGettrick, and Alonzo D. Moran at the county convention to win the Democratic nomination (receiving 149 of the necessary 117 votes on the first ballot) and beat Republican incumbent Arthur D. Hill in the general election. He took office on November 13, 1909.
In 1911, Pelletier prosecuted Clarence Richeson for the murder of his girlfriend Avis Willard Linnell. Richeson was found guilty and Pelletier recommended the death penalty. Richeson was executed on May 21, 1912.
In 1917, Pelletier petitioned Governor Samuel W. McCall for leniency in the treatment of Jesse Pomeroy, who had been living in solitary confinement at the Charlestown State Prison for more than 40 years. Pomeroy's sentence was commuted to the extent of allowing him the privileges afforded to other life prisoners.
Removal from office
In 1916, the Watch and Ward Society began efforts to remove Pelletier from office. According to Pelletier, this was because he refused to present complaints procured by their spotters to a jury. After a complaint to the state legislature's Joint Judiciary Committee was dismissed in the winter of 1916, the society went to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which twice found their charges unworthy of a hearing. After this the group took its efforts before the Boston Bar Association. In November 1919, Pelletier discovered his private office in Pemberton Square had been wiretapped. He traced the wires back to an office paid for by Godfrey Lowell Cabot, president of the Watch and Ward Society. Cabot justified the recording device by saying he needed incriminating evidence to remove Pelletier from office. The society had also hired a private detective to keep the district attorney under surveillance for two years. On September 29, 1921, the Boston Bar Association recommended to Massachusetts Attorney General J. Weston Allen that Pelletier be removed from office, alleging that he was guilty of deceit, malpractice, and gross misconduct. The trial began on December 28, 1921, with Senator James A. Reed of Missouri representing Pelletier. Reed claimed that Pelletier was the victim of the Watch and Ward Society's anti-Catholic vendetta. Late in the trial, former Middlesex County district attorney William J. Corcoran turned state's evidence against Pelletier and his co-conspirators. On February 21, 1922, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found Pelletier guilty of 10 of the 21 charges against him and removed him from office. Chief Justice Arthur P. Rugg wrote in the court's opinion that Pelletier had "prostituted" his office and used the processes of law "as instruments of oppression in an attempt to wrest money from the blameless and aged" by repeatedly using his position to aid in blackmail and extortion. Four of these cases involved Pelletier's close friend Daniel H. Coakley. The court described their relationship as "conspirators to exert the power of the district attorney to extort money, to terrorize people into surrendering causes of action and otherwise to abuse that office".
Later life and death
On May 8, 1922, Pelletier was disbarred. On June 29, 1922 he resigned as supreme advocate of the Knights of Columbus, citing "propaganda" from his "enemies outside the order". He was succeeded by Luke E. Hart.
Pelletier sought to return to the district attorney's office in the 1922 election. He defeated his successor, Thomas C. O'Brien by a 2 to 1 margin in the Democratic primary. However, O'Brien, who won the Republican nomination, defeated Pelletier 56% to 42% in the general election.
- Lapomarda 1992, p. 12.
- Kauffman 1982, p. 182.
- Kauffman 1982, p. 241.
- Lapomarda 1992, p. 13.
- Lapomarda 1992, p. 146.
- Lapomarda 1992, p. 22.
- Kauffman 1982, p. 212.
- Kauffman 1982, p. 226.
- "Pneumonia Abruptly Ends Pelletier's Life". The Boston Daily Globe. March 26, 1924.
- Lapomarda 1992, p. 14.
- "Pelletier Leaves Civil Service Board". The Boston Daily Globe. October 13, 1909.
- "Pelletier Wins Easy Victory". The Boston Daily Globe. October 9, 1909.
- "Pelletier Not Over-Elated". The Boston Daily Globe. November 3, 1909.
- "Pelletier Now District Attorney". The Boston Daily Globe. November 14, 1909.
- "Opposed to Commutation". The Boston Daily Globe. January 10, 1912.
- "Richeson Executed for Girl's Murder". The New York Times. May 21, 1912.
- "Foss Wins in Bay State". The New York Times. September 25, 1912.
- "Dist Atty Pelletier Pleads for Pomeroy". The Boston Globe. January 2, 1917. p. 1. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
- Gribben, Mark. "Jesse Harding Pomeroy." Crime Library. 17. Resurrection. Retrieved on November 27, 2010.
- "Pelletier Quits Mayoralty Race". New-York Tribune. New York City. December 3, 1921. Retrieved March 14, 2018 – via newspapers.com.
- "Pelletier Charges Dictagraph Frameup". The Boston Daily Globe. November 15, 1919.
- Kauffman 1982, p. 242.
- "Removal of Pelletier Now Asked by Bar Association; Petitions for Disbarment of Coakley, McIsaac and Corcoran Filed With Supreme Court—Deceit, Malpractice and Gross Misconduct Alleged". The Boston Daily Globe. September 30, 1921.
- Miller, Neil (1910). Banned in Boston: The Watch and Ward Society's Crusade against Books, Burlesque, and the Social Evil. Beacon Press. pp. 114–118.
- "Court Removes Pelletier: Guilty on 10 of the 21 Charges --Gov Cox Will Name His Successor Tomorrow". The Boston Daily Globe. February 22, 1922.
- "Pelletier is Disbarred". The New York Times. May 9, 1922.
- "Pelletier Quits His K. of C. Post". The Boston Daily Globe. June 30, 1922.
- "K. of C. Replaces Pelletier". The New York Times. July 3, 1922.
- "Pelletier Wins by a Big Margin". The Boston Daily Globe. September 13, 1922.
- Office of the Secretary of Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1922). Number of assessed polls, registered voters and persons who voted in each voting precinct in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts at the state, city and town elections. p. 402.
- Lapomarda 1992, p. 175.
- Lapomarda, S.J., Vincent A. (1992). The Knights of Columbus in Massachusetts (second ed.). Norwood, Massachusetts: Knights of Columbus Massachusetts State Council.
- Kauffman, Christopher J. (1982). Faith and Fraternalism: The History of the Knights of Columbus, 1882–1982. Harper and Row. ISBN 978-0-06-014940-6.