The Hon. Elizabeth O’Neill LaStaiti
Betty received her undergraduate degree in International Affairs from George Washington University with academic honors. Upon her college graduation, she was anticipating a glorious career in the Foreign Service which might culminate in an ambassadorship or (why not?), being appointed as Secretary of State! Her dreams, however, were quickly dashed. Betty explains, â€œThe year I spent following college graduation working in a federal agency in Washington, D. C., convinced me that I never wanted to work for the government again, never imagining that I would be a government employee as a judge for 23 years!â€Â Examining her many options in 1965, she decided that law school would offer very broad career path opportunities and would provide highly marketable professional credentials and skills.
Leading the way
At BC Law, Betty was a stellar student, on Law Review, and remarkably, the first woman to graduate first in the class at the law school. Despite the scarcity of women in law school or in the legal profession, Betty did not see herself at that time as a trailblazer. â€œI knew there were few women practicing law when I entered law school, and, although I was in fact, I didn’t then think of myself as a pioneer!” Betty recalls, “With all the optimism and confidence of youth, I felt that hard work and good performance would see me through law school and the career to follow.â€ In looking back, Betty says she had no understanding of or appreciation for the barriers that were in place for women in the profession at that time, and she didn’t give much thought to the difficulties she would encounter in law school and in those early years following graduation.
After graduation, she was a law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Caffrey and an associate at the Boston law firm of Choate, Hall & Stewart. Betty worked in private practice for several years in New Bedford, Mass., where she had a general practice that included domestic relations, estate planning, probate, real estate, indigent criminal defense work, and business law.
In 1988, she was appointed by Gov. Michael Dukakis as an Associate Justice of the Bristol Country Probate and Family Court and was appointed the Court’s First Justice in 1994. As First Judge, she was the Administrative Head of the Court.
Betty retired in July 2011 and moved to Penobscot, Maine where she continues to be active in community service. She is secretary and a director of Community Health and Counseling Services, a provider of mental health services and home health care across eastern Maine. She maintains her long-time interest in community health, serving on the Ethics Committee of the Maine Coast Memorial Hospital since 2011. She also served as a director of Child and Family Opportunities which provides services to the communities of Downeast Maine.
In Massachusetts, Betty served as a trustee of the SouthCoast Health Systems and as chair of the board of St. Luke’s Hospital and of the Physician Practice Corporations. In 2012 she received the Trustees Medal in recognition of 29 years of outstanding service to the SouthCoast Hospital Group. Betty was president and a director of the Schwartz Center, a children’s rehabilitation center and president and director of New Bedford Child and Family Services. She was an organizer of the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center and incorporated the Center.
In recognition of her lifelong service to the community, Betty was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Service by the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth in 2012.
Betty has a history of service to the legal profession through the Massachusetts, Bristol, and New Bedford Bar Associations as well as the Massachusetts Judges Conference. In partnership with the U.S. State Department, the Mass. Judges Conference, and the Russian American Rule of Law Committee,she worked to develop and promote the Rule of Law in Russia, (2009, 2006), Macedonia, (2004), China, (2001 and 2003), Mongolia, (2003), and Romania, (2000).Â She served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Southern New England School of Law, which became the University of Massachusetts School of Law at Dartmouth in 2010.Â She also served as a director of The Southeastern Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation.
Betty is married to the Rev. Dr. Edward R. Dufresne. Between them, they have five children and two grandchildren. They enjoy sailing, boating, and hiking at their home in Penobscot, Maine and skiing and cycling throughout New England. Their love for travel continues to take them around the world.