Tribute to Joseph G. Sandulli, November 17, 1944 to March 10, 2021

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our colleague, mentor and friend, Joseph G. Sandulli. Joe passed away on March 10, 2021, with his family around him, after a characteristically courageous battle with cancer.

Joe graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1969 and became an attorney in 1970. On April 1, 1977, Joe founded what would become Sandulli Grace, P.C., by opening his own law practice on Mt. Vernon Street in Boston.

His solo practice grew into Boston’s premier union-side public sector labor law firm.

He was at the vanguard in forming what has since grown to be the largest law enforcement union in Massachusetts and New England. Organized in 1979 with just five local police departments in the Worcester area, the Massachusetts Coalition of Police (“MASS C.O.P.”) represents over 4,400 members in over 173 cities and towns in Massachusetts. Sandulli Grace has grown with MassCOP, and MassCOP became part of Joe’s family. Together, MassCOP and Sandulli Grace have established an over 40-year tradition of providing the highest quality of service to Massachusetts law enforcement officers.

Joe’s contribution to union-side labor law is legendary. Joe was the editor of the “Judicial Guide to Labor and Employment Law.” He served the Massachusetts bar as a Co-Chair of the Boston Bar Labor & Employment Law Section. He was the first lawyer in our firm to receive the Labor Guild’s Cushing-Gavin Award for Union Attorneys, which the Guild presented to him in 2008.

Joe negotiated excellent contracts, and advocated ferociously in all legal fora for our union clients, including countless locals of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and many independent police, firefighter, EMT/paramedic and civilian unions.

Joe was brilliant and fearless. He once conducted an interest arbitration late into the night for the BPPA, prompting an anonymous source to write on our firm’s bathroom wall, “Joe Sandulli is Awesome.” That he was.

Joe believed strongly in educating the firm’s clients. He fostered a tradition of education, which has culminated in our firm’s regular education seminars for our clients, particularly the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, who share his vision of union empowerment through education. When Joe retired in 2015, we asked him what kind of retirement party he wanted. He immediately said he wanted it to be an education seminar. We invited some colleagues to speak on a panel with him about a pending U.S. Supreme Court Case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which became the precursor to Janus v. ASFCME, the decision that ended agency service fee for public employees. You have not discussed Supreme Court law until you have done it while sharing cocktails with Joe Sandulli.

Joe was a loving family man, and he integrated his family into the fabric of our firm. He was unfailingly respectful to all members of this firm, from the most senior to the most junior, always paying attention to our opinions. Joe seemed to know everything, but his curiosity never failed and he never stopped learning. Joe was creative, interesting, fun and kind. He kept us on high alert with his spontaneity and quirky sense of humor. The only thing one could ever predict about Joe was his excellence as a lawyer.

Joe continually stunned us with his physical vitality, defying the aging process to play competitive soccer and ride his horse daily, well into the last year of his life. We thought that nothing could stop him, but unfortunately cancer did. Our hearts are broken by his loss, but his values are embedded in Sandulli Grace and will live on in the law firm he built. We love you, Joe.

Please share your memories of Joe below.

9 thoughts on “Tribute to Joseph G. Sandulli, November 17, 1944 to March 10, 2021”

  1. Leigh: A very nice tribute to Joe. I am sorry for your personal and professional loss. I knew Joe mostly as an opponent, having him across the table during arbitrations, negotiations, etc. Always a vigorous but professional advocate. I also had the pleasure of playing on a soccer team with him for a couple of years when we both should have been old enough to know better! Please offer my thoughts to Ken, Amy, Alan, John and others on the S & G team. Larry Donoghue, Morgan, Brown & Joy

  2. I am truly saddened to hear of Joe’s passing. I respected him as a first-class lawyer who was a strong but fair advocate for his clients. He assembled a firm of top notch folks that will carry on with his legacy.

  3. I cannot say as many things that I would like to this is my third try at this today. My first was the best I hit all cylinders. 3 hours! Went to the B room come back it was gone! Had diner came trued again it was gone again! It’s now 9 pm. Gone try again. Please forgive meI got an excuse On
    a detail one day in November 1986. They were replacing power lines raw cold wind a little over cast.I was out in the street beside the cherry picker school children were on the other side of the side at crossing. I got lucky stopped traffic moved out aways from the truck so Icouldsee the kids. All off a sudden I got smashed in the head spinning I go black out then I heard someone calling my name Eddie you ok ok. Long story short The picker operator lowered that thing on top my head. I was later told this by a man who witnessed the hit told me all about it 2 weeks later. I can only say lost my career, and all else. Brain
    Injury that was it! Life as I knew it was gone. I still cannot believe I wasn’t killed or crippled. Brain was never the same 3years of rehab. Worked hard everyday l did not stop. At the end Ilost my short term memory so that’s why I’m still at itI want to say the right things about Joe Sandulli! As time went by Or relationship grew! Joe loved keeping things light. I guess there police humor and there is lawyer humor as Wells’s other professions
    So please forgive me but I said some great
    Things about Joe! He was a mentor to meI love Constitutional Law he was amazing I loved talking to Joe. In 1980 the senior officers elected me President of the BPBA the city treated the police like second class citizens. That year I filed64 grievances Joe was amazing! city 0 BPBA 64 all some went to arbitration some were settled one was they tried to implement HMOS without negotiating Joe kicked ass! The ruling came around Christmas evert member got
    a nice check $300. each. Then the city just turned around and gave it to the other 1200 employees. They made it look like we were the bad guys. I learned a lot from Joe he was always prepared he did his home work his research was always key to how he presented his cases. He was not going to be embarrassed by not knowing the very best I have ever seen case law second to none. He would just take it in stride he would give one of us a little smile always a class act. My sincere condolences to Joes family his working family and all Those men and women in the thin blue line and other union members he dedicated his life to. The things that all the workers what ever their position past and present now or in the future will receive benefits and will not be harassed by their employees or not get treated fairly. How many of those hours days nights researching bringing it only the way he could.think about all the people in the work place that has absolutely no idea who protects them their jobs families thousands. Joe Championed
    Their cause he fought the fight he was the
    GOAT GOD SPEED JOE RIP

  4. A gentleman of the highest order, he could walk and talk with kings but never lose the common touch. I will miss him greatly. Cancer truly takes the best of us, doesn’t it? Life just ain’t fair. Rest in Peace, Barrister Sandulli.

    Jim Carnell, retired, BPPA

  5. Joe was my oldest friend. I first met him at the schoolyard of the Mary A. Callen School in Bristol, Connecticut. Joe was in 5th Grade, I was in 6th. That day in the school yard, Joe was in a fight with some kid about twice as big as he was. Joe didn’t win the fight (eventually broken up by a teacher) but he didn’t lose it either. He gave as good as he got. When I got to high school, I was surprised to see he was in my class. Joe had skipped a grade. He and I were both in the top track in high school, and we both went to great colleges and we both went to law school.

    Fast forward to three weeks before Joe died. I received my last email from him. (We had kept in touch for over 60 years, although we only saw each other occasionally.) In Joe’s last email he described what he was going through, and ended the letter with this thought: “I would really like to see everyone in the USA earn a fair wage that they could live on.” This was three weeks before he died, and he was very, very sick,

    My friend, Joe Sandulli, was a labor lawyer. I mean, he WAS a labor lawyer. He wasn’t just a lawyer who practice labor law, HE WAS A LABOR LAWYER deep and through and through. Joe was always intense about everything he did, and he never did anything he did not believe in.

    God bless you Joe. I miss you.

  6. Although Joe Sandulli was my classmate in law school, my recollection of him begins in earnest two years later when I returned to Boston. By that time, Joe was well launched in his career as a union-side labor lawyer. There had been a course in labor law taught at our school by James O. Freedman, later president of Dartmouth, who was a nice person and not unsympathetic to unions, but labor law, especially on the union side, was not a common career choice for our classmates.

    When I looked Joe up, I learned that he was working in a small but well established and highly respected labor law firm. Eventually it became evident that the firm, like many law firms, was one in which authority and financial rewards were not shared abundantly, certainly not with junior attorneys. I suspect that Joe, without much of a problem, could have switched sides and moved to a more easygoing firm. However, Joe was not about to be deterred from accomplishing his goals. Instead, he toughed it out for as long as it took, and eventually he opened his own beautiful office on Beacon Hill. As I observed all this happening, I began to form a picture of Joe’s character that was fleshed out later.

    Before leaving the law behind, I need to tell a story told by Joe about his side work as a law professor, I suspect in evening classes at Suffolk. It seems that Joe ran a tight ship as a professor, and that there were students who chafed under his strictures. One day, as an act of rebellion, a couple of his students decided to express their annoyance by engaging in sexual intercourse in the aisle. In Joe’s telling, this attempt at disruption was a failure: Joe continued teaching the class without missing a beat.

    Another side of Joe was his loyalty to his Italian heritage. A year or two after my return to Boston, I married a woman who had been born in Rome. Joe and Chris were already married and were living in the North End, and we all spent a number of evenings together there and in other parts of downtown Boston. I particularly remember buying Italian Parmesan (harder to find in those days) and rabbit (skinned but whole), and hearing stories about the Sandullis’ neighbors, including those who had leading roles in politics and in organized crime. Later on, after Joe and Chris moved to Ipswich, I remember Joe introducing us to bagna cauda.

    We spent a number of days and weekends with Joe and Chris in Ipswich at their carefully preserved colonial by the river. These times usually- perhaps always- involved sailing to Crane’s Beach or Plum Island in the Sandullis’ small sailboat. Those were good times.

    After our family moved to Florida, we pretty much lost touch. However, a few months ago, Joe and I exchanged a couple of emails, and then Joe invited me to be part of a two-person book club to discuss the immigration novel American Dirt. When we had both finished the book, we met over the phone for a couple of hours. It was fun, and afterwards I looked for a sequel to propose. Unfortunately, before I had identified a candidate, I learned that he had passed away.

    I admired Joe a lot. Not only did he take on exploits, like rock climbing, that I would not come near, but he led his life with focus and determination that I could only envy. Moreover, I have come to believe, as I hope he believed himself, that in representing labor unions he was doing the lord’s work. We are all in his debt.

  7. I am sadden about the passing of Joe Sandulli he was a great lawyer and teacher. I have learned a lot in the time that I was with the union and about human nature. I do believe we will meet again in a better place and time God Speed my friend and God Bless.

  8. I first met Joe through his son Ben. We were in the same class together in 4th grade at Winthrop Elementary school. From then on, nearly every moment of the weekends and summers were spent doing something together, basically becoming surrogate family. Joe would always press in to view our shenanigans, and sometimes join in. When Ben unexpectedly passed, I got to see for the first and I guess only time Joe’s passion and measured ferocity as a lawyer in giving the eulogy for his son, something no one on Earth should ever have to do. Though nearly 30 years ago, I still vividly remember how he challenged hundreds of people (many of Ben’s classmates) in ways they likely had never been with the complexities of life. From that dark soil however grew a beautiful tree in which our families have remained deeply connected. Though moving around the country over the past 30 years, we gathered together nearly every holiday season and then some to share life as “extended” family. Joe and Chris have joyously entertained our 9 kids when we visit, and my kids know them by name and place. It has been a pleasure to count Joe among my father figures, and for my kids a grandfather figure. He will be deeply missed, but in a positive way, like remembering a great dinner conversation on a patio overlooking the river, playing cards by the fire, learning how to ride a horse, or build a castle out of hay bales. I’ll take all of those memories together gladly, as each one was impossible without the others.

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