Ambassador to Portugal: Who Is Robert Sherman?
The next ambassador to the Iberian nation of Portugal will probably be Boston attorney and Obama donor Robert A. Sherman, whom the president nominated for the post on July 25. If confirmed by the Senate as expected, Sherman would succeed Allan Katz, who has served in sunny Lisbon since 2010.
Born in 1953, Robert Sherman earned a B.A. in Political Science at the University of Rochester in 1975 and a J.D. at Boston University School of Law in 1978.
In private practice at a small Boston firm during the 1980s, Sherman took on and won a pro bono case that remains controversial to this day. His clients were parents of severely mentally disabled teens who were students at the Behavior Research Institute (now the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center), which made extensive use of “aversive therapy,” including electric shock and withholding of food, in its treatment and in responding to bad behavior. The parents, however, were suing the state of Massachusetts for ordering the school to cease the use of aversive methods, arguing that their children had a right to “effective treatment,” even it offended the sensibilities of lawmakers. The Association for Behavior Analysis, which generally supports aversive therapy, gave Sherman a “Humanitarian Award for the Right to Effective Treatment” in 1987 for his work on the case.
Aversive methods are highly controversial, and a series of public scandals regarding the use of electric shock resulted in the school being reported to and investigated by the United Nations for torture—twice. In October 2011, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed an order barring the center from using electric shocks with any new students.
Leaving private practice for a few years, from 1991 to 1993 Sherman served as assistant attorney general of Massachusetts and chief of the state Consumer Protection Division, a then-45-person organization enforcing state laws protecting consumers. He then spent 1993 as a special counsel for the state attorney general, responsible for federal and multistate initiatives of the Attorney General’s office.
Back in private practice, Sherman worked at the law firm of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC, from 1994 to 1999, starting as special counsel and rising to partner. In 1999, he left Eckert Seamans to co-found the Boston office of the large Miami-based law firm of Greenberg Traurig, where he was co-managing shareholder from 1999 to 2008, focusing his practice on government investigations and litigation, internal corporate investigations, and consumer protection and class action defense.
From 2002 to 2004, Sherman became well-known for acting as co-lead counsel for hundreds of people suing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston for sexual abuse by priests that was covered up by the Church. Plaintiffs were awarded what was at the time the largest single amount ever in a case of clergy sexual abuse.
A lifelong Democrat, Sherman has donated more than $80,000 to Democratic candidates and organizations, including $27,000 to the Democratic National Committee. He was a member of Obama for America and served on its national finance committee, raising at least $500,000 for Obama.
In January 2013, President Obama appointed Sherman to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.
Sherman has served as a board member of the Children’s Trust Fund, as co-chair of the Boston Arts Academy Annual Gala Benefit, co-chair of the Boston CURE Gala for the Epilepsy Foundation, and as a member of the board of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
To Learn More:
31 Shocks Later (by Jennifer Gonnerman, New York Magazine)
Judge Backs Discipline at Institute for Autistic (by Fox Butterfield, New York Times)
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