Northampton attorney and prominent community member Ed Etheredge, who helped NETA dispensary find its location, retires from law after nearly 50 years [masslive.com]
Edward D. Etheredge sat down and peered into his bookshelf. The books detailed Massachusetts court proceedings that date back to the 1970s, however, they meant something more to him. Chapters from his nearly 50-year career practicing law were inscribed inside those pages; he reflects as he prepares to hang up his briefcase.
Etheredge witnessed the legal landscape evolve over the years with the introduction of new technologies, social precedents and historic nominations.
His career began not too long after America inducted its first Black male Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, and his final court proceedings end following America’s induction of the first Black female Supreme Court Justice, Kentaji Brown Jackson.
Etheredge assisted Northampton blossom into the bustling local local-business hub it is today. He has represented Smith College for decades and was involved in the legal zoning regulation for many prominent Northampton locations, including NETA Northampton and the Northampton Athletic Club.
Etheredge said he doesn’t want the Northampton community to remember him as a lawyer.
“It’s sort of inconsequential to me,” said Etheredge. “I just want to be remembered as a good person.”
After finishing his service in the U.S. Air Force in 1970 Etherdge enrolled in Case Western Reserve University School of Law.
He graduated from the school in 1976 and began practicing law at a Northampton firm during the same year.
“Everyone was sort of a generalist back then. There weren’t specialists, you did a bit of everything,” he said.
Etheredge mostly handled civil litigation, criminal defense and banking work during his first years in law. Northwestern District Attorney W. Michael Ryan would later bring Etheredge on as Assistant District Attorney in the 1980s.
While working in the DA’s office Etheredge mostly tried insurance fraud cases. He most famously prosecuted a local Northampton jeweler who burned down a house and defrauded an insurance company.
He left the DA’s office after six years and started his own legal practice.
“I partnered with a fellow named Benjamin Barnes,” said Etheredge. “He took over the practice for Will Walsh who left to become a superior court judge. Ben was young and needed some experience so I took on a case right away.”
Etheredge’s first case at his co-run firm involved an owner of an equipment store formerly located at the 306 King St. plaza that now holds the Northampton Athletic Club. The man also owned the properties that now contain the Northampton Fire Department as well as the Stop & Shop plaza.
The city’s drainage system was flooding the properties with wastewater backup and the store owner filed a suit to have the city of Northampton clean up the spill.
“We had a jury trial and the jury gave them $400,000 for damages to the property,” Etheredge said. “We settled the case by donating some land to the city, which took care of the taxes on the $400,000 that was being paid.”
The city would go on to construct the Northampton Fire Department headquarters on one of the properties and sell the other property to Perry Messer, owner of the Northampton Athletic Club.
Etheredge continued his co-run practice, focusing mostly on land use, zoning and contract cases. He would eventually open an office inside the heart of Northampton’s downtown district at one of its main arteries on Gothic Street.
His practice strove to “demystify the legal system” and create an even playing field for its clients.
“If I were to walk around [Northampton], I would see a lot of things that I have not necessarily been responsible for but been a part of,” said Etheredge.
Walk around the Smith College campus and you’ll find Ford Hall — the college’s engineering facility — and Brown Fine Arts Center, Etheredge helped finalize the permits for both buildings.
Before NETA opened up the state’s first recreational cannabis dispensary in Northampton, Etheredge negotiated the site’s location with city officials.
“State law said that dispensaries can’t be within 500 feet from a school,” Etheredge said, adding he had to work with the city to determine what constituted a school.
The city originally considered any childcare facilities as a school. “Well, there’s childcare facilities all over the place, which meant the number of sites would be severely limited,” said Etheredge.
NETA was originally going to be built in Florence, Etheredge said the dispensary changed to its current location at 118 Conz St. after city officials reworked their childcare proximity ordinance.
Beyond legal litigation for some of Northampton’s most well-known sites and local businesses, Etheredge served as chairman for both Look Memorial Park and Cooley Dickinson Hospital boards.
“We built the new emergency room and OBGYN,” he said.
Etheredge merged his firm with Schwartz & Fentin in Springfield to handle any lingering cases or contracts after he retires.
“I hope the new firm becomes a part of Northampton’s fabric, too,” said Etheredge.
Etheredge plans to make time for the little things in life, the things he couldn’t truly savor while he was a full-time lawyer, “I spent Monday picking up all the branches and limbs and everything that had fallen in my yard over the course of the winter and burned them up.”
Etheredge said he and his wife plan on spending the majority of their retirement time with their family. “We have one daughter and one grandchild with another on the way. We can’t wait to spend more time with our grandchildren.”