He was young and inexperienced, had no investigator and usually was the only prosecutor in the courtroom. It was trial by fire, and literally in at least one case.
“During one DUI trial there was a fire in the building in the middle of the case,” Boyle recalls. “We had to evacuate the building while they put out the fire. Then we went back in the building and resumed the trial.”
Boyle, whose last day was May 1, can now visit his daughters in Tampa, Phoenix and Memphis, and his son in Knoxville whenever he wants since, as he notes, he’s finally on his own schedule for the first time since starting school as a youngster.
“It’s been a privilege and honor to represent the people of Shelby County for these 37-plus years,” says Boyle. “I will always be proud to tell people where I worked.”
His title was Administrative Assistant/Expungements, but he did much more.
“Mike not only accomplished great things -- but it also was the way he made decisions and solved problems that drew people to him,” said Dist. Atty. Gen. Amy Weirich. “His contribution reached far beyond our office. Judges, defense attorneys, clerks, law enforcement all relied on him when issues arose. ‘Call Mr. Boyle,’ was an often-heard phrase in the courts and offices here. People knew he would get the job done and would do so based on what was fair and just for all involved.”
Boyle grew up in Hendersonville, near Nashville, and attended the University of Tennessee at Knoxville where he majored in psychology, with a minor in philosophy. He then got his law degree at the University of Memphis. He really hadn’t thought of becoming a prosecutor.
“Back then, the TV shows were about defense attorneys, and nothing approached from the side of the prosecution,” he recalls. “Even in law school, the one class we had on criminal law was approached from the defense standpoint.”
When he finished school, a contact in the City Attorney’s Office helped jumpstart his career as a prosecutor.
“It was a judge who actually hired me when Memphis got a federal grant to handle all the DUI cases in the city,” Boyle says with a laugh. “It wasn’t my plan from the beginning to be a prosecutor, but it’s just how it wound up and it’s been a great career.”
Several years later, about the time the Criminal Justice Center opened at 201 Poplar, he moved to the District Attorney’s Office which became home for the next 38 years. (Boyle began his final office email with “Greetings from Survivor Island – Basement Edition.”)
Boyle has worked for four DA’s, also including Hugh Stanton, John Pierotti and Bill Gibbons. His experience and even-tempered demeanor made him a logical choice for a promotion to supervisor under Pierotti.
“I suppose my psychology degree helped in knowing how to work with people and, as a supervisor, to see the other side of something,” he says. “I was able to get along with most people, even defense attorneys on the other side of a case. In trial you get a little competitive and judges on occasion have told me to direct my comments to the court instead of arguing directly with the defense attorney.”
Boyle recalls a group of protestors who were charged with obstructing a roadway at a refinery whose misdemeanor cases involved numerous settings and media attention. “I finally told one defense attorney that if they’re real protestors they can plead guilty and get a merit badge,” he says. “It could say ‘I was prosecuted for protesting.’”
Boyle has seen many changes in the criminal justice system in his four decades, including ballooning caseloads with more gangs and violent crime, but there’s been a change on the other end of that spectrum as well.
"What stands out about my career at this point is the work I did on expungements the last few years,” he says. “Our office assisted almost 1,000 people in getting relatively minor charges expunged. I talked to all of them directly – they don’t need an attorney – and I really got to appreciate how important that was to a lot of people. They were able to get a job or get a better job. That’s a little different role for a prosecutor. I’d tell some of our prosecutors ‘You’re prosecuting and I’m expunging.’”
Boyle also is encouraged by the team of prosecutors he is leaving at 201.
“I think the biggest change from 40 years ago is the number of young people who come to our office as interns, with no pay, and sometimes even a couple years,” he says. “Their interest, dedication and enthusiasm for doing the good work that they do is really impressive. For a lot of them it’s public service and that’s why they go to law school. They’re going to be the lifeblood of the office.
“They have a heavy workload and it’s important work, but I tell them that whenever possible, have fun. Almost every day there’s a case with unusual facts or something unexpected happens in court. Like in a hospital, bad things may happen, but there still are things you can smile about. After all, you’re dealing with human beings, not widgets.”