Participating in the Process Means Commenting on SJC Rules Changes

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the highest appellate court in Massachusetts, renders about 200 written decisions each year and the single justices decide another 600 more cases.  The SJC has general superintendence powers over the judiciary and the bar, and in certain cases will provide advisory opinions to the Governor and the General Court.  The SJC also promulgates rules for the operations of all the state courts.

Court rules are so numerous that in order to effectively review them, the SJC has put together several committees to examine issues and proposals that effect court rules.  Two of them – the Standing Advisory Committee on Rules of Civil Procedure and the Standing Advisory Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure – are currently reviewing rules and report to the SJC’s Rules Committee.  This is where the BBA comes in.

Feedback from the bar on the practical implications of rules changes is important.  And our Sections provide a useful vehicle in which to discuss proposed amendments or changes to such things like procedural rules.

The BBA’s comments to the courts reflect our membership and their various practice areas.  Two recent examples of comments submitted to the SJC are the Criminal Law Section’s comment on the Model Jury Instructions and the proposed amendments to Rule 12 and 29 of the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Our Criminal Law Section has over 600 members and its Steering Committee is a group of 30 attorneys including both prosecutors and defense counsel with a wide range of criminal law practices.  This means that veteran criminal law attorneys get an opportunity to review rule changes and provide comments, suggestions, feedback and at times even anecdotes from their own experiences to the SJC.

The BBA process that resulted in comments to the SJC on the proposed amendments to Rule 12 and 29 included discussion at a steering committee meeting several months ago.  Input was solicited from other veteran criminal lawyers in the district courts.  After discussion at the Steering Committee, the comments were synthesized into one document that was sent over to the SJC on Monday.

Consensus isn’t the goal – and often not possible – when we provide comments to the courts.  What we are really trying to provide to the courts are practical recommendations that will assist in adding clarity to proposed amendments or rules changes.

As often happens in the Criminal Law Section there are areas of agreement and areas where there will most likely never be agreement.  However, the reasoning and the explanations for such differing views is still very useful the courts.

The Standing Advisory Committee will review all comments pertaining to the issues raised by their proposed changes to Rule 12 and 29.  Ultimately the Committee will make a recommendation to the SJC.  Thanks to our members’ hard work and professional expertise the BBA had an opportunity to play an important role in the process.

- Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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