Tag Archives: access to justice

Proposed Court Budget an Opportunity to Bring the Delivery of Justice into 21st Century

Massachusetts deserves a modern and efficient court system that provides justice in a fair and timely manner.  Unfortunately, we currently have an antiquated court system that impedes the delivery of justice.

Enter Harry Spence, the civilian Court Administrator appointed last April to bring a practical approach to the management of the Massachusetts State Courts. In 2013 the realities dictate that our court system be understood not just by lawyers, but by the public too.

No doubt we are still facing challenging economic times in Massachusetts.  But there will never be a time without tough choices to be made, and it’s time to turn the court’s challenges into opportunities for major improvement.  

At this week’s meeting of the Administration of Justice Steering Committee, Court Administrator Harry Spence detailed the Trial Court’s budget request for the upcoming fiscal year.  In addition to the Trial Court’s maintenance request of $589 million for the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, the Trial Court has presented the Legislature with a series of 6 modules, that if adopted and implemented, will most certainly modernize our justice system. 

Here’s a look at the 6 modules the Trial Court is proposing to the Legislature for consideration:

  • Module 1 – provides for an increase in judicial salaries.  Read more about judicial compensation in Massachusetts in Issue Spot.
  • Module 2 – restores public hours and brings all clerk and registers’ offices up to full time operation.  This would require backfilling 31 positions.  A list of the Courts that currently have reduced hours can be found here.
  • Module 3 – provides for more video conferencing.  Video conferencing is already commonplace in business and it should be in our court system.  This will save the Trial Court both transportation costs and time.
  • Module 4 – enhances security — including backfilling court officer jobs.  New equipment including metal detectors and x-ray machine. Sally ports for secure prisoner transport would also be purchased.   The safety of all users of the court needs to be taken seriously.
  • Module 5 – provides for much needed technology and telecommunications enhancements.  This will reduce costs and increase efficiency and includes system upgrades and a pilot program to create a central call center at the Boston Municipal Court which is estimated to reduce calls to Clerks’ Offices by 75%.
  • Module 6 – adds 20 additional Drug Courts statewide.  It has been proven that drug courts, when operated pursuant to recommended standards, reduce recidivism.

Court Administrator Harry Spence talked about other modernization initiatives that are already underway including an Extended Court Hours Pilot set to begin on February 26th.  There is an e-filing pilot beginning this spring.   The courts are also adding enhancements like e-filing technology, electronic case management, intelligent document and data capture and even secure mobile access.  The Court’s Strategic Plan is on schedule to be complete by June 30th.  Court Service Centers at three to four locations are to begin by July 1st as a pilot program.

The Trial Court’s maintenance budget request, as well as the series of modules, needs to be looked at as an investment in the future of our state courts.  Good and sound investments in our justice system will be felt overwhelmingly by the individuals and businesses whose use our courts every day.   


– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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BMC CORI Sealing Order Preserves Access to Justice

In May, Chief Justice Charles Johnson of the Boston Municipal Court (BMC) signed BMC Standing Order 1-09, as a permanent order.  The BBA received a grateful letter from Chief Justice Johnson once he had made the Order permanent.  The Order is an excellent example of how the courts are continuing to identify ways to make the public’s experience with the judicial system easier and more efficient.

Standing Order 1-09 permits the sealing of three or more dismissals and non-conviction criminal records from two or more court divisions of the BMC.  The proposal – and now the permanent Standing Order – would apply to dismissals without probationary terms, nolle prosequi or a not guilty finding.  In 2009, Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) proposed creating a procedure for interdepartmental determinations of motions to seal criminal records.  That year, GBLS brought this proposal to the attention of our Delivery of Legal Services Section and the BBA Council for the BBA’s support.  It was a no-brainer.  Since then the BBA has been working with Chief Justice Johnson’s office and urging the court to adopt the Order.  This started out as a one year pilot program and was extended twice before being made permanent in May.

So how does Standing Order 1-09 actually affect real people?  Here’s just one example…Imagine Jane Doe who lives in Roxbury has 6 charges that can be sealed in 4 divisions of the BMC – Dorchester, Roxbury, South Boston and Brighton.  She can file a single petition in the Roxbury division of the BMC to seal all her eligible BMC cases.  This means she can avoid paying a babysitter, save on bus and subway fares, and doesn’t have to lose hours at her minimum wage, part-time, graveyard shift job at a nursing home. Jane is stuck in this job that provides no vacation days because of her Criminal Offender Record Information and lives paycheck to paycheck.

Standing Order 1-09 allows multiple motions from different districts to be heard in one of the courts with jurisdiction over a case to be sealed.  This saves people like Jane Doe a great deal of time, energy and money, as well as giving people peace of mind.

Prior to Standing Order 1-09, the sealing process was cumbersome at best.  In addition to needing to travel to each district to have a record sealed, the former statute required two hearings before any individual motion to seal could be decided.  That meant that individuals would have to travel to each court twice to have the motion decided.

Thanks to GBLS for bringing this to our attention.  This was unnecessary and was not the best use of the court’s time and resources.  Many people seeking to seal their records are indigent and cannot afford a lawyer.  The BMC’s – thank you, Chief Justice Johnson– willingness to implement this innovative approach to case management and access to justice is to be commended.  This Standing Order promotes judicial efficiency and will save pro bono, legal services and other attorneys many hours of time, thereby permitting them to help more indigent clients.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
Comments are disabled for this blog. To submit your comments please e-mail issuespot@bostonbar.org


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