Tag Archives: Chief Justice Roderick Ireland

Press Conference for Chief Justice Nominee Ralph Gants

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Chief Justice Roderick Ireland: Modernization and Collaboration

With Chief Justice Roderick Ireland’s recent announcement of his July 25th retirement from the bench, we wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the momentous progress our courts have made during his time as the Chief Justice.  Chief Justice Ireland has left an indelible mark by expanding and enhancing the relationship between the judiciary and our state legislature. 

In 2010, Chief Justice Ireland became the first African-American Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court.  From the beginning, he worked closely with the legislature, building bridges and developing relationships that have become real friendships.  A testament to this relationship is obvious to any visitor at his Speaker DeLeo’s office.  Both men proudly display pictures of the two of them together in their respective offices.  

Chief Justice Ireland’s leadership has always been impressive, and the way he has reached out to court employees is truly remarkable.  During his tenure, he made a point of visiting courthouses to thank court employees for their hard work.  He has done more than just boost morale for court employees; Chief Justice Ireland has been committed to improving the court system for the average person while demystifying the entire courtroom experience.  

In 2011, working with Chief Justice Ireland, the legislature passed court reorganization legislation.  This law brought about the most comprehensive overhaul of the Massachusetts judiciary since the Court Reorganization Act of 1978.  It established the Office of Court Management under a newly created Court Administrator position who works in tandem with the Chief Justice of the Trial Court.  Shortly after its enactment, Paula Carey was named Chief Justice of the Trial Court and Harry Spence became the first Court Administrator for the Trial Court. 

The Courts have done well under Chief Justice Ireland and the legislature has remained supportive of the judiciary including a recent – and long overdue – pay raise last summer.  In his roughly three and one-half years as Chief Justice, Roderick Ireland has made a lasting impression on the judiciary and every person who uses our courts on a daily basis. 

His tireless efforts working with all branches of government have resulted in unprecedented reforms for the judiciary and lasting goodwill within the other branches of government, especially the legislature.  The Trial Court has emerged with a more streamlined and strong administrative structure, and judicial salaries are now more competitive than they have been in nearly a decade.  We are pleased to celebrate the remarkable accomplishments of Chief Justice Ireland and look forward to the next Chief Justice continuing his full government collaboration.

– Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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Harry Spence at the BBA Council: Infectious Optimism

This week, BBA President Paul Dacier and the BBA Council had the opportunity to meet with newly appointed Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence.  He was informative and enthusiastic about the trial court’s positive momentum. 

The court is improving on all levels.  From the macro-perspective, the court continues to cultivate its good relations with the other branches of government.  The last few years have resulted in stable budgets with modest increases.  This is due in large part to the tireless efforts of Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, who spends days at the legislature building relationships and the respect of lawmakers and key government leaders.  Spence believes that other branches of government have made a fundamental decision to give hands-off support to the courts, and that they won’t return to budget cuts and micromanagement. 

Spence is relishing his collaboration with new Chief Justice of the Trial Court, Paula Carey.  They are working hard to implement the steps and mission statement of the new Strategic Plan, to achieve “one mission with dignity and speed.”  The first changes will come in the areas of technology, specialty courts, and court service centers. 

Technology advances will change the way courts operate.  For example, the courts recently completed their online platform.  E-Filing will be available for a majority of criminal cases and a large amount of civil cases in the near future.  Smart phone apps will soon help streamline the court experience for attorneys.  In addition, the court is using other technological advances to overcome staff shortages such as upgrading the phone system in Boston Municipal Court to reduce calls to clerks’ offices and preserving documents digitally so they are infinitely smaller and easier to transport.

The court will also add and improve specialty courts.  These courts have proven effective at reducing incarceration and recidivism by increasing effective responses specially tailored to those suffering from problems such as addiction, homelessness, or veterans’ issues.  Despite initially being a leader in establishing specialty courts, the Commonwealth has lagged behind other states in their development.  Spence foresees a future where these courts work in collaboration with the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Public Health, and the Department of Veterans Services to maximize their impact.  They will be located in the areas most in need of their services and they will operate based on universal standards instilled through a mandatory certification and training process.  They will enhance efficiency by capitalizing on the expertise of clerks and judges, while at the same time sharing back room staffers to avoid the repetition of overhead expenses.  Furthermore, they will gather detailed data and undergo constant evaluation so their true value can be understood.

Finally, the court will implement service centers to help self-represented litigants.  This will take some strain off litigants and judges alike.  Pro se litigants can get the help they need to navigate the court system and judges will see better prepared parties.  Spence described visiting a Connecticut court with mandatory service centers where judges spoke of saving an estimated two to three hours daily thanks to this innovation.

Spence described an ambitious present and bright future for Massachusetts courts.  We at the BBA look forward to these advances and are confident the trial court can make it happen thanks to their new leadership team, strategic plan, and cooperation with other branches of government.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Catching Up . . . Have You Heard?

SJC Annual Address

Last Wednesday, Chief Justice Roderick Ireland gave his annual address at the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Bench-Bar Symposium at the John Adams Courthouse.  For the first time in a long time, the courts’ future looks bright.  Ireland spoke highly of the new leadership of Chief Justice Paula Carey and Court Administrator Harry Spence, as well as the Governor and legislators who approved a much needed judicial pay raise, the first in seven years.  The funding the Trial Court received will allow for some additional hiring to replace a handful of laid-off workers and has raised the morale of judges and clerks.  Furthermore, the court has returned to full hours and service in all clerks’ offices for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis.  Finally, the court is looking to the future with Ireland’s announcement that the SJC is working on an e-filing program.

Annie Dookhan Court Appearance

Last Friday, Annie Dookhan, the state chemist accused of tampering with and mishandling evidence, made an appearance in Suffolk Superior Court for a conference regarding a possible change of plea.  The night before, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office recommended a five to seven year sentence and five years of probation if Dookhan pleaded guilty.  

In December 2012, a grand jury indicted Dookhan on 17 counts of obstruction of justice, eight counts of tampering with evidence, and single counts of perjury and falsely claiming to hold a degree.  Without the plea, Dookhan could face a massive sentence – each of the 25 counts of obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence carry up to a 10 year state prison term.  The single perjury charge can result in up to 20 years of prison time, and lying about her degree could add another 2½ years.  She has pleaded not guilty and her attorney is asking for a sentence of one year or less.

The BBA’s Drug Lab Working Group met one more time recently and is preparing a report for BBA leadership on its conclusions in the coming months.

SCOTUS Death Penalty Case

Last Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in a capital punishment case, Kansas v. Cheever.  The defendant, Scott Cheever, admitted to fatally shooting Sheriff Matt Samuels in 2005.  He argued, however, that due to his methamphetamine usage, he was unable to meet the premeditation requirement needed for a murder conviction.  In a lower court, a psychiatrist testified on behalf of the defense substantiating this claim.  The prosecution countered with testimony from a government psychiatrist who examined Cheever under court orders.  The issue before the Supreme Court is whether the state violated the defendant’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination by rebutting his defense with evidence from the court-ordered mental evaluation.

In oral argument, a majority of the justices appeared to side with the prosecution.

The BBA’s Death Penalty Working Group met for the first time early this week.  They will reexamine the BBA’s positions, investigate the possible use of the death penalty in Massachusetts, and discuss the legal implications of its use in a federal case in the state, such as for the Marathon Bomber.  They will meet monthly through the beginning of 2014 and report to BBA leadership then.

EJC Walk to the Hill

We are pleased to report that the Equal Justice Coalition is hard at work planning this year’s Walk to the Hill event.  The event will take place on January 30, 2014 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Massachusetts State House.  On that day, hundreds of lawyers will meet at the statehouse to lobby their own lawmakers to protect state funding for programs providing civil legal aid to low income Massachusetts residents.  Stay tuned for more information about how you can get involved.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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