Tag Archives: court funding

Having an Impact: Lessons From the BBA Leadership Retreat

In late October, the BBA held its annual leadership retreat and we were delighted with the results.  The weekend began with a panel discussion entitled “Having an Impact: The Constitution, the Daily Mechanics of Government, and You.”  It featured four panelists discussing the Massachusetts Constitution, perceptions versus realities in the operation of our state government related to judicial funding, and brainstorming ways lawyers can make a difference by working within this system.

BBA President Paul Dacier, who is known to carry around a copy of the state constitution, served as a spirited moderator.  Navjeet K. Bal, former Commissioner of Revenue and current member of Nixon Peabody’s Public Finance Group, brought her extensive budgeting knowledge and the perspective of the executive branch.  We learned about the judicial branch’s perspective from retired Judge John C. Cratsley, who served 33 years on the bench including as Regional Administrative Judge in Suffolk and Norfolk Counties.  Robert J. McCarron, Vice President for State Relations and General Counsel for the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts and former Director of Legal Affairs for the Massachusetts House Committee on Ways and Means, brought the perspective of the legislative branch.  New England Law Boston Professor, Lawrence Friedman, rounded out the panel with his expertise on the state and federal constitutions.

The panelists revealed the inner workings of the budget process in Massachusetts – the massive pieces of the pie consumed by health care and education, the zero-sum-game position of the parties involved, and the importance for funds-seekers to build relationships with government leaders and give comprehensive reporting on their plans and achievements.  The conversation touched on the constitution, the structure and process of government, the role of politics, and the human elements inherent in the Commonwealth’s budgeting process.

In the afternoon, the BBA leaders split into four discussion groups to reflect on the morning panel, explore the issues of court funding and consider their own potential for involvement in the government budgeting process.  It was eye-opening to observe the idea-making process at work.  On Sunday morning, the groups came together to reflect and share their experiences.  We are still sifting through all of the thoughts and ideas and hope to emerge with some innovative solutions and new approaches for ways to advocate for adequate court funding.

While there will never be a quick-fix for improving judicial funding, the BBA’s leaders are committed to securing sufficient funding for the Commonwealth’s judiciary.  One thing is for sure, it begins with engagement in the political process and relationship-building with our legislators.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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2012 Public Policy by the Numbers

2012 was a productive year for the BBA, and Issue Spot would like to look back on the numbers.

2 Amicus Briefs – The BBA filed amicus briefs in Rachel A. Bird Anderson v. BNY Mellon, N.A. trustee and others and Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.  The SJC referenced the BBA’s Bird brief in its decision this summer.  The BBA recruited 38 law firms, companies and organizations to join our Fisher brief and was one of 71 amici to file briefs in the high profile case.

2 Court Standing Orders – The Boston Municipal Court made permanent a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) sealing order and the Supreme Judicial Court instituted a pro hac vice admission fee which yielded $49,000 in the first quarter it was collected. Both standing orders were endorsed by the BBA.

7 Laws Took Effect – Seven pieces of legislation the BBA supported took effect in 2012.

 700 Attorneys Attended Walk to the Hill – Lawyers from across Massachusetts filled the State House for the 13th annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid.  More than 50 law firms and organizations were represented.

100+ Lawyers Attended Court Advocacy Day – More than 100 attorneys trekked to the State House to show support for adequate court funding.

2012 was a successful year and we are committed to topping these numbers for 2013.  We still have unfinished business in the Massachusetts Legislature. There are also emerging federal issues we are preparing to tackle.  But as 2012 wraps up, we have much to celebrate.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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Breaking it Down, Knowing the Facts, Simplifying our Message

Earlier this week, the Legislature kicked off the Fiscal Year 2014 budget season with the Consensus Revenue Hearing.  This annual hearing came on the heels of last week’s announcement that there is a $540 million budget shortfall for the current fiscal year – Fiscal Year 2013.  The goal of the Consensus Revenue Hearing is to gather information from experts and economists who opine on the local impact of national economic trends.  This information is then used to come up with an actual consensus revenue budget number.  The consensus revenue budget number represents the level of spending agreed upon by the Governor, the Speaker and the Senate President, and is then used as the basis for the budgets proposed by the three branches.

It’s important that the consensus revenue process – and the ultimate consensus revenue number – is supported by outside experts.  The public needs to know that our state budget is grounded in facts and reason and not politics.

At the BBA, we’ve already been talking about the FY14 budget for weeks now.  As we do each year, we continue to meet with the leaders of the Judiciary to gather facts about the current state of our Massachusetts’ courts.  What we are learning from these meeting we are using – and will continue to use – to persuade legislative leaders that the entire justice system is underfunded.  All signals from the state on the budget front still point to things looking bleak.

Take a look at what our partners at the Equal Justice Coalition have been working on as they ramp up efforts for the FY14 budget.  They’ve prepared persuasive arguments that demonstrate the need for an increase in the state appropriation for legal services.  This week, the EJC released its latest fact sheet detailing the daunting financial burden placed on civil legal services organizations.  The fact sheet also shows how state money invested in civil legal services brings in new federal revenue and ultimately saves money for Massachusetts.

Our lawyers get it.  They understand the benefits associated with funding civil legal services programs and a lot of our lawmakers do too.  But as lawyers and constituents we need to make sure our legislators really get it.  Some legislators may not be as familiar with exactly how these civil legal service programs can help their constituents.

Check out the EJC’s clear and simple message contained in the FY14 Legislative Campaign Talking Points for the Private Bar also released this week.   It’s straightforward, hits the highpoints and also provides additional facts to back up the argument that an increase in civil legal aid for FY 14 is smart and a win-win for everyone.  The talking points provide lawyer-constituents with the necessary information to give a quick, concise pitch to their legislators for increased funding for legal aid.  The goal is to make sure that legislators understand the benefits of funding legal aid for their constituents, support it, and most importantly include an increase in funding for civil legal aid as one of their budget priorities when the time comes to discuss their own budget priorities with leadership.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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The 9C Process Has Begun

This week, the administration began the dreaded 9C process. Governor Patrick announced that Secretary of Administration and Finance Gonzalez has informed him – pursuant to Section 9C of Chapter 29 of the Massachusetts General Laws – of a budget shortfall of $540 million for Fiscal Year 2013.  If projected revenues are insufficient to meet authorized spending, Section 9C states that the Secretary must notify the Governor within 5 days.  The Governor must then propose a revised spending plan, increase revenues or both.

Technically 9C cuts – reductions made by the Governor under Section 9C – can be announced at any time it is determined that actual revenue will fall short of revenue estimates.  But there are also specific times – October 15, January 15 and April 15 of each year – when the Secretary is required to provide updates on revenue estimates to the Governor and Legislature.

By statute, 9C cuts are limited to accounts that fall under the control of the Governor, and which do not provide direct local aid. In a good illustration of the importance of separation of powers, the Governor’s 9C power cannot be used to cut the Judiciary, the Legislature, or other constitutional offices.  If he wants to expand his 9C powers into other areas of government, the Governor needs to file legislation – which he filed along with his budget reduction recommendations this week.

The administration’s plan proposes 1% reductions across the board – except for education funding – and would withdraw $200 million from the state’s rainy day fund.  The Governor called the cuts relatively modest and said he filed for expanded 9C powers because he wants to spread the pain.

Governor Patrick made a point of saying that it will be hard for the Judiciary to find areas from which to cut 1% of their budget since they are already underfunded.  Hard is an understatement.  The Judiciary is the branch of government left to make desperately necessary and often unpopular decisions when no other has the political appetite to act.  The Judiciary provides essential protections against abuse of government power. Despite the importance of the judiciary as a branch of government that should be free from interference by the executive or legislative branches, the judiciary has already shouldered a dramatically disproportionate share of crippling cuts over the last few budget cycles.

As part of court reform legislation passed in 2011, several months ago the Judiciary named Harry Spence as their first ever civilian court administrator.  The administration should let him take the lead in helping the Trial Court get back on sound economic footing.

The 2011 court reform legislation was intended to ensure that the Trial Court, under the management of the Court Administrator, would be able to manage its own budget more effectively. In making a grab for 9c powers over the judiciary, it seems like the administration is trying to take the very tools – the money and resources – away from the Judiciary when it desperately needs every single dollar.  Doesn’t the administration realize the judiciary has been operating under the pressures of hiring freezes and job furloughs for far too long?  Enough is enough.  Further cuts are simply not sustainable.

In the end we’re not at all convinced that cutting 1% of the Judiciary’s budget is going to have a real effect on a $540 million shortfall.  The proposed 1% cut will, however, have a real and resounding effect on the people that are working hard in our courts every day and on the people of Massachusetts – both private citizens and corporate citizens – that need access to our courts every single day.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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Taking Advocacy on the Road

This year we’d like to take our advocacy on the road and actually visit courts throughout Massachusetts with our state legislators. BBA President J.D. Smeallie hopes to start with the court closest to his home – Salem District Court – accompanied by his state representative and state senator.  Currently, J.D.’s district is represented by State Representative Jerry Parisella – a lawyer legislator – and outgoing State Senator Fred Barry. (Running to replace Senator Barry are Joan Lovely, an attorney and Salem City Council President, and Richard Jolitz, a paramedic and dispatcher.)

Here’s why: The BBA wants the opportunity to ask questions, share concerns and ideas on a friendly, informal basis with judges and legislators at the same time. The visits may also be a tutorial on how particular courts operate and the role they play in the lives of their constituents.

We want legislators to be able to experience in person the volume and complexity of judges’ work and to see how our courts have been faring during the last few years of fiscal uncertainty. We hope to create a shared understanding between these two co-equal branches of government about the need for adequate funding of our justice system.

Salem District Court is just the starting point. Enlisting our bar leaders, we plan to invite legislators to join us on visits to a number of other courts serving the communities in which our leaders live.

So despite the perception that the Legislature is dominated by lawyers, the numbers tell a different story. As of right now we have 54 lawyer legislators; 42 in the House and 12 in the Senate. Considering the House has a total of 160 members and the Senate a total of 40, the number of lawyer legislators is relatively small.

With Election Day less than one month away, these numbers could shift. We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: The BBA is a nonpartisan organization, and we do not endorse parties or candidates.

However, we are keenly interested in the makeup of the Massachusetts Legislature, and the impact that has on court funding. As the number of lawyers in the legislature declines, it is incumbent on us to help frame the debate in terms of the important role courts play in the lives of constituents.

Advocating for our state courts is one of the BBA’s top priorities. We’ve done it in the past (see our work on Court Advocacy Day and our report on the court’s budget) and we’ve done it well. But this is a permanent campaign requiring that we continue our advocacy efforts.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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State House Happenings

Today, May 17th, marks the day that Massachusetts joins the 48 other states that provide post-conviction access to DNA and testing.  Getting to this point has been a long time coming as bills providing for such testing have been filed for years in the legislature.  The BBA’s involvement began in 2008 with the formation of the Task Force to Improve the Accuracy and Reliability of the Criminal Justice System.  Since then, the BBA and our partners have been working on this issue and we’re pleased that the standard now in Massachusetts will be a statutory right for a defendant to obtain access to forensic and scientific evidence in their case.  To read more about the new law check out this article by Professor David Siegel of New England Law | Boston and Gregory Massing, Executive Director of the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy.

Come on Oklahoma, make it 50 for 50!

*    *     *

Yesterday, May 16th, the Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Committee released its proposed budget.  Senators have until Friday, May 18th to file any amendments either on behalf of themselves or their constituencies.  The full Senate will debate the budget beginning the week of May 23rd.

The BBA views funding for the justice system as more than just the sum of its parts.  From our vantage point, adequate funding is a fundamental challenge facing the entire justice system – Committee for Public Counsel Services, District Attorneys, civil legal services providers and our state courts.  As we continue to look at the needs of the entire system and exactly what is needed to serve the people of the Commonwealth who rely on the justice system every day, we will keep a watchful eye on what happens in the Senate next week.

While the salaries for assistant district attorneys are still abysmally low, D.A.’s fared marginally better in the Senate budget proposal than they did in the House.  Below is a closer look at the other pieces of the justice system’s budget – the Trial Court, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation and CPCS:

The Massachusetts Trial Court – The Trial Court’s request for FY13 was $593.9 million

  • Senate budget proposal – $561.9 million
  • House budget – $560.9 million
  • Governor’s budget – $429.7 million (moved the Probation Department to the Executive Branch)

* The Trial Court estimates that the Governor’s budget for the Trial Court with the Probation Department included would be $568 million

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation – MLAC’s request for FY13 was $14.5 million

  • Senate budget proposal – $11 million
  • House budget – $12 million
  • Governor’s budget – $12 million

Committee for Public Counsel Service – CPCS’s request for FY 13 was $186.4 million.

  • Senate budget proposal – $162.4 million.  Neither the Senate Ways and Means budget proposal nor the House budget includes a mandated staff expansion that the Governor’s budget proposed.
  • House budget: $162.6 million
  • Governor’s budget: $164. 5 million – proposes a CPCS expansion increasing the 25% staff model to a 50% staff model to handle indigent criminal cases.

We urge you to call or email your state senator (if you don’t know who your state senator is, look it up here).  Ask your state senator to co-sponsor and support Senator Creem’s amendment to increase the MLAC line item to $14.5 million.  Also, ask your state senator to urge Senate President Murray and Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee Brewer to support Senator Creem’s amendment.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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The Low Down on Judicial Salaries

Next Wednesday, May 16th, the Massachusetts Senate will release its proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget.  The Senate debate on the budget will begin the week of May 21st and the BBA is still pressing for more money for our justice system – in particular for our state courts and for civil legal aid.  The need for increased funding and the impact of an inadequately funded judiciary have been described most recently here and here.  Fundamental to the administration of justice – and an important piece of the justice system puzzle – is the full and fair compensation of our state court judges.  Being able to recruit and retain the highest caliber of judges is an integral part of our ability to provide the highest quality of service to all people who use our courts.

While we appreciate the gravity of the current economic conditions, especially when it comes to the state budget, it’s of serious concern that salaries for Massachusetts trial court judges rank 47th in the country.

Some sobering facts…

  • The last salary increase for Massachusetts state court judges was in 2006.  The previous salary increase was in 2000.
  • In 2008, Governor Patrick appointed the Advisory Board on Compensation, now known as the Guzzi Commission, to study the adequacy of compensation of high-level officials in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state government.  The Guzzi Commission’s recommendations included a salary increase for judges indexed to the Consumer Price Index for Urban Workers for the Northeast Region.
  • The National Center for State Courts released its latest Survey of Judicial Salaries in July 2011 with alarming news for Massachusetts.  The report found that Massachusetts judges’ salaries ranked in the bottom half nationally for judges in the highest court, appellate court and trial court.  With cost of living adjustments, Massachusetts Trial Court judges’ salaries rank 47th in the U.S.

The BBA has been looking at this issue for more than twenty years, and this issue has come into focus again with legislation that has been filed by Representative Ellen StoryH 2265, An Act relative to the compensation of judicial officers and cost of living adjustments, would provide our state court judges with adequate salaries and a mechanism for keeping them consistent with the cost of living.

In 1992 the BBA’s Committee on Judicial Compensation issued a report, A Call for Continued Excellence: Fair Compensation for Our Judges and Judicial Employees, concluding that by almost every relevant statistical measure, compensation levels for judicial system employees are inadequate.  The Report went on to say that the inadequacies in compensation levels have a negative impact on the ability to retain experienced judges and court personnel, efforts to recruit qualified candidates and morale of court personnel.  The Report also recommended that a permanent mechanism be established whereby judicial salaries would be indexed to the inflation rate or to cost of living increases.

The BBA revisited the issue in 2000.  That group’s report, Judicial Salaries in Massachusetts, concluded that judges in Massachusetts remain under compensated compared to judges in other states, the federal system and to junior attorneys.

H 2265 is consistent with the principles that the BBA supports on this issue: adequate compensation of judges and the institution of a permanent mechanism that makes annual adjustments to reflect cost of living increases.  These things are fundamental to the administration of justice and need to remain a high priority regardless of the economic straits of the Commonwealth.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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