Tag Archives: Courts

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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Reader Comments Re: Reduced Court Hours Miss the Mark

On Tuesday, the Supreme Judicial Court announced that it will reduce public office hours for 38 courthouses across the state starting September 19th.  The scheduling of court sessions will not be affected by the changes in office hours and access will be available for cases of the greatest urgency.

Kyle Cheney’s story on this subject ran in the Boston Globe on Wednesday, generating reader comments that reveal gross misperceptions about the work going on in our courthouses each day.

The court system is a sitting duck for attacks because it has no natural constituency, unlike the other branches of government, and because most of the public’s interaction with the courts stems from a negative life experience.  “Before the courts stage there (sic) work slowdown over budget cuts somebody ought to do a time study of what the court workers really do especially the judges,” wrote seen-it-all. “No money should be restored until the waste and fat is trimmed. Stop your whining!!!!!!”

What waste and fat?  The courts are in full triage mode.  Every day 42,000 people access our courts.  At last count, the number of Trial Court employees was down 1,167 people, a 15 percent reduction in staff since 2007.  In combination with budget reductions of $85 million over three fiscal years, the result has been a hiring freeze, work furloughs and an exhaustive reduction in non-personnel expenditures.  Cuts have been made everywhere, as the courts have been forced to use an ax in place of a scalpel. Courthouses have been consolidated, judges have asked for a moratorium on judicial appointments and plans for court relocations have been announced.

Another reader commented as if the recent announcement is nothing more than a political ploy: “Let the games i.e. posturing begin.  Cut my budget we’ll cut back hours and penalize everyone like a petulant child,” wrote XENOPHONIC.  The truth is that our state courts are staffed at levels well below national standards and there are just not enough employees to keep up with the caseload.

Our courts are hurting and the people who need access to them the most have been hit hardest. Ill-informed comments about our state courts do not help the cause.  Facts and figures are important, but numbers can only tell part of the story.  It is essential that we consider the real life anecdotes about the effect of the cuts on real people. We understand the financial situation facing the Commonwealth, but while cutting the state court budget may seem inconsequential to some people, it endangers the basic constitutional rights of Massachusetts citizens.  This cannot continue without disastrous consequences for the administration of justice.

 

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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Cash-Strapped Courts Cut Again

How any organization can absorb almost $100 million in cuts to its funding over a period of three years seems unfathomable.  But, we’re not talking about just any organization here.  We’re talking about the branch of government responsible for interpreting and enforcing the laws of our Commonwealth.

Earlier this week, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick Ireland and Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert Mulligan issued a joint statement responding to the Judiciary’s Fiscal Year 2012 appropriation.  Describing the impact that the state budget will have on court operations, the statement included a list of eleven potential courthouse relocations.  The Chief Justices also asked Governor Patrick to stop appointing Trial Court judges for FY12, citing that for each new judge appointed, three members of the court’s staff will have to be laid off.

The issue of adequate funding for the state courts is not new.  The Judiciary has responded admirably to the fiscal pressures of the past three years, but it cannot absorb any more reductions without undermining its constitutional obligation to protect the safety and welfare of our citizens.

If the court consolidations as outlined by Chief Justice Ireland and Chief Justice Mulligan become a reality, there will be undeniable economic and social consequences.  Courthouses are hubs for local businesses that thrive on the thousands of people who use Massachusetts’ courts every day.  Inexorably tied to their surrounding communities, courthouses often harness the power of the justice system to address local problems.  They form creative partnerships and relationships with residents, merchants, churches, schools, and community groups.

Relocating and consolidating courts can also present serious accessibility and public safety issues.  This will mean some people will no longer have access to public transportation even to appear in court.  Court relocations will require litigants to take more time off from work just to settle disputes.

We cannot continue to cut the Judiciary’s budget and expect our court system to deliver the same standard of justice to which we have become accustomed.  It is our responsibility – as lawmakers, judges, and citizens of the Commonwealth – to work together to ensure that justice continue to prevail in Massachusetts.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

BostonBar Association

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The House Ways and Means Budget Is Out. Now What?

We have our work cut out for us. While casino gambling dominates the headlines and a veto-proof Casino bill moves to the Senate, the House prepares to debate the $27.8 billion budget released by House Ways & Means Chairman Charley Murphy yesterday. That debate is scheduled to begin on Monday April 26th

Here’s what worries us. As a report released last month by the Boston Bar Association Task Force on the FY2011 Judiciary Budget, our courts are operating on the margins. And as Joan Lukey, the Chair of that Task Force told Neighborhood Network News’ Chris Lovett a few weeks ago, we hope it doesn’t take a tragedy to demonstrate the need for adequate funding of our state courts. Needless to say, what’s at stake is nothing less than public safety and timely access to justice for everyone – including a lot of people in dire straits.

 The budget released yesterday provides cold comfort for our state courts. Alas the Massachusetts Trial Court budget took a hit to the tune of $36.7 million. Given the court’s maintenance request of $565.8 million, the House Ways & Means proposed budget of $529.1 million will undoubtedly curtail access to justice at a time when the Commonwealth can least afford it.

 We certainly appreciate the fact that House Ways & Means remains dedicated to the importance of civil legal aid for poor people – allocating $9.5 million (level funding) to the line item for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation – we need to continue to remind the Senate of the importance of level funding for legal aid. Just in case you’ve been out of the loop, the need for legal aid has increased as legal resources have plummeted.

While MLAC and also District Attorneys’ offices were level funded, the Committee for Public Counsel Services was funded at $192 million, or about $18 million less than their request for Fiscal Year 2011.

We will continue to keep a watchful eye on activities in the House while working to press the importance of adequate funding for state courts, civil legal aid, and CPCS in the Senate. 

– Kathleen M. Joyce

  Government Relations Director

  Boston Bar Association

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