Tag Archives: judiciary

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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Sequestration to Solution

The term “budget sequestration” refers to automatic categorical federal spending cuts.  We are now seeing the immediate results of the sequestration enacted in the Budget Control Act of 2011 that kicked in on March 1, 2013.  The federal judiciary has been amongst the hardest hit.  Operating on an annual, nationwide $7 billion appropriation, less than 0.02% of the total federal budget, the courts have long been stretched thin.  However, with the latest sequestration resulting in a loss of about $350 million, roughly five percent of its budget, the courts are at their breaking point.  The cuts have resulted in mandatory furloughs, hiring freezes, the elimination of numerous positions, training cutbacks, decreases in courthouse security, and major budget hits for indigent defense providers.

This dire situation even prompted some judicial vigilantism when a New York District Court judge took matters into his own hands.  In United States v. Laron Spicer, Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. held that although jurors merited protection due to a defendant gang member’s record of witness tampering, he could only afford to keep their names secret.  He refused to provide them with any additional safeguards, citing the multi-million dollar price tag associated with sequestering a jury.

Ironically, the small immediate savings to the federal government are likely to cost taxpayers far more in the future.  According to a recent Brennan Center for Justice report, cuts to federal defender services are resulting in increases in the number of cases assigned to private counsel, which is ultimately more expensive for taxpayers.

We at the BBA are very sensitive to this issue.  We have long been at the forefront of advocating for indigent defense services and fair judicial funding.  Recently, BBA President Paul Dacier and BBA representatives have been meeting with both state and federal court judges in Massachusetts to listen to their concerns.  Dacier, who frequently quotes articles XXIX and XXX of the Massachusetts Constitution, is a strong proponent of fair funding and honorable salaries for the judicial branch and the preservation of three co-equal branches of government.  We know it will be an uphill climb to accomplish these goals, but we are committed to finding solutions.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Building Bridges Between the Statehouse and Courthouse

It’s been almost five years since the Massachusetts Trial Courts instituted a hiring freeze resulting in staff reductions, processing delays, personnel shortages, and strained clerk and registers offices.  It came as no surprise in September 2011 when the Trial Court announced that it was reducing public access to clerks and registers offices in an effort to deal with the impact of the freeze.

With clerks and registers offices closed at certain times, staff had the opportunity to prepare cases for court sessions and to complete case processing — including filing, docketing, and scanning.  The changes in public hours helped more than 30 court locations get back on track.  In some Probate and Family Courts, registry counter and phone hours were restricted after 3 p.m.  In Lawrence Probate and Family Court, the registry closed from 1-2 p.m. and in several district courts, counter and phone coverage was restricted.

This week, the Trial Court announced that all offices will return to a full schedule of public office hours as of September 3rd.  That is welcome news and reflects the court’s commitment to rethinking its operations without increasing its budget. 

With a capable management team led by Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula Carey and Court Administrator Harry Spence, the Trial Court is working to implement its recently approved strategic plan.  The plan focuses on increasing effectiveness and addresses the current and future needs of our judiciary as it continues to serve the people who use the courts each day.  Thanks to these and other steps, productive conversations about efficiency, effectiveness, and the administration of justice with legislators and lawyers are now moving forward.

Perhaps most importantly, these developments have built a bridge between the courthouse and the state house.  The judiciary will finally see its first salary increase in the last sixteen years thanks to recently enacted legislation.    

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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A Quick Look At the Legislative Committee Structure

Like it or not, bills essentially live and die in committees.  For the uninitiated, the Massachusetts legislature’s committee system is composed of joint committees, standing committees and conference committees.  Each committee has a specific jurisdiction covering particular types of subject matter.  For example, bills relating to criminal justice issues typically go to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, and those relating to the salaries and retirement of public employees are covered by the Joint Committee on Public Service. 

The process of a bill becoming law begins when a legislator files a proposal – often at the request of a constituent or a group like the BBA – with the respective clerk’s office.  It is a complicated process that includes some very basic steps: recording docket numbers in a book, assigning bill numbers, and printing the actual bill.  Eventually a bill finds its way to the relevant committee. 

The Massachusetts legislature has twenty-nine joint committees.  A joint committee has both a senate and house chair.  With the exception of the Joint Transportation Committee each joint committee has six senators and eleven representatives.  (The Joint Transportation Committee has seven senators and thirteen representatives.)

Each branch has separate standing committees limited to members from that branch.  For example, both the House and Senate each have their own committee on ways & means, post audit and oversight, and ethics and bonding. 

A conference committee comes into play only after the regular committee process has been completed.  This means that there has already been a public hearing but the House and Senate have passed different versions of the same bill.  Members from each branch are appointed to work on the conference committee.  The conference committee meets to hammer out an agreed upon or compromise version of the bill.  This compromise version must then return to both the House and Senate for final approval.

Almost all of the bills that the BBA works on in any given legislative session end up before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.  This legislative session, the Judiciary Committee is chaired by veteran House Chair Eugene L. O’Flaherty and new Senate Chair Katherine Clark. 

Now two months into the current two-year legislative session, bills have been filed and committee assignments have been made.  The House and Senate Clerks have already referred approximately 4,500 bills to their respective committees.  Staff is now reviewing those bills and hearings will be scheduled soon. 

Stayed tuned! Next week’s post will provide a closer look at the Judiciary Committee.

 

 – 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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One More Time…the Judiciary is a Separate Branch of Government and NOT a State Agency

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again:  The Judiciary is a separate and co-equal branch of government.  The other two branches are the Legislative and Executive branches and the purpose of this tripartite form of government is to prevent too much power from being amassed and brandished by any one branch.

When Governor Patrick filed a $30 million supplemental budget with the House of Representatives this week, we paused.  The $30 million supplemental budget request asks for money to cover the investigation and response costs for “state agencies and municipalities” associated with the state drug lab crisis.  The $30 million supplemental budget request refers to “state agencies and municipalities” four separate times.

So where do the costs to the Judiciary associated with the drug lab fit into all of this?  Nowhere in the supplemental budget document does the Governor refer to the costs the Judiciary is incurring due to the drug lab crisis.  We do know that the Governor meant well and is committed to addressing these costs to ensure justice and public safety.  We also know that the Governor did contemplate the costs to the Judiciary when he asked for $30 million to cover the costs from the drug lab mess.  But we’re left scratching our head as to why the Judiciary is being lumped into “state agencies and municipalities.”

The legislation even goes on to define “state agency” as “a state agency, board, bureau, department, division, section, or commission of the commonwealth.”  The Judiciary isn’t a department or a division of the commonwealth.  We’re saying it again – the Judiciary is a separate and co-equal branch of government.

Governor Patrick wants the supplemental money for the state drug lab to be appropriated into an account under the control of his Secretary of Administration and Finance.  The Governor wants his administration to be in charge of the various transfers to ensure that this extra money does indeed go to costs associated with addressing the drug lab fiasco.  But it appears that this scenario, at the very least, raises some important separation of powers issues.

It would be great to see the Legislature sign off on this $30 million request in a timely way, but the Legislature should be open to some friendly amendments that would allow the Judiciary to receive the state drug lab money directly.  This is simple.  The amendments should give the Judiciary the money they need to cover the costs from the drug lab while requiring them to provide a full accounting to the Legislature as to how the money is being spent.  We are confident that the Judiciary will cooperate and be fully transparent every single step of the way.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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Breaking Down Our Advocacy for the Trial Court

To date, we’ve met with the Chief Justices of every trial court department about conditions in their courts.  We’ve also met with Senate President Murray and Speaker DeLeo recently to discuss our concerns about inadequate funding for the state’s trial courts.  Now we’re preparing to go to the State House on March 19th with our colleagues from across the state to make our case on Court Advocacy Day.  We will be asking the Legislature to fund the Trial Court at $593.9 million.

What the Numbers Mean:

  • Governor Patrick’s proposed budget – released in January – would fund the Trial Court at $568.3 million.  A good start, but still $24.6 million below the Trial Court’s budget request.
  • The Trial Court’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2013 – beginning July 1, 2012 – is $593.9 million.  The $593.9 million will maintain the Trial Court’s current operations and will also help them meet critical personnel and non-personnel needs, including restoring some basic services that have been cut over the last three years.
  • The number of people who work in the Trial Court has declined by nearly 1,300 from July 1, 2007 to February 1, 2012.  As of late February 2012, there were 6, 327 Trial Court employees.  The $593.9 million will allow the Trial Court to finally fill critically needed positions – the highest priority being court officers to ensure public safety.

What the BBA is doing:

As Issue Spot has written, court funding advocacy is now a year-round effort.  The BBA has spoken out on this each of the past three years (FYs 2010, 2011 and 2012).  We’ve described – and it cannot be overstated – the importance of a capable, independent and adequately funded judicial system.  We’ve chronicled the negative impacts cuts to the judiciary’s budget have had on the administration of justice and our community.  Need we speak about the horrendous delays facing any litigant with a civil matter?

Court Advocacy Day on March 19th is just the beginning.  The BBA’s Administration of Justice Section will host a State of the Courts event on April 12th.  This timely event comes just one day after the House of Representatives is scheduled to release its state budget on April 11th.  Following the House debate on the budget we will turn our focus to the Senate.  In early May, the BBA will convene a virtual lobbying day, asking every one of its more than ten thousand members to call or email their Senators about state court funding.

As lawyers who use the courts every day, we know that the impact of court funding shortfalls is as wide as it is deep.  It is essential that the private bar speak out and speak up about the dangerous effects of an underfunded judiciary.  On March 19th, please show up at the State House and let lawmakers know just how important an adequately funded court system is to the Commonwealth.

 

 

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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