Tag Archives: trial court

Brockton, Bill, and Budget: Intra-Governmental Efforts to Eliminate Substance Abuse

This past year, we witnessed a proliferation of substance abuse emergencies in our communities, prompting the Governor to declare a public health emergency.  At the same time, our understanding of best treatment both scientifically and criminally continues to evolve.  Thus, we are pleased to see the response of our government, which has come together across branches and politics to make some major changes in an attempt to address the problem.   Through the budget, legislation, and judicial innovation, the Commonwealth is taking on this issue in new and creative ways.

We noted in our budget updates that the Trial Court’s budget request included a $2.7 million “module” for the creation of specialty courts.  Although the final budget was about $3 million below the Trial Court’s $615 million request, it specifically included funding earmarked for this project.  In fact, this module was provided for in each step of the budget process across the Executive and Legislative branches – first by the Governor, next by the House and Senate, and finally in the Conference Committee budget signed by the Governor.  The Senate even called for an additional $300,000 in funding beyond the Trial Court’s request to help fund continuing examination and analysis of specialty court functioning.

At the end of formal session, the legislature passed its own measures to combat drug abuse in the bill S2142, An Act to increase opportunities for long-term substance abuse recovery, which Governor Patrick signed into law on August 6th.  The bill is intended to prevent drug abuse by increasing oversight on prescriptions while also making treatment easier to obtain and afford.  Most notably, the bill includes provisions requiring insurance providers to cover deterrent drug products and substance abuse treatment in some cases.  Other parts of the bill increase oversight and monitoring of patients prescribed certain drugs and require coroners to report opioid-related deaths to the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  In addition, the bill gives DPH new authority to monitor potentially dangerous substances.  Although the bill costs $20 million and caused some concerns for insurance companies, it passed with bipartisan support and has been touted as a potential model for federal legislation.

Around the same time the bill was passed, the Trial Court announced its plans to open a new specialty drug court in Brockton, funded by the $2.7 module appropriated by the legislature.  BBA President Paul T. Dacier examined the specialty court system and drug courts in particular this year.  In his blog, he notes that the specialty court model achieved remarkable results nationwide, reducing recidivism and helping people recover from addiction.  Specialty Court sessions feature judges trained and peer-reviewed in handling certain issues.  The Courts focus on rehabilitative treatment programs and probation, sometimes lasting up to two years.  This approach has resulted in seventy-five percent of rehabilitation program graduates remaining arrest-free two years out of the program – quite an achievement, especially considering that Specialty Courts handle the cases of those individuals considered most at risk of recidivism.

While the issue of substance abuse is extremely complex and constantly changing, we were pleased to see – from the budget, to a bill, to the execution of specialty courts – that each branch came together in an attempt to solve a problem and improve the lives of people in Massachusetts. 

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Justice System FY15 Budget

We’ve done our best to keep you up to date on the budget process this year, and it’s almost done.  To recap, way back in January, the Governor filed his budget recommendations bill.  In early April, the House Committee on Ways & Means made its budget recommendations.  The House completed its budget in early May, the Senate Ways &Means Committee finalized its budget a couple of weeks later, and the Senate completed its budget at the end of May.  Since then, the budget has been before a six member Conference Committee consisting of Representatives Dempsey, Kulik and deMacedo and Senators Brewer, Flanagan, and Ross.  On Sunday, June 29th, the Conference Committee finalized its budget recommendation, and on Monday, the House and Senate approved this joint budget.  At this point, the budget is under review by the Governor, who has ten days to approve or veto the entire budget, veto or reduce specific line items, veto outside sections, and/or submit changes as an amendment to the budget for further consideration by the legislature.

Our chief areas of interest in the justice system – judiciary funding in the form of: the Trial Court, legal services, and state attorneys – fared well, but still face a number of challenges.

Trial Court Funding

The Trial Court requested maintenance funding of $615 million for FY15.  This is the amount of money it would take for the court to continue running at current capacity.  In addition, it proposed 10 “modules,” essentially packages of ideas and their costs that it could implement if funded, to update and innovate the courts.  These included plans for court service centers, specialty courts, electronic signage and information kiosks, and telecommunication enhancements.  The price for each module ranged from around $400,000 to $6.5 million.

  • Conference Committee – $612 million – this amount is in between the House and Senate appropriations, but is $3 million below the Court’s maintenance request.  It includes $3 million for the specialty court module.
  • Senate Budget – $617 million
  • Senate Ways & Means – $617 million
  • House Budget – $609 million
  • House Ways & Means Budget – $609 million
  • Governor’s Budget – $617.5 million

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) Funding

MLAC requested $17 million for FY15.  This amount would cover current costs and allow for the hiring of 40 more attorneys in addition to offering some future stability.  This funding level would expand the amount of services its programs could provide to vulnerable residents across the state and also help boost the state economy.  As funding for civil legal aid has declined, mostly through a large drop in IOLTA revenue, the economic benefits resulting from civil legal aid have also dropped.  At the same time, the need for civil legal aid has grown — close to 1 million people in Massachusetts qualify for this aid, and programs currently turn away 50 to 70 percent of eligible residents.  Last year, MLAC received $13 million in funding.

  • Conference Committee – $15 million – Representative Ruth Balser and Senator William Brownsberger sent a letter co-signed by 50 other legislators to conference committee members voicing their support for $15 million in MLAC funding. 

We reached out to our members along the way, asking you to contact your legislators to voice your support for civil legal aid funding.  Thank you for all of your help – we are confident this level of appropriation wouldn’t have happened without you.  At this point we encourage you to continue building your relationships at the Statehouse by personally thanking your legislators for their work and reach out to the Governor for the final budget step, urging him to sign on to the $15 million MLAC appropriation. 

  • Senate Budget – $14 million
  • Senate Ways & Means Budget – $13 million – Senator William Brownsberger and Senator Cynthia Creem filed an amendment requesting increasing this line item to $17 million.  It was amended to a $1 million increase and adopted.
  • House Budget – $15 million
  • House Ways & Means Budget – $13 million – Representative Ruth Balser filed an amendment (#157), co-signed by 71 Representatives, proposing to increase the MLAC budget line item to the requested $17 million.  It was included in a consolidated amendment as a $2 million increase for the final House budget.
  • Governor’s Budget – $14 million 

Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) Funding

CPCS requested a total budget of $219,399,885 for FY15.  Its maintenance request was $206,629,539.  The $12.7 million difference was to increase staff compensation and private bar hourly rates.  It is important to note when understanding CPCS’s line item that while the Governor’s budget attempts to account for the entire budget, the House Ways and Means recommendation underfunds the private counsel account because CPCS is considered a case-driven account for budgeting purposes.  This means that since CPCS cannot predict with exact certainty how many cases it will have to serve, it is provided with an initial appropriation with the understanding that, similar to other case-driven accounts, CPCS will submit supplemental increase requests as the fiscal year progresses.  The Legislature and Governor have consistently honored and funded these requests.  Neither the Governor nor the House Ways and Means budget propose any changes to the current CPCS service delivery system.

  • Conference Committee – $168 million
  • Senate Ways & Means – $180 million
  • House Budget – $168 million
  • House Ways & Means Budget – $168 million
  • Governor’s Budget – $191 million

The budget is a long and complicated process, but it is almost finished and we hope that regular updates like this have helped you stay engaged with some key judiciary appropriations.  Thank you to everyone for your involvement, especially with legal services funding.  Stay tuned for a final update likely only a few days away.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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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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Governor’s Budget and Walk to the Hill

Yesterday Governor Patrick released his proposal for the Fiscal Year 2015 state budget –his final budget before he leaves office.  While Governor Patrick’s $36.4 billion budget focuses heavily on education and investments in the life sciences, we were pleased to see his proposals in the area of criminal justice.  One proposal would provide a modest increase in spending to help former inmates successfully reintegrate into society.  Another proposal included $7 million for a program to reduce juvenile recidivism. 

Here’s what the Governor recommended for the Trial Court and for Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation:

The Massachusetts Trial Court

We are glad to see that Governor Patrick proposed funding the Massachusetts Trial Court at their maintenance budget request of $615 million plus an additional $2 million for specialty courts.   A maintenance budget is the cost of maintaining current services in the next fiscal year and takes into consideration adjustments for costs associated with inflation, caseload changes, and certain other factors. 

Developing effective specialty courts and expanding the ones we already have in the areas of drug, mental health, homelessness and veterans issues is a great investment.  Nationally, these courts have proven effective at reducing recidivism, shortening jail stays, saving money, and helping convicts return to society.  The additional funding will help expand the Massachusetts specialty courts program, standardizing it across the state in the areas most in need, and pay for data collection to study its effects to assure that Massachusetts achieves the best results. 

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation

Governor Patrick also recommended $14 million in funding for MLAC.  While this represents a $1 million increase over last year’s appropriation, this level of funding is $3 million shy of MLAC’s $17 million budget request, meaning legal services programs will still struggle to meet even half of the overwhelming need for civil legal services. 

Our attention now turns to the Legislature.  We need to persuade both the House and Senate to hold onto the $617 million for the Trial Court and to include the full $17 million in funding for MLAC.  The House Budget will come out first in April, followed by the Senate budget in May.  

With one week to go before Walk to the Hill, we need your help.  Join us at the Great Hall of the State House at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, January 30th as we kick off this event, then talk to your legislator.  But this year, we urge you to also commit to continue those conversations throughout the budget process.  That is the real challenge. 

You can help us — become an advocate.  Let your legislators know you pay attention to their voting and you care about this issue. 

Become a resource.  As a lawyer and community member, who better to keep your legislators informed on, say, how an increase in pro se litigants affects justice, the court system, your own work, and the citizens of the Commonwealth? 

Become an ally.  Personal relationship building goes a long way in any profession – politics is no different.

Here are some helpful tips to help you get the most out of interacting with your elected officials and/or their staff on Walk to the Hill day and beyond.

  – 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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Judiciary Budget Update: House Responds to Our Concerns

Last night, the Massachusetts House passed a $34 billion budget bill after three days of deliberations.  Thank you to everyone who took the time to make visits, send emails and make calls to your representatives- it made a difference. 

Here are the highlights. . .

The two outside sections of the budget that were of great concern to the Committee on Public Counsel Services were not adopted by the House.  These outside sections would have created an indigent defense committee charged with awarding 25% of District Court cases in Middlesex County to attorneys affiliated with private or non-profit entities on a capped flat fee basis. 

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation ended up with $13 million in the House budget.  While this is not the $15.5 million that MLAC requested, it is $1 million more than last year’s appropriation. 

As for the Judiciary, the good news was that the House unanimously approved a pay raise for all Trial and Appellate judges for the first time since 2006.  The increase would take effect in three steps starting January 1, 2014. 

For Trial Court Judges the compensation levels would increase as follows:

  • January 1, 2014    $144,694
  • July 1, 2014         $154,694
  • July 1, 2015         $159,694

Appellate court judges also received comparable dollar increases.  During the budget debate, Judiciary Chair Eugene O’Flaherty took the lead on this issue.  He and other members of the House spoke persuasively about the need for an increase in judicial compensation for the Massachusetts Judiciary.   

In addition to the judicial pay raise, the Trial Court received an additional $6 million, bringing their appropriation up to $573.8 million.  This is still $15. 7 million less than their maintenance budget request for Fiscal Year 2014. 

Please be sure to thank your own representative for supporting and advocating on behalf of these important issues.  The budget process now moves to the Senate where it will be debated in May.   After that, a conference committee will aim to deliver a final budget in time for the July 1 start of Fiscal Year 2014.

There’s still work to be done.  As for MLAC, we will continue to work to bring that number back up to $15.5 million in the Senate.  For the Judiciary, we will focus on the Trial Court’s maintenance request and bringing the judicial compensation increase as close as possible to the recommendations of the Guzzi Report– something that we, too, support. 

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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House Budget Comes Up Short for Judicial System

There’s not a lot of good news in the $33.8 billion House Ways and Means budget released last Wednesday…..the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), the Judiciary, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) are all woefully underfunded.  The House Ways and Means recommended level funding for the District Attorney’s Offices in its budget.  However, given the magnitude of resources that will be needed to respond to the drug lab crisis — which is certainly going to be a long term issue — level funding will not nearly be enough.

In addition to being underfunded, CPCS is also deeply troubled by two outside sections of the budget, Section 81 and Section 82, which would dramatically change how cases are handled at CPCS.  If adopted, these outside sections would create an indigent defense committee charged with awarding 25% of District Court cases in Middlesex County to attorneys affiliated with private or non-profit entities on a capped flat fee basis.  Private bar advocates currently handle these cases.  Representative Angelo Scaccia filed Amendment 334 to strike the two outside sections.

Here’s a closer look at the proposed budget…..

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation – MLAC’s requested $15.5 million for its FY 14 budget.

  • House Ways & Means proposed budget:  $11 million
  • Governor’s proposed budget: $15.5 million

Representative Ruth Balser filed Budget Amendment #536 which, if adopted, would restore the MLAC line item to $15.5 million.  For the latest information on MLAC, check out their fact sheet.

The Massachusetts Trial Court – The Trial Court’s maintenance request for FY 14 was $589.5 million, which included funding for a judicial pay raise.

  • House Ways & Means proposed budget:  $567.8 million
  • Governor’s proposed budget: $577.7 million

Representative Eugene O’Flaherty filed Budget Amendment #232, which would restore the Trial Court’s funding to their maintenance request of $589.5 million.  The Trial Court’s graph demonstrates the dramatic decline in personnel and helpful information on their case filings and funding.

Additionally, Representative O’Flaherty has also filed Budget Amendment #226 to restore the Appeals Court line item and Budget Amendment #228 to restore the Supreme Judicial Court line item.

When debate on the House budget is over at the end of next week, the Senate will have an opportunity to debate its version of the budget in May. Stay tuned.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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