In anticipation of Massachusetts State Court Advocacy Day on Monday, March 19
at 11 a.m. at the Grand Staircase at the State House, Boston Bar Association
President Lisa C. Goodheart today exhorted lawyers and others concerned to lobby
their legislators for a $593.9 million appropriation for the Massachusetts Trial
Court for the fiscal year that starts on July 1, 2012:
"Every business day, some 42,000 people arrive at Massachusetts
courthouses to have their matters heard and get their business done. To
appreciate the scope of this, imagine the combined populations of the Back Bay,
the North End, and Beacon Hill showing up every day in search of justice.
When we arrive, we ask a lot of our courts. We expect nothing less
than the peaceful, fair and timely resolution of disputes covering every aspect
of human experience -- family law, criminal matters, civil rights, business
conflicts, and more.
It's spelled out in our state Constitution: the judicial branch is
co-equal with the executive and legislative branches of our government. Yet the
Massachusetts Trial Court is chronically underfunded, and the resulting impact
on the public gets more painful by the day.
Turn on your television to watch national coverage of 'courtroom
melees'. These are not isolated incidents, but regular occurrences.
Do you notice how many court officers it takes to break up a brawl between the
family of a victim and the alleged perpetrator? Think about something as
basic as a motion hearing involving four alleged gang members where keeping even
a semblance of security takes five court officers. Just as important,
though less obvious, is the fact that significant staffing resources must be
expended on countless potential disruptions that never happen because attentive
court officers are able to defuse brewing tensions before they get out of
hand. And keep in mind that the need for adequate numbers of well-trained
court officers is only heightened by the fact that the security equipment needed
to prevent the entry of weapons into the courtroom is dangerously obsolete in
Sadly, budget cuts over the last four fiscal years have resulted in the
loss of more than 200 court officers. When judges in criminal sessions are
forced to 'borrow' court officers from civil sessions, those civil sessions come
to a screeching halt. This means unnecessary time spent waiting by litigants,
witnesses and jurors, most of whom are eager to get back to their jobs.
The Probate and Family Courts, where emotions routinely run high, have
not only lost court officers, but also most of the law clerks needed to help
judges with their research and writing, which must be done using antiquated
computer equipment. There are indirect but very significant impacts,
too. The worsening lack of resources and grinding conditions inevitably
take a toll on the years of service that many hard-working judges are able to
give, and likewise cause too many talented and successful lawyers to forego the
pursuit of judicial service altogether. No one should be surprised that an
uncontested divorce can take almost a year.
Backlogs resulting from inadequate staffing are now being felt on the
front lines by the public. Imagine taking time off from work for a seemingly
simple transaction, only to learn that the clerk's or register's office is
closed while court staff struggle to catch up with paper work.
As the Boston Bar Association noted in its 2011 report, Justice on the
Road to Ruin, 'the judiciary is not a state agency whose capacity to function
can expand or contract depending on changes in public policy and available
resources. . . .[T]he Commonwealth [has an] obligation to support an essential
branch of government. The erosion in that support that has characterized the
past several years has brought the Trial Court to an unacceptable level of
capacity and must be reversed.'
The Boston Bar Association encourages its members to participate in Court
Advocacy Day, and urges the Legislature to appropriate $593.9 million to the
Trial Court for FY 2013."