In just three and one-half years, funding for the Massachusetts State Trial Court has plummeted by 14 percent, resulting in the loss of over 1,000 highly experienced employees - according to Justice on the Road to Ruin, a report issued today by the Boston Bar Association in advance of the MA Senate releasing its proposed budget. Absent level funding from the legislature, the Trial Court's FY 2012 appropriation will have dropped an additional 4.3 percent from the prior fiscal year. By contrast, appropriations for the rest of state government have been reduced by 2.2 percent.
"Under the Massachusetts constitution, the judiciary -- of which the Trial Court is a vital component -- is not just another state agency or expendable service. It is a separate and co-equal branch of government, filling a role that is critical to maintaining our free society," said BBA President Donald R. Frederico. "The Commonwealth has an obligation to provide adequate support for the judiciary. When it fails to do so, we all lose."
The report predicts that without level funding at $544.1 million, a miniscule amount in comparison to the state budget as a whole, these and other scenarios will occur:
- Divorcing parents likely will be forced to wait longer for child custody decisions;
- Parties claiming serious personal or emotional injury will have to wait longer to get their cases to trial;
- Massachusetts companies can expect delays in resolving business disputes that have significant implications for their employees, for their shareholders, and in some cases, for the Massachusetts economy;
- Disproportionate effects will be visited upon the poor, minorities, the handicapped, and others dependent on public support;
- Continued reductions in the numbers of court officers will put everyone who enters our courthouses, employees and the public alike, at risk for their safety;
- Although criminal cases will continue to get highest priority, reduced staffing in the Superior Court will increase the number of pre-trial detainees and exacerbate jail overcrowding.