From MassLive: Massachusetts courts in crisis thanks to recent budget cuts, top judges say

Thursday, April 26, 2012

This article was originally posted on MassLive.com on April 12, 2012. To read the original article, please click here.

By Dan Ring

Top judges in Massachusetts on Thursday said that the state's courts are in crisis, following years of budget cuts that have left a drastic shortage of court officers, clerks and other personnel.

Judge Robert A. Mulligan, the chief justice for administration and management, said there are "tremendous voids" in court operations.

"This has been a real crisis," Mulligan said. "Many of these people are crucial to our operation."

Since July of 2007, the Trial Court's staff has dropped from 7,629 to 6,293, down 17.5 percent. A hiring freeze was instituted in October 2008. Employees have left through incentive programs and other efforts designed to reduce costs, judges said.

Mulligan and six other top judges sat on a panel to discuss the "state of the Massachusetts state courts" at an event in Boston hosted by the Boston Bar Association. The panel included one associate justice on the state Supreme Judicial Court and six chiefs of different court departments.

"We're truly on the brink of a constitutional crisis," said Probate and Family Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey. "We really can't deliver justice the way it should be."

Judges said the Trial Courts need more financing than the $554.6 million approved on Wednesday by the House Ways and Means Committee as part of an overall $32.3 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The Trial Court's current funding is about $553 million.

"We are all very disappointed with the number," said state Supreme Judicial Court Judge Margot Botsford, who sat on the panel.

After the panel, Mulligan said he is seeking about $585 million for the next fiscal year for the Trial Courts. He has said that number is a little more than maintenance and would allow the Trial Courts to begin to restore some critically needed positions, upgrade some obsolete equipment and deal with other critical issues.

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