From the Boston Bar Journal: This Week in Housing Court

I have always described the Housing Court as a place where the law and real people intersect, where the rubber hits the road all day long. This intersection is becoming busier every day as the volume of cases increases and each case seems to demand more attention and more creativity than ever before — all at a time when the court’s resources are diminishing.

All cases begin in the clerk’s office where the staff’s obligation to input mountains of data is routinely interrupted in order to help folks at the counter with professionalism and compassion. Unfortunately, the adage that we must “do more with less” has reached its limit due to the fiscal constraints of the Trial Court. The economic downturn, which increases the number and types of cases before the court, has the simultaneous effect of diminishing the staff available to handle those cases. We have reached a point where we do not have sufficient staff to effectively process the court’s caseload, resulting in inordinate delays in entering judgments, issuing executions, and docketing. Our litigants often are among the most vulnerable in our society. Nonetheless, by reason of staffing shortages our division has recently been forced to close the clerk’s office to the public for two hours in the middle of the day and reduce the number of courtroom sessions we currently provide in some of our locations simply in order to keep up with the demands of case processing; desperate steps that we have never taken before. The powerful determination of our court and its very talented, creative and driven staff to serve the public can only be accomplished within its means and, currently, this means less access to the public it is designed to assist.

There is a popular conception that cases handled by the Housing Court are “routine”. This is incorrect. The court regularly hears, among others, cases involving: hoarding, toxic torts, personal injury, housing discrimination, and zoning. A few examples from my docket for this week alone will highlight the variety and breadth of the court’s docket on any given day, as well as the fundamental interests at stake.

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