Lawyers e-Journal

Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009
Image for Bench Bar Symposium
From top to bottom:
Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall accepts the MBA's Chief Justice Edward F. Hennessey Award, presented to her for her accomplishments over the past decade as leader of the state's judicial branch.

From left to right: MBA Vice President Richard P. Campbell, MBA President-Elect Denise Squillante, Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall, Hon. A. Paul Cellucci, MBA President Valerie A. Yarashus, Chief Justice of Utah's Supreme Court Christine M. Durham, MBA Treasurer Robert L. Holloway Jr.

MBA President Valerie A. Yarashus (right) presents Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall with the Chief Justice Edward F. Hennessey Award.

From left to right: Hon. A. Paul Cellucci, Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall, MBA Acting Executive Director and General Counsel Martin W. Healy.

Photos by Christine Peterson.

Chief Justice Marshall warns more budget cuts will put justice “in jeopardy”

Deepening financial crisis leaves Trial Court Department in “a moment of peril”

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall delivered a dire warning in her 10th Annual Address to the Legal Community: "Justice is in jeopardy in Massachusetts," she told nearly 200 people at the John Adams Courthouse on Oct. 21.

Marshall, who was recognized with the Massachusetts Bar Association's Chief Justice Edward F. Hennessey Award on her tenth anniversary as chief justice, used the annual speech to convey how serious the situation is, rather than chart how much progress the courts have made, as she has done in past years.

"By year's end, Trial Court staffing levels will be slightly more than two-thirds of the appropriate - the necessary - levels identified for us by an independent, objective model developed by the National Center for State Courts, the nation's expert on that subject," she said.

Several district courts have been relocated, she noted, and leases for rented spaces have been terminated. "The closure of court sessions, the closure of more courthouses, is inevitable - inevitable - if the already decimated Trial Court budget is further reduced," she said.

Marshall expressed frustration that the courts have been hit harder than other departments of state government.
"The judicial branch is being asked to absorb a disproportionate amount of the necessary reductions in government spending," she said, noting that the judicial branch accounts for just 2.1 percent of state spending. The court department has reduced its workforce 7.5 percent, she said, greater than other departments.

"Are we now prepared to tell a woman who seeks a protective order for herself and her children to come back next week because budget cuts have forced the court to close for a day or more?

State leaders are saying the situation is even worse than they'd anticipated a year ago, and more cuts will be needed.

"Here is the truly dismal news: the bleeding has just begun," Marshall told the audience. "The budgetary forecasts for fiscal year 2011 and fiscal year 2012 presage more fiscal pain. Who will bear the brunt of this pain? Everyone who seeks access to our courts."

"I do not point fingers," she said. "As chief justice, however, as one who has labored long and hard to bring lasting reform to the administration of justice in the commonwealth, and to broaden access to justice, as one who is passionate about the importance of courts to a free people, I cannot, I shall not, ignore that our courts are at a moment of peril."

She concluded by urging lawyers and court staff to speak up and contact the Legislature and governor.

For more information on the MBA's Fourth Annual Bench-Bar Symposium and additional information about Marshall's award, look in the November Lawyers Journal.

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association