The Massachusetts Bar Association has created a task force to
put a human face on the impact that drastic budget cuts are having
on the courts.
The Crisis in Court Funding Task Force will compile stories of
hardship among public users of the court system and will present a
report to the House of Delegates meeting in March. If endorsed, the
report will support calls for the Legislature to adequately fund
the state court system, which was cut from an initial fiscal 2009
budget of $605.1 million to $559 million in fiscal 2010.
"(The task force) was created to document the real, human impact
of the budget cuts on the courts. The goal is to show how
inadequate staffing levels are affecting the people who come to the
courts as litigants, jurors and witnesses," MBA President Valerie
A. Yarashus said. "While it's incredibly frustrating for us as
attorneys to see delays and long lines, it is often much worse for
members of the public, who have to miss work unnecessarily and see
their cases languish because the court system is underfunded and
The 10-person task force, which is chaired by Martin F. Kane II
of McGrath & Kane Inc. in Boston, held its first meeting on
Dec. 16 in Boston. It will contact judges and clerks in courthouses
throughout the state to collect accounts of how the budget cuts are
delaying citizens from receiving access to the justice system.
A report by the Boston Bar Association analyses the statistics
relating to the cuts. "Our report, by contrast, is intended to
bring out the human side through documenting the real life stories
of how this is played out across the commonwealth," Yarashus said,
noting that, if approved by the MBA's governing body, it will be
used as part of a lobbying effort for adequate court funding during
"Members can expect to hear a targeted call to action at a time
when it is determined to be most effective," she said.
Kane said the problems are readily apparent in courthouses
across the state. Many times, restraining orders are not being
issued in a timely manner, he said.
Kane, whose practice includes working in probate and family
courts, filed one modification in probate court in September and
waited. A month later, he received a call from a secretary who
apologized that a summons hadn't been issued yet, but the office
was down from seven staff to two. A month later, he received
another call explaining that the staff was doing everything it
"Two months to get a summons …" he said.
Court employees who have either been laid off or have had their
workload increased significantly because of layoffs and a
system-wide hiring freeze are clearly suffering, he said, and
lawyers being inconvenienced by the delays caused by the staff
reduction certainly have legitimate complaints. But it is the
people who use the courts who have been the hardest hit, he
"Our charge is clear. We, as lawyers, need to be the voice of
the people and get their story to the House of Delegates with
demonstrative evidence about how the public is being affected," he
Ultimately, that message needs to reach the Legislature and
increase funding for the courts, Kane said.
"What they need to hear is how the cuts affect Jane and John Q.
Public," he said.
If you have anecdotal stories from clients to share about
understaffed courts or unreasonable delays, e-mail MBA Legislative
Activities Manager Lee Constantine at [e-mail lconstantine].