If you visited the Middlesex Probate and Family Court in
Cambridge in the fall of 2010 or January of 2011, you may have
experienced a feeling of say, Logan Airport. The long lines into
the Middlesex Probate and Family Court building on 208 Cambridge
St., and to a certain extent, the Old Third District Court, created
some headaches and maybe a brain freeze or two for lawyers and
litigants over the past several months.
A change in policy requires that attorneys go through the metal
detectors rather than be allowed entrance upon showing their bar
cards. Recently, Paula Carey, chief justice of the Probate and
Family Court Department and Peter DiGangi, first justice of the
Middlesex Probate and Family Court, sat down with members of the
MBA's Family Law Section Council to address concerns and discuss
Judge DiGangi, with the support of the chief justice, implemented
this new policy as a result of specific events demonstrating risks
to judges and courthouse staff. Since metal detectors were first
installed, a number of serious weapons have been confiscated in
courts across the commonwealth.
As we who practice in this area know well, emotions run highest
when they involve family matters. Attorneys are not immune to those
emotions. Some would argue that our declining level of civility is
the problem the policy is meant to resolve. We may argue for a
consistent policy in all courts. For example, certain courts, such
as Suffolk County and Essex County, allow attorneys access without
going through the metal detectors. Judge DiGangi's decision
provides for a very high level of security in the building,
protecting us all.
While the effects of this policy change was first being felt,
Judge Carey received a regular stream of e-mails documenting wait
times and conditions. She monitored these closely and was fully
engaged in seeking a solution. The court obtained a second metal
detector, which is now fully operational and in use during the
early morning rush.
Court employees have banded together to provide adequate staffing
for the additional machine. In general, lines are much shorter and
wait times to enter the building average under 10 minutes. Both
Judge Carey and Judge DiGangi are committed to hearing, and
addressing if possible, legitimate complaints and concerns from
members of the bar.
This improvement is hardly an optimal outcome. The illness or
other absence of a single court employee now has a tremendous
effect. Ensuring the safety and well-being of those waiting outside
is an ongoing concern of court officials.
It is to be hoped that no one waiting would object to an elderly
or disabled person, or a person with an infant or young child,
jumping to the front of the line, particularly in bad weather.
Litigants who are parties to a restraining order may step out of
line to wait for a safer moment to enter the building. They may
call the judicial secretaries' office or the register's office to
inform the court about the delay. We, as officers of the court,
should promote courtesy and patience among those waiting and
provide support to those who need help.
The line is only one symptom of the distress felt in completely
under-funded courts. Staff members have the pressures of new tasks,
such as document scanning and data entry, in addition to accepting
filings from the increasing number of pro se litigants. Judges are
forced to undertake secretarial tasks, causing significant delays.
We cannot be surprised that we, too, are inconvenienced. We have
the justice system, from the front door to the judge's lobby, that
we pay for.