By Malea Ritz
Court leaders, legislators and bar leaders gathered for the
annual State of the Judiciary Address on Oct. 20, presented by the
Massachusetts Bar Association, where they heard speeches from MBA
President Jeffrey N. Catalano, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice
Ralph D. Gants, Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey and Trial
Court Administrator Harry Spence.
While each speaker highlighted judicial-branch accomplishments and
praised recent bench-bar relations, several speakers addressed
racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system and the impact
of the ongoing opioid crisis, among other topics.
For example, citing statistics showing a disparity in
incarceration rates for people of color, Gants spoke about the need
to "better fulfill our promise to provide equal justice for every
litigant." He noted that according to Sentencing Commission data
from 2014, the rate of imprisonment for African-Americans was 5.8
times greater than for whites in the U.S., and nearly 8 times
greater in Massachusetts. In the U.S. the rate of imprisonment for
Hispanics was 1.3 times greater than for whites, while in
Massachusetts it was nearly 4.9 times greater, he said..
"We need to find out why," Gants said, before announcing that he
has asked Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow to put together an
independent research team to look into the reasons for the
disparity in incarceration rates.
In his opening remarks, MBA President Jeff Catalano also touched
upon the need to eradicate bias in the court system, and he
announced that the MBA, through MBA Vice President John Morrissey,
would be holding a program about dealing with implicit bias in our
legal system on March 22, 2017. Catalano also expressed a "need for
more qualified and diverse judges" and referred to an upcoming
panel focused on how to become a judge, aiming to take some of the
mystery and intimidation out of the process.
During her remarks on the Trial Court, Carey reported that the
court system is using its 44 specialty courts to help address the
opioid and mental health crisis. Franklin County and Hampshire
County both saw the creation of new courts, she said. Carey also
discussed efforts to improve the user experience and better serve
everyone interacting with the court system.
The number of drug courts has also doubled, Spence added.
Additionally, the Trial Court has implemented a unified case
management system and is in the process of transitioning to a fully
automated digital operation, anticipated for completion by the end
of 2019, he said.
In his last state of the judiciary address before his retirement
next April, Spence concluded, "I am grateful to you all for how you
have embraced change, and look forward to learning of your
continued progress in the days ahead."
The MBA's Jason Scally contributed to this report.