Kenney conveys MBA’s support at Bench-Bar Leaders’ Summit

Thursday, March 7, 2019
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Photo Credit: Jason Scally

Trial Court Administrator Jonathan S. Williams spoke to the assembled bar association and court leaders.

Massachusetts Bar Association President Christopher A. Kenney pledged the MBA’s continued support for the Massachusetts court system, including the judiciary’s budget request and its efforts to address lawyer well-being, at a meeting of court and bar association leaders on March 5 at the John Adams Courthouse.

Speaking in the Supreme Judicial Court courtroom, Kenney acknowledged the bar’s role as advocate for the judicial system and its strength in numbers. Noting that “many hands make light work,” he urged his fellow bar leaders to encourage their respective members to support court funding; support court personnel, including the independence of judges and clerks; and support “the court’s efforts to support us.”

Kenney’s remarks followed an introduction by SJC Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, who spoke briefly about the outlook for the judiciary in the year ahead. While grateful to legislators for last year’s budget allocation, Gants said additional funding is needed this year to address some growing concerns, including the need to improve the courts’ information technology capabilities. Self-represented litigants, particularly in the Probate & Family Court, was another issue that judges are grappling with, he said.

One of the biggest challenges for the judiciary, Gants said, was getting elected officials to understand how critical the courts’ issues are for the people of the commonwealth. Legislators, he said, are more interested in hearing from their constituents and the lawyers, who can relay stories of the important societal issues encountered by lawyers and judges each day, from criminal justice to domestic violence to the opioid crisis and homelessness.

Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey echoed Gants’ sentiments about lawyers being a natural advocate for the judiciary. Under Gov. Baker’s current budget proposal, which is only the start of the budget process, the Trial Court is facing a $21 million shortfall. She asked for the bar leaders’ help in educating legislators about important legal issues, such as bail, and the good work being done in the courts around the commonwealth, including the specialty courts. The House's budget proposal is the next step in the budget process. 

Trial Court Administrator Jonathan S. Williams then spoke about the unique responsibilities that fall to the Massachusetts Trial Court, including courthouse maintenance and security, as well as probation. He also discussed in more detail the increasing demand for better technology in the state courts, and the possibility of pursuing a technology bond from the state to fund improvements.

Prior to the reception that capped the event, retired SJC Justice Margot Botsford provided an update on the work of the SJC’s Steering Committee on Lawyer Well-Being, of which MBA Vice President Denise I. Murphy is a member. While the committee’s report is expected at the end of June, she said the group has been discussing a number of proposals to combat stress, substance use and mental health issues, including expanding the services of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers and the possibility of requiring lawyers to take a mandatory wellness class. Noting the important role of bar associations, Botsford asked bar leaders to take the lead in bolstering mentoring programs for their members.