Bench and Bar Leaders Discuss Court Budget, Racial Equity at Virtual Summit

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Massachusetts Bar Association President Denise I. Murphy urged bar associations around the commonwealth to advocate for the Trial Court’s fiscal year 2022 budget and pledged the MBA’s support for the judiciary’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at a meeting of bench and bar leaders conducted over Zoom on Wednesday, March 17.

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd, who convened the meeting along with Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey and new Court Administrator John A. Bello, began by reflecting on the tragedies of the past year, including the loss of former SJC Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, who died in September 2020.

Budd asked for help from the bar as court leaders continue Gants’ efforts to eradicate racial and ethnic disparities in the court system, noting the inequities in sentencing and incarceration uncovered by the 2020 Harvard Law School report and the challenges experienced by members of the bar from historically oppressed communities, which were detailed in the recently issued SJC Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being Report Summarizing Affinity Bar Town Hall Meetings ("Affinity Bar Report").

Murphy commended Budd for her strong leadership and said she was encouraged by the court’s sincere response to the Affinity Bar Report and its ongoing commitment to eradicating inequities. She said the MBA was ready to work with the courts to see any needed changes through.

Turning to the challenges caused by the pandemic, the MBA president noted that "these are not traditional times" and stressed the importance of securing proper funding for the Trial Court’s fiscal year 2022 budget request. The money is sorely needed this year, Murphy said, due to court backlogs and the need for more mental health clinicians in court due to the prevalence of substance use disorder and other mental health conditions seen in our courts. "We all understand that achieving these important, shared goals will be a lot harder to meet without appropriate funding for our courts. So, now it’s time for us to get to work," she said.

Carey, the Trial Court chief justice, then spoke about the state of the Trial Court, including its response to the reports showing racial and ethnic disparities, which Carey said were "calls to action." Carey said she was proud of the response by court leaders and staff to the challenges of the past year, including the court’s increased use of virtual technology. She and other speakers said they were hopeful that remote technology could be used in the future to make certain parts of the court experience more efficient.

Bello, the new Trial Court administrator, followed Carey and spoke about the court’s budgetary needs in more detail. He explained that, in addition to maintenance funding, the Trial Court was seeking money for innovation modules that would allow the court to hire more mental health clinicians and recall senior judges to help with the backlog. Bello also noted that the Trial Court had refiled the information technology bond bill, which is needed to fund improvements to the court’s IT infrastructure and enhance access to justice.

Boston Bar Association President Martin Murphy also spoke at the meeting and pledged the BBA’s support for the court’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, as well as its budgeting needs.