Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd delivered her first State of the Judiciary Address virtually on Wednesday, Oct. 27.
Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd praised court personnel for their resolve in maintaining a functional legal system throughout the pandemic and stressed the need for continued progress toward equality under the law as she delivered her first State of the Judiciary Address on Oct. 27.
Speaking at the Massachusetts Bar Association-sponsored virtual event, Budd said the courts effectively transitioned to remote operations through the work of judges and clerks who mastered new technology, probation officers who adapted to online check-ins, and IT staff who made necessary infrastructure improvements. Budd also commended facilities staff for adhering to COVID-19 protocols and thereby protecting the health of in-person court users and credited the Jury Management Advisory Committee for its recommendations on the safest approach to conducting jury trials.
“I would like to extend my deepest thanks to the more than 6,000 employees of our court system for all that you have done to help us weather the many challenges of COVID-19. You have demonstrated remarkable resilience, ingenuity, flexibility and teamwork as you have overcome so many obstacles to keep our courts operating and accessible during this difficult period,” Budd said.
Through their collective efforts during the pandemic, employees have embodied the ideals held by late SJC Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, who believed that every person in the court system must contribute to the goal of access to justice, Budd said. As Budd noted during her remarks, Gants’ sudden and tragic passing in September 2020 led the SJC to cancel last year’s State of the Judiciary Address.
In addition to acknowledging court staff, Budd thanked the Legislature for investing in the judiciary at a time of great need for additional resources to meet the challenges of the pandemic. She went on to recognize the role of attorneys and bar associations in guiding the courts’ response to COVID-19 and providing pro bono assistance to individuals with related legal issues. Budd said the SJC will look for further direction from members of the bar in preparation for an eventual return to normal court operations, namely through a survey focused on the viability of measures introduced during the pandemic.
While navigating the COVID crisis, the courts have undertaken the equally pressing task of eliminating racial and ethnic inequities in the criminal justice system, Budd said. She cited two reports issued in the last year as evidence of the disparate treatment of minorities in the Massachusetts legal community: a Harvard Law School study, commissioned by Chief Justice Gants, revealing that Black and Latinx people make up a disproportionate percentage of the state criminal docket and receive longer sentences than their white counterparts; and a report by the SJC Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being documenting the negative courtroom experiences of attorneys of color and those from historically excluded populations.
“Although issues of racial and ethnic inequities in our legal system are long-standing problems, these recent events and reports have reminded us that they are no less urgent than dealing with the pandemic. Left unchecked, they undermine the fundamental principle of equal justice for all,” Budd said.
Consequently, Budd said the courts now hold quarterly meetings attended by each chief justice and the probation commissioner to discuss ongoing and proposed efforts to address the systemic issues raised in the two reports. She added that the SJC welcomes all input from attorneys on how to create a more equitable court system, stressing, “This is a complicated problem, and we need everyone’s best ideas.”
Budd’s speech followed an introduction by MBA President Thomas M. Bond, who said the promotion of House Bill 1520 to improve the courts’ technology infrastructure will serve as a focal point of his term.
“We at the Massachusetts Bar Association will continue to work with the bench, with the bar and with the Legislature to make our courthouses safe and accessible for all individuals, no matter who you are, where you are from or where you practice,” Bond said.
In support of court initiatives to improve equity and inclusion, Bond noted that the MBA will work to establish pathways to both legal careers for students from diverse backgrounds and future judgeships for young attorneys of color.
During her annual update, Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey hailed the launch of the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Experience as another important step to combat racial bias in the commonwealth’s courthouses. Carey also touted the success of the Eviction Diversion Initiative, a joint program of the judicial, executive and legislative branches to prevent homelessness during the pandemic; and highlighted the objectives of Project NORTH (Navigation, Outreach, Recovery, Treatment and Hope), a grant-funded effort providing enhanced courthouse services in 12 communities with high rates of overdose deaths.
In closing her remarks, Carey confirmed that she will retire from her position in January 2022 and thanked those in the legal community who have offered words of support since she made the announcement.
“While this will be my last address as Chief Justice of the Trial Court, I want you all to know that I am going to remain connected to the court and justice systems, albeit in a different role that will allow me to meet the needs of my family,” Carey said.
Trial Court Administrator John A. Bello concluded the State of the Judiciary Address by outlining key operational advancements over the last 18 months, including in the areas of eFiling, talent acquisition and virtual court services.
“Out of every crisis, opportunities emerge, and we took full advantage of them. In fact, the pandemic accelerated many strategic initiatives outlined in Strategic Plan 3.0. A major focus of last year was finding ways to navigate the challenges the pandemic presented, but the fundamental work of the Trial Court never stopped,” Bello said.
Click here to view the annual State of the Judiciary Address.