Full court press
Lawyers take funding-crisis message to Beacon Hill

Issue April 2003 By Krista Zanin

Faced with a dire need to protect access to justice for all citizens of the commonwealth, attorneys and judges last month urged legislators to protect the court system during the MBA-sponsored Lobby Day for Court Funding.

Full Court Press
Photo by David Spink
Chief Justice of the Superior Court Suzanne V. DelVecchio speaks to approximately 200 attorneys and judges gathered March 18 for the MBA-sponsored Lobby Day for Court Funding.
"The courts are in a dangerous place right now," said MBA President Joseph P.J. Vrabel to the crowd gathered on March 18 in Nurses Hall at the State House.

"The governor has proposed a budget cut that could slash as much as $32 million from the courts - forcing more layoffs, fewer services, and - in effect - denying many citizens their day in court," Vrabel said.

Vrabel along with several prominent members of the bench and bar spoke to about 200 attorneys and judges gathered for the important event. Lawyers and judges later pressed legislators on the importance of protecting the court system from drastic cuts that will have serious impacts on the delivery of justice.

Lobby Day for Court Funding also marked the 40th anniversary of the landmark right-to-counsel decision of Gideon v. Wainwright. Cosponsored by the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the event also lobbied for increased funding for private assigned counsel.

CPCS chief counsel William J. Leahy said the agency has qualified and dedicated attorneys and continues to work diligently to provide counsel for the indigent. However, inadequate funding is causing a 10 percent drop in the number of public defenders as well as a 10 percent departure rate of privately assigned counsel.

Lobby Day
Photo by David Spink
MBA President Joseph P.J. Vrabel encourages about 200 lawyers and judges to urge legislators to support the court system during the MBA-sponsored Lobby Day for Court Funding on March 18.
"We simply do not have enough money to pay reasonable hourly rates," Leahy said.

Other distinguished speakers included Justice Roderick L. Ireland of the Supreme Judicial Court; Chief Justice of the Superior Court Suzanne V. DelVecchio; Senate Judiciary Chairman Robert Creedon; House Judiciary Chairman Eugene O'Flaherty; and Boston Bar Association President Joseph L. Kociubes.

Also attending the event were Chief Justice of the Juvenile Court Martha P. Grace, Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court Sean M. Dunphy and Temporary Chief Justice of the Boston Municipal Court Charles R. Johnson.

Ireland stressed budget cuts will hinder the state's ability to give citizens access to timely justice and will cause further damage to the trial court, which has already sustained severe cuts in the past 18 months.

"Further cuts will only further impair the core functions of the courts," Ireland said.

DelVecchio said she never believed she would see the commonwealth's court system - hailed as the national model of the judicial system - come to such a dire funding crisis.

"John Adams took the Massachusetts court system nationwide, where it became a template for the national court system," DelVecchio said. "And here we are at a time of crisis in our courts."

DelVecchio criticized Gov. Mitt Romney's proposal that suggests $45 million may be collected for the court system through fees. She said such a plan conflicts with decisions judges are forced to make daily - weighing, for example, the benefit of having a defendant landlord pay a high fee rather than put that money toward fixing up an apartment for residents or having defendants pay fines rather than ordering them to pay victims for their losses.

"There is a $3 billion shortfall, but we have to guarantee access to justice for every single citizen, and this budget does not do that," DelVecchio said.

Vrabel, DelVecchio and several MBA officers later met with Senate President Robert E. Travaglini and Speaker of the House of Representatives Thomas M. Finneran to urge the State House leaders to protect court funding.