Protecting Pound's vision

Issue October 2006 By Mark D Mason

One hundred years ago, Roscoe Pound addressed the American Bar Association Convention in a speech which is widely recognized as the spark leading to modern court reform. Pound was a scholar in American jurisprudence who adhered to a sociological approach to law considered progressive in its day. Indeed, Pound's idealism remains progressive beyond its years.

Pound's address entitled, "The Causes of Popular Dissatisfaction for the Administration of Justice," revolutionized our state and federal governments through the administration of courts, including court unification, the selection of judges, the modernization of court procedure and the utilization of Alternative Dispute Resolution. The professionalization of court administration which Pound encouraged has led to the implementation of caseflow management techniques such as time standards, judicial evaluations, specialized courts and sessions and other advances having an impact upon the administration of justice.

Four years ago, concern relating to the management of courts led to the appointment of the Visiting Committee on Management in the Courts, or the so-called "Monan Committee." The Monan Committee report states, "The committee found that, despite pockets of genuine excellence, the management of the judiciary is preventing the people of Massachusetts from receiving the justice that they deserve." While many assert that the Monan Committee report's statement, as such, may continue to represent popular sentiment regarding the courts, this sentiment may result, in part, from the fact that there is little public understanding of court operations and administration, and that lawyers, judges and court personnel are oftentimes scapegoats for undeserving criticism.

Despite public misunderstanding of the courts, Pound teaches us that we should not expect public misunderstanding of the courts to be eliminated. We must continuously act to increase the public's understanding of the court system, thereby increasing its satisfaction with and confidence in the court system.

The MBA is committed to improving the public's knowledge and understanding relating to the courts. Three MBA programs this year are of principal importance: first, our Task Force on Judicial Independence; second, our work in promoting civics in education; and third, the MBA's first annual Bench Bar Symposium.

Last year, MBA President Warren Fitzgerald established the Task Force on Judicial Independence. The task force has focused on ensuring swift and meaningful response to attacks on our judiciary as set forth in the media. This year, the task force will continue its work and, in particular, will focus on improving the relationship between the media and the judiciary. Several programs are planned accordingly.

The MBA and the SJC have combined efforts and resources to develop and implement civics programming for our schools as well as our public, in general. In important measure, public dissatisfaction with the courts is borne of its lack of education regarding our courts, their purpose and their process. Civic instruction in our schools and in public settings is a critical first step in educating the public regarding the courts. Over the next few months, I will be pleased to report to you on such programming.

On Nov. 30, the MBA will present the first annual statewide Bench Bar Symposium. The symposium will feature Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall's Annual Address to the Legal Community at the event in the John Adams Courthouse. The symposium will bring together judges and lawyers from diverse backgrounds across the commonwealth to discuss issues central to the fair and effective administration of justice, including the importance of an independent judiciary and the media's influence on the public's trust and confidence in the courts. Indeed, the event will serve as a springboard for a number of local bench-bar forums to be held throughout the commonwealth beginning in late winter, establishing continuing and regular forums for communication between the bench and the bar as we work to advance the administration of justice and the public's trust and confidence in our court system, and in the legal community as a whole.

While Roscoe Pound may not be surprised that public dissatisfaction and misunderstanding with the courts is alive 100 years after his 1906 address, he would be disappointed, likely, to see the wave of distrust in the courts portrayed by the media and maintained by much of the public. Without question, we need to improve and expand public education surrounding the courts. As officers of the court, I call upon each of you to become involved in initiatives that the MBA and other bar associations across the commonwealth engage in this year in order to ensure the livelihood of judicial independence.