Western Mass. attorneys and judges discuss time standards and judicial resources in Hampden County courts

Issue July/August 2007 By RJ Langlois and Kate O’Toole

More than 30 judges and attorneys joined Massachusetts Bar Association President Mark D Mason in addressing critical issues facing Hampden County courts at the first MBA Bench-Bar Breakfast Forum.

The next MBA Bench-Bar Breakfast – focusing on Bristol County courts – will be held on Thursday, Aug. 16, from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. at the Fall River Courthouse conference room at 289 Rock St. in Fall River. A new initiative, the Bench-Bar Breakfast Forum is planning to hold sessions in each county over the next year, giving attorneys and judges the opportunity to discuss pressing issues in their local courts.

Presented in cooperation with the Hampden County Bar Association, the May 30 meeting at the Hampden Hall of Justice in Springfield addressed issues that arise in the courts. The participants, who practice in four different Hampden County courts, discussed ways to improve the overall efficiency of the court system.

A major topic of discussion was the impact of time standards on local courts, especially coupled with the shortage of judges in Hampden County. Currently, Springfield Superior Court has 1,100 active cases with five trial judges, while Suffolk Superior Court has 600 active cases and 11 judges. Hampden County judges are asking for more judicial resources to handle their heavy caseload.

Outmanned, Hampden County judges also raised concerns about attorneys not preparing for pre-trial procedures, with one judge recalling days in which eight out of 10 pre-trial dates could not proceed due to the lack of preparation. Further discussion illustrated that 40 percent of lawyers are not prepared for discovery.

Judges urged attorneys to arrive for pre-trial with discovery complete and with some sense of the availability of both themselves and their witnesses. One participant also noted the need to change the culture around pre-trials altogether by considering pre-trial as a "vehicle for settlement."

Other points included the necessity of pre-trial memos in Juvenile Court, as well as double-booking cases or scheduling back-up dates to compensate for settlements.