District Court A message from Chief Justice Lynda M. Connolly

Issue January 2008

As the gateway to justice in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the District Court is dedicated to the administration of justice in a fair, impartial and timely manner in accordance with the rule of law. In fulfilling this role, the District Court will provide the communities it serves with an environment that is safe, accessible and respectful to all. The District Court will conduct its business with integrity, competence, and a commitment to excellence in order to promote public trust and confidence in the judicial system.
— Mission Statement of the District Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

The District Court’s mission statement recognizes that timeliness is an essential component of justice. In fiscal year 2007, 784,250 individual cases were filed in the 62 District Court divisions. Prior to the recent emphasis on accountability and periodic assessment of progress, it was a significant challenge to implement a methodology that would support the efforts of first justices and court management teams to make timely resolution of cases a reality.

While the culture of the District Court had institutionalized sound caseflow management practices that encouraged timely disposition, there was no effective way to measure timeliness and document our progress. Historically, decisions about allocating judicial resources were based upon anecdotal information rather than accurate data and current needs. We were not able to provide first justices and court leadership teams with the type of information needed to manage their busy court calendars and to formulate strategic plans to avoid logjams and better serve the public.

The introduction of MassCourts Lite in 57 of our 62 divisions allowed the District Court to measure timeliness and to identify backlogs at a level of detail never before available. On a weekly basis, regional staff now provide first justices with information from MassCourts Lite on the number of pending cases that are outside of time standards. First justices now are able to identify caseflow issues and to schedule based on court needs. Even more importantly, each court has weekly case lists which identify the individual docket number and next scheduled event of every pending case outside of time standards. This enables first justices and local court management teams to prioritize these cases for disposition.

In the past year, the use of caseflow information provided by MassCourts Lite has become routine among District Court first justices and court leadership teams. Among the examples: in one busy District Court, the first justice, in consultation with the clerk-magistrate and chief probation officer, revamped the court’s schedule to provide additional time to hear civil cases. In one judicial region, the regional administrative judge centralized the assignment of civil jury trials to a few locations based on the detailed case information that is now available. In another court, a backlog of criminal jury business was addressed locally by scheduling more criminal jury trials each day; in three months the court’s backlog of criminal cases outside of time standards has been reduced by more than one-third.

The leadership teams in each of the 62 district courts across the commonwealth have embraced the case processing information provided by MassCourts. They have used this information to manage their court’s business in a way that was not possible even two years ago.
The “marriage” of the Trial Court’s initiative on timeliness and expedition of cases and the implementation of MassCourts Lite has resulted in an overall clearance rate of 102 percent in the District Court’s criminal caseload, a proud achievement in fulfilling the District Court’s mission as the gateway to justice.

Other Articles in this Issue: