Housing Court A message from Chief Justice Steven D. Pierce

Issue January 2008

The Trial Court has been engaged in several initiatives focusing on court management over the past four years. The two most prominent issues for the Housing Court Department have been the Court Metrics Project and the implementation of MassCourts, the court’s new case management system.
The purpose of the Court Metrics Project was to improve the administration of justice through the implementation of performance measures. Utilizing the guidelines and the goals as established in concert with my fellow departmental chiefs and the chief justice for administration and management, we in the Housing Court first established the internal reports necessary to extract the data for measurement as to the four CourTools promoting the timely and expeditious disposition of cases.

Initial reports advised us that we needed to focus attention on the number of cases in our system regarded as undisposed and the relevant age of those cases. We soon realized that the issue was not one of unadjudicated cases, but rather, one of cases simply not being properly coded as disposed. Remedial action for the data cleanup included promulgating a clear definition of disposed for the project, bringing together the key players from each division, giving them an overview and mapping a strategy to address the issues.

Adhering to these principles during the two years of the project have allowed us to maintain a clearance rate in excess of 100 percent, which has reduced the number of pending cases beyond time standards from in excess of 90,000 at the start of 2006 to slightly over 3,800 as of Sept. 30, 2007. We have also exceeded the established goal for firm trial date settings for those cases that must be resolved by trial. Our efforts over the past two years of this project will allow us in the future to concentrate on achieving the goals for the effective and timely disposition of all cases within the Housing Court.

One of the more challenging aspects of court management reform has been the implementation of MassCourts. MassCourts has been designed as a single case management system for the entire Trial Court to effectuate better communication, a greater degree of data usage and management and enhanced access for users of the court. In April 2006, it was proposed that the Housing Court become the first department of the Trial Court with both multiple divisions and multiple locations of those divisions to implement MassCourts. We spent the next 15 months planning, developing and preparing for the rollout.

With the cooperation and valued assistance of our divisional department heads, we created an implementation team consisting of representatives from each division, our local user experts, the Trial Court Information System Office and the Internal Audit Department of the Trial Court. The team’s work consisted of creating all the codes for use in the Housing Court, the design of all necessary forms and notices, the creation of business rules to effectuate the conversion of data in our existing system to the new system, and finally, the creation of the education plan and tools to facilitate the training of all users of the system. The team was instrumental in the successful rollout in all divisions of the Housing Court from July through October of 2007.

With the continued involvement of the implementation team, it is expected that MassCourts will evolve into an effective management tool for the 21st century.

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