Superior Court Celebrates 150 years

Issue Sept/Oct 2009 By Tricia M. Oliver

A Q&A with Chief Justice Rouse

Established in 1859, the Massachusetts Superior Court is one of the oldest common law trial courts of general jurisdiction in the country. This year's 150th anniversary has been an opportunity for the Superior Court to revisit its rich history and share its importance with the citizens of the commonwealth.

Although the official date of the anniversary was July 2, 2009, the celebration for this milestone has been ongoing throughout the year. Educational programs and events - such as mock trials, reenactments of famous trials, open houses and historic tours - have been held for adults, students and children across the state. The culmination of the yearlong celebration will come on Sept. 22 when the Superior Court hosts a statewide symposium and commemorative dinner in Boston.

As the Massachusetts Superior Court prepared for these two major events this month, Chief Justice Barbara J. Rouse took some time out of planning to speak with Lawyers Journal.

Lawyers Journal: What does this mean to the Superior Court?

Chief Justice Rouse: A few years ago, we gave careful consideration to how we wanted to commemorate the 150th anniversary. We wanted to raise public awareness of the work of the judiciary, and in the process, share a little about our rich history. As a result, the planning process for this celebration has been a very organic one, with each county committee taking ownership of the many celebratory events in its respective area. A host of educational programs have been met with success over the last year and we now look forward to the culmination of yearlong celebration - a symposium and dinner to be held on Sept. 22.

Lawyers Journal: What does this mean to the state?

Chief Justice Rouse: Hopefully, our events have raised the public's awareness about the third branch of government and the work we do. The cases handled by the Massachusetts Superior Court have been of social, political and cultural importance. Since civics is no longer taught in school, this was a yearlong opportunity for us to emphasize citizen participation in the justice system. We hope our outreach, particularly with students, has helped underscore the important role that citizens play in our work.

Lawyers Journal: What has been the largest sweeping change in the Superior Court's existence?

Chief Justice Rouse:There have been many, but I'd single out the change in the culture - shifting from an idiosyncratic personality to one that has more collective goals of improved case management and enhanced delivery of justice. The modern state of the court is more focused on management, accountability and performance measures. Equally important to the quality of a decision rendered by the court is the timing of that decision. We've seen success with our Firm, Fair Trial Date initiative and other measures that have improved our cost effectiveness and expeditiousness.