SJC rejects calls for mandatory fee
A committee appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court has issued a
report in opposition to client-initiated mandatory fee arbitration
in Massachusetts. The SJC accepted the committee's recommendation
that Rule 1.5 of the Rules of Professional Conduct be amended to
require a written fee agreement before or within a reasonable
amount of time after commencing representation.
Two Massachusetts Bar Association members, Past President Kathleen
M. O'Donnell and Gavin Reardon, a member of the MBA's Executive
Management Board, served on the committee.
Probate Court announces standing order for
As a result of the new Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code
(MUPC), the Probate and Family Court announced the implementation
of Standing Order 5-11.
The standing order was developed and recommended by the MUPC
Implementation Committee, Estate Working Group, and addresses how
the estate administration and trust provisions of the MUPC will
apply to proceedings pending after Jan. 2, 2012, where a permanent
decree has not entered or where a permanent decree has entered but
other proceedings may be pending in
As a result of the standing order, a new form has been created. If
a citation is issued by the court on a petition requesting the
appointment of a fiduciary, prior to Jan. 2, 2012, and the return
date is after Jan. 2, 2012, the citation must be accompanied by the
new MUPC Supplemental Notice. The notice states important
information about the changes in the obligations of a
court-appointed fiduciary pursuant to the MUPC.
The supplemental notice must be served on all interested parties
in accordance with the order of notice in the court-issued
citation. The obligation to provide all interested parties with the
notice rests solely with the petitioner. The petitioner shall be
responsible for obtaining and completing the notice.
The notice form (MPC 591) and instructions may be obtained at each
registry and accessed online.
More clerks' office hour reductions
Three district courts reduced their clerks' public office hours
as of Nov. 14, following similar moves in 35 courts in September,
to allow staff to focus on vital functions and reduce processing
Clerks' offices in Concord, Marlborough and Salem District Courts
are reducing public office hours for one or two hours, on two or
more days each week. Also, Framingham/Natick District Court
extended its current one hour of restricted access to four days a
week, and Lowell District Court shifted its restricted hours from
midday to the end of the day. Court officials have said the changes
are temporary, but have not indicated how long they will be in
During the specified hours, staff will be unavailable to answer
general telephone inquiries or assist the public. Telephone
messages and signage at each location will provide information
about the adjusted hours and emergency access information. The
judicial response system, which provides around-the-clock coverage
for emergency situations, will be unaffected.
Court session scheduling is not affected by the changes, and
access is available for emergency matters. Court officials noted
that reductions in counter and telephone hours allows uninterrupted
time for staff to prepare cases for court sessions and execute
court orders, as well as complete filing, docketing, scanning and
other case processing.
As a result of yearly reductions in funding, the Trial Court Dept.
has lost 1,221 staff through a hiring freeze and attrition since
2007, a 16 percent reduction that has caused numerous delays.
Departmental chief justices have worked with local courts to
develop plans to minimize public inconvenience and avoid adverse
impact on court users. Courts have also used technology,
cross-court staff sharing and centralizing some functions to help
offset staffing shortages. Departments are monitoring the impact of
the restricted hours to assess its effectiveness in improving
SJC investigates acquittal rate
claims in Globe
In response to a Spotlight Team investigation by The Boston
Globe into acquittal rates in jury-waived trials for driving
under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the Supreme Judicial Court
has begun a confidential and independent preliminary inquiry.
The SJC appointed trial lawyer Jack Cinquegrana of Choate, Hall
& Stewart to determine the acquittal rate of driving under the
influence cases in Massachusetts and how it compares with the
national average, as well as how the acquittal rate compares with
other criminal cases in District Court and Boston Municipal
Cinquegrana, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the District of
Massachusetts, chief trial counsel in the Suffolk County District
Attorney's Office and past president of the Boston Bar Association,
has also been asked to explore whether the acquittal rates of
certain judges in those two courts are substantially higher than
the statistical average, and, if so, to identify the possible
reasons for the disparity.
In a release, the SJC stressed that this is a fact-finding
inquiry, not a disciplinary one. Once it is completed, the SJC will
review the findings and decide if further action is
"As judges, we recognize the delicate nature of this preliminary
inquiry. Our system depends on judges being able to decide a case
fairly but independently, without fear or favor. A judge is
obligated to find a criminal defendant not guilty if the government
has not proved the case beyond a reasonable doubt; at the same
time, a judge must find a defendant guilty where the crime has been
proved beyond a reasonable doubt," the statement said.
"Public confidence in the judiciary depends on its belief in the
integrity of the judicial process, judges and their decisions. To
preserve the public's trust and confidence, the courts must be, and
must appear to be, fair and impartial in all cases. We have asked
Mr. Cinquegrana to conduct the preliminary inquiry in a manner that
respects each of these principles."
The appointment was made after consultation with Chief Justice for
Administration & Management Robert A. Mulligan, District Court
Chief Justice Lynda M. Connolly and Boston Municipal Court Chief
Justice Charles R. Johnson, who have been fully supportive, court
officials said. The preliminary, fact-finding inquiry is
The Massachusetts Judges Conference, a nonprofit organization
representing more than 82 percent of sitting Massachusetts judges,
also responded to the Globe report, noting that 76 percent
of all drunk driving prosecutions result in convictions or
admissions of guilt, which result in statutorily mandated
MJC President James G. Collins said in a release: "Each citizen
who comes to court charged with a crime, whether tried before a
judge or a jury, deserves to be treated as an individual and to
have his or her guilt or innocence determined on the basis of the
facts and the law, and not on the basis of anyone's scorecard about
what percentage of the cases should be guilty versus not