Court reform bill advances in House and Senate

Issue June 2011

The Massachusetts House of Representatives voted on May 11 to pass legislation that seeks to professionalize Trial Court operations and management by adding additional business expertise throughout the court system. Further, the bill would clarify lines of authority and reaffirm the Supreme Judicial Court's superintendency powers.

House Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary Eugene O'Flaherty acknowledged the Massachusetts Bar Association in his House floor remarks during  the approximately hour-long debate, which resulted in a 152 to 0 vote in favor of the legislation.

On May 19, the Senate followed suit in passing its version of a reform measure by another unanimous vote of 39 to 0. However, the Senate measure eliminated a number of new management positions sought by the House and court leaders.

The MBA remains concerned that provisions of the Senate bill may lead to unnecessary disputes, as a number of the House changes regarding the new court administrator's authority have been diminished.

House Bill No. 3395 will benefit litigants and the public alike as it presents multiple efficiencies for the court system. Specifically, the creation of a court administrator, along with individual trial court department administrator positions to be assumed by an expert, non-judicial civilian administrator, are reforms long advocated by the MBA.

The MBA's independently commissioned 1991 Harbridge House Report and the 2003 MBA Court Study Task Force Report both included detailed findings and recommendations regarding the employ of such an administrator.

"This proposal brings to fruition more than 30 years of best practices from the state and the nation," said MBA President Denise Squillante, who was joined by MBA Past President Leo V. Boyle (1991-92) on May 3 to testify in favor of the bill before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. "This change will place Massachusetts where it should be, as a national model for an innovative and effective court system," she said.

The MBA will work closely with legislators in the coming weeks as differences to the two measures are sorted out in conference committee.