News from the Courts

Issue June 2011

State courts

Task force issues recommendations on hiring, promoting court officers

The Supreme Judicial Court has reviewed the recommendations presented in the "Action Plan for Hiring and Promotion of Court Officers and Associate Court Officers," delivered to the Court in late April, by the SJC's Task Force on Hiring in the Judicial Branch, chaired by former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger.

"We greatly appreciate the ongoing efforts of the task force, under attorney Harshbarger's leadership, and thank them for these thoughtful recommendations to strengthen our hiring practices," said Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland. "The report identifies best practices that will allow us to increase transparency and public confidence in the way we recruit and select candidates for these key positions."

The action plan outlines recommendations that the task force believes will improve current procedures. They include implementing best practices for attracting and employing highly qualified individuals, restricting the use of recommendations until finalists are selected, introducing annual performance evaluations, creating a career path as a performance incentive, and centralizing supervision of the hiring process.

"Court officers and assistant court officers provide a critical public safety role in the court system," said Chief Justice for Administration & Management Robert A. Mulligan. "The guidance provided by the task force will greatly assist our efforts to improve hiring practices, once the fiscal situation allows lifting of the hiring freeze. In the meantime, we can begin work on those recommendations that set the stage for future hiring and affect current staff."

Last December, the SJC established the task force to comprehensively review the hiring and promotion practices in the judicial branch in the wake of the abuse in the Probation Department documented in the report of Independent Counsel Paul Ware. The justices charged the task force to "make recommendations designed to ensure a fair system with transparent procedures in which the qualifications of an applicant are the sole criterion on hiring and promotion." In February, the task force delivered its final report with respect to the Probation Department.

Task force members now will continue work on their mandate by undertaking reviews of the remaining parts of the judiciary, while monitoring the transformation of probation. The task force members are Scott Harshbarger, chair; Randy Chapman, Stephen Crosby, Kate Donovan, Ruth Ellen Fitch, Michael Keating, Hon. James McHugh, Susan Prosnitz, Harry Spence and Steven Wright.

Appeals Court amends standing order on petitions to the single justice

The Massachusetts Appeals Court has amended its Standing Order Governing Petitions to the Single Justice Pursuant to G. L. c. 231, § 118 (first paragraph) and a Standing Order Governing Motions to Stay Filed Pursuant to Mass. R.A.P. 6.
These standing orders will require petitioners to file certain documents that are essential to the single justice's screening of both petitions for interlocutory review and motions to stay judgments or the execution of sentences.

The Rule 6 standing order amendment clarifies that (1) its time limit for a response applies to motions to stay execution of sentence filed in the single justice session of the Appeals Court prior to the entry of a direct or collateral appeal, and (2) otherwise, the time limit stated in Mass.R.A.P. 6(b)(2) applies.

The amendment includes instructions on the filing of impounded or confidential material and a requirement that the petition or motion not exceed five pages, exclusive of the 15-page memorandum of law.

Civil appeals pilot program approved for Appeals Court

The Massachusetts Appeals court has received approval to begin a six-month pilot program requiring appellants to file docketing statements in all civil appeals, effective June 1.

The docketing statement will provide the court with important background information that will be useful not only when the case is entered and screened, but also while it is under consideration. The pilot program, in turn, will help the court to refine the format of the form and to determine if any adjustments are required.

During the course of the pilot program, the docketing statement will be posted on the Appeals Court website as a PDF form that will have drop-down menus, calendars and text that will automatically fill in certain information. Attorneys and litigants will be able to complete and save the form and then file it by e-mail.

After reviewing comments, the court will not require a statement of anticipated issues in child welfare appeals.

Appeals Court adopts electronic documentation, notification

Effective June 1, the Massachusetts Appeals Court is requiring litigants represented by counsel to file with the Appeals Court an electronic copy of certain documents, all of which typically are filed after oral argument or the court's decision.

Such filings include Rule 16(l) letters, petitions for rehearing, motions for attorney's fees, to stay or for immediate issuance of the rescript, and any opposition to the foregoing.

Receipt of electronic copies of these documents will allow the court to track and process them more reliably and efficiently. The formatting requirements are designed to allow an automated transfer of the document from the CD-ROM or e-mail to the court's document management system, where it will be instantly available to the justices and court personnel.

In addition, the standing order will aid the bar by reducing the cost of providing multiple copies of certain motions and letters. Finally, the experience that the court and the bar will gain from dealing with electronically filed versions of the designated documents will be helpful in thinking about and planning for broader e-filing opportunities.

Also effective as of June 1, the Massachusetts Appeals Court will permit attorneys and self-represented litigants to register to receive only electronic notification of the court's actions, orders and decisions, in lieu of paper, notice.

To register, attorneys and self-represented litigants must file a signed consent form, which will be available on the Appeals Court's website as a PDF form that can be filled, saved and e-mailed to the clerk's office. The clerk's office will issue the electronic notifications multiple times each day to registered attorneys and self-represented litigants, while conserving its limited resources and expenses by not printing and mailing duplicative paper notices.