Keeping a steady eye on court reform

Issue May 2011 By Denise Squillante

As part of my testimony before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary last month, the MBA stressed that the time has come for the appointment of a professionally trained court administrator to oversee all management functions of the Massachusetts Trial Court. We were pleased to hear that House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland have filed court reform legislation that includes this recommendation.

Such a move will bring to fruition more than 30 years of best practices from the state and the nation.

For generations, the Massachusetts Bar Association's court advocacy has steered court reform worthy of both patrons and stewards of the legal system alike. The issue has remained high on MBA presidential and legislative agendas over the years; and now, in 2011, court reform is once again front and center.

The recommendation to enlist a management professional to oversee the daily operations of the Trial Court has been a consistent component to highly visible reports on court reform over the last few decades.

The call for modern court reform was ignited in the late 1970s with the Cox Commission. The MBA was a key guest at the table during those conversations, analyses and reporting. Although we maintained an interest and lent a voice on court operations following the Cox Commission throughout the 1980s, serious talks on reform resurfaced in 1991 when the MBA spearheaded the independently commissioned Harbridge House Report.

Then came the 2003 findings of the MBA Court Study Task Force and the Supreme Judicial Court-appointed Visiting Committee on Management in the Courts (more commonly known as the Monan Commission), as well as the recent 2010 Report of the Court Management Advisory Board.

A common thread to all of these was enlisting the expertise of a court administrator to professionalize court management and operations. The proposed change frees up judicial leaders to provide more attention to judicial responsibilities that they were selected to perform, rather than be bogged down with management functions.

Speaker DeLeo's announcement on April 21 revealed that his proposed bill calls for the Trial Court administrator to complement a chief justice of the Trial Court, to replace the existing chief justice for administration and management. Although the MBA has long advocated for such a non-judicial administrator position to be created, we have also stated our continued support of a chief justice position in the Trial Court. There is an important role to be played by both complementary positions, and we commend the Hon. Robert Mulligan's leadership throughout his tenure as CJAM.

As with the tenets of Speaker DeLeo's legislation and those included in the mentioned court reform reports, we must be innovative in our approach to court management to ensure that we have the most efficient and effective system possible. The citizens of Massachusetts deserve that focus, as do we, as stewards of the court.