News from the Courts

Issue September 2011

Court closure plan moves forward

On Aug. 10, Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert A. Mulligan filed a statutorily required report on court relocations with the Legislature. The report outlines the work of the Court Relocation Committee and the fiscal climate of the Trial Court that necessitates court closings.

The Trial Court's fiscal 2012 appropriation is $519.9 million, down from $605 million in fiscal 2009. The Trial Court has made extensive cost-saving moves since the fiscal crisis began, including implementing a hiring freeze in 2007 that has resulted in the loss of more than 1,100 staff.

Supreme Judicial Court launches Pro Bono Recognition Program

The Supreme Judicial Court has created the Pro Bono Recognition Program for lawyers who demonstrate an extraordinary commitment to pro bono work by voluntarily assisting vulnerable people of limited means with their legal issues.

Each year, the program will honor law firms, solo practitioners, in-house corporate counsel offices, government attorneys' offices, nonprofit organizations and law school faculties that certify they have met the program criteria by providing significant pro bono legal services.

"We think it is important to recognize those lawyers, firms and organizations which have gone beyond the call of duty to help individuals and families of limited means confront their urgent legal issues," said SJC Justice Francis X. Spina, who chairs the SJC Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services, which will administer the program. "The lawyers who volunteer to represent these often desperate citizens have done so at a time when the economic pressures on their own practices have never been greater."

Criteria for the program, as well as other information, can be found on the SJC website. Organizations that submit 2010 certification forms by Sept. 15, 2011, will be invited to send a representative to the October 2011 recognition event.

The need for pro bono legal services is critical, in part, because of the increased numbers of pro se litigants in Massachusetts courts and because of the precipitous decline in recent years of Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) funding, which pays for civil legal services for people in need. Rule 6.1 of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Responsibility sets forth a goal for Massachusetts lawyers to devote 25 hours per year to the pro bono representation of persons of limited means.

The Access to Justice Commission, co-chaired by SJC Justice Ralph D. Gants, recommended to the justices that a pro bono commitment recognition program be established in coordination with the Court's Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services.

"With so many in need of legal advice and services, it is important to recognize the many attorneys who have followed Louis Brandeis' extraordinary example in generously contributing their time to ensure that the problems of those who cannot afford counsel are resolved promptly and fairly," Gants said.

The SJC will acknowledge the attorneys, law firms and organizations that are certified for the recognition program with a letter of appreciation for their commitment to pro bono legal work. The names will be listed on the SJC website and the attorneys, law firms and organizations will be honored each year at a special event at the John Adams