Historic court reform legislation was signed into law, but two
other issues championed by the Massachusetts Bar Association were
left unresolved as a busy legislative summer ended.
As this issue went to press, alimony reform legislation was
awaiting action by the Legislature, having adopted technically
different versions. Also, tensions over the adequate funding of the
court system promised to remain a contentious issue into the fall.
The states top judges asked Patrick to stop appointing judges until
there was enough money allocated to support them. They also warned
of layoffs and released plans for closing courthouses, highlighting
the impact that substantial, ongoing budget cuts have had on the
Trial Court Department.
The MBA applauded the Aug. 4 approval of legislation enacting
court reform, something it has advocated for decades. MBA studies
in 1976, 1991 and 2003 supported major judicial reform, including
hiring a non-judicial court administrator to oversee the Trial
Court's business operations.
"This much needed change will ensure Massachusetts courts are run
in the most efficient manner, which benefits all members of the
public," said MBA Chief Legal
Counsel Martin W. Healy. "At a time
when the court system is experiencing major fiscal cuts and
dwindling resources this measure will assist court leaders in
facing these challenges."
In late July, the House of Representatives and Senate unanimously
approved The Alimony Reform Act of 2011, sweeping legislation that
will set clear guidelines throughout Massachusetts courts and
structure alimony orders, in large part, on the length of a
"Massachusetts families facing the emotional turmoil of a divorce
need alimony orders that make sense, strive for fairness and take
the length of a marriage into account," said MBA Past President
Denise Squillante, who operates a family law practice in Fall River
and was a member of the legislative task force that drafted
the bill. "This legislation will completely overhaul the state's
current antiquated system of setting alimony. The change is long
As for the court funding crisis, Chief Justice for Administration
and Management Robert A. Mulligan filed a statutorily required
report on court relocations with the Legislature on Aug. 10.
The report outlines the work of the Court Relocation Committee and
the fiscal climate of the Trial Court that necessitates court
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