In his second Annual Address to the Legal Community, Supreme
Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland made early use of
the word "optimism," a theme shared by other speakers at the
Massachusetts Bar Association's Bench-Bar Symposium, even as they
outlined some challenges that face the judiciary.
MBA President Robert L. Holloway Jr. called the assembled crowd
to order in the Great Hall of the John Adams Courthouse in Boston
on Oct. 17. Holloway warmly welcomed the legal community, greeting
many judges by name. He introduced the topic of court reform - a
dominant theme of the evening - by welcoming Leo V. Boyle to the
Boyle, an MBA past president and former Court Management
Advisory Board member, brought context to the topic by discussing
its 40-year history. Briefly charting its progress from 1976
through 2011, Boyle said reports and advisory committees had long
urged the courts to appoint the kind of administrator Massachusetts
now has. And in creating that position, the state "had history on
In Ireland's speech, the chief justice gave updates on other
areas of progress for the judiciary. He began, as last year, with
budget talk. However, the news was better this time around.
First, Gov. Deval Patrick had approved a supplemental budget for
the judiciary, which had been proposed by the House under Speaker
Robert DeLeo. So this year, although the budget is still tight, the
judiciary can start to reverse the downward trend on personnel.
"We are hopeful that the worst is behind us, and that we can
start the process of addressing critical staffing needs for our
court," Ireland said to the crowd of nearly 150.
Ireland came to his first Annual Address last year with three
major areas of focus, and used his second address to give a
progress report and describe how the judiciary would build on its
efforts thus far. Those areas include building bridges with key
court constituencies; broadening access to justice by making courts
more responsive; and educating the public, particularly youth,
about the role of the judicial system.
Ireland said he's been working hard to get to know individuals in
the legislative and executive branches, and added that his
colleagues in the judiciary have also been actively reaching out to
the two other branches of government. He thanked the MBA for its
support of court funding as well.
In one example of outreach to the other branches, Ireland
described how the judiciary sponsored its first education and
training program for legislative staff. There, staff received
information that enabled them to better answer constituents'
frequently asked questions on the court system. Legislative leaders
helped plan the event and said it was a positive experience,
Ireland reported, and he added that he hoped to repeat the program
in the future.
ACCESS TO JUSTICE
As for the second of his priorities, Ireland is looking to broaden
access to justice by making courts more responsive to the public.
To that end, the Access to Justice Commission and the Trial Court's
Access to Justice Initiative "are going full steam," he said. The
Access to Justice Initiative is improving language access through
grant awards, and both groups are developing programs and using
technology to make the courts more user-friendly.
Ireland's third priority "stems from my prior experience as a
juvenile court judge, and the recognition that our young people are
the next generation of citizens and leaders," he said.
Ireland championed the Judicial Youth Corps (JYC) in particular,
which was founded more than 20 years ago by then-Chief Justice Paul
J. Liacos. More than 700 teenagers have participated, working in
the court system and learning about it from the inside.
Three volunteers in the audience, each of whom has been working
with students for more than 20 years, received special recognition:
Catherine DeSimone, first assistant clerk of the Suffolk Superior
Court Criminal Clerk's Office; Robert Lewis, clerk-magistrate of
the Boston Housing Court; and Anthony Owens, clerk-magistrate of
the Dorchester District Court.
Ireland then introduced a JYC alumna, Kenia Seoane Lopez, who
worked in the program in 1991 and was recently appointed magistrate
judge of the District of Columbia Superior Court.
Lopez took the podium and shared a funny, moving account of how
the JYC dramatically changed the course of her life. An average
inner city high school student who wasn't above cutting class once
in a while, she "carried more makeup in my bag than actual books."
But a teacher who saw her potential referred her to the JYC. Lopez
signed up, mostly for the stipend she would receive, but got much
more out of the experience. It gave her a sense of accomplishment,
and she saw firsthand how many people in the court system needed
Inspired to try harder and dream bigger, she finished her senior
year of high school, went on to Northeastern University and
eventually law school.
"You can see what a profound effect this little program had on
my life," she told the crowd. She thanked members of the legal
community as well as her parents, Cuban immigrants who had wanted a
better life for their children and done the hard work to make it
Following Lopez's remarks, Ireland introduced Trial Court
Administrator Lewis H. "Harry" Spence, who shared experiences from
his first sixth months in the newly-created position. In that time,
Spence has visited the staff of well over 20 courts. He told the
audience that he believed the judiciary's staffing levels would
remain contracted for the foreseeable future, as staff members
struggle furiously to maintain services with fewer bodies. But
there are opportunities here as well, he said - for instituting new
governance, new hiring policies and better, merit-based
Spence said he has cause for optimism. Firstly, the appetite for
change is greater than he'd assumed. And secondly, the staff
members themselves are extremely competent.
However, Spence noted that the arc of career development is very
limited for those people. In some courthouses, the only way anyone
can move up is if the person ahead of them dies or retires, he
said. "Personnel need to be able to move across the system with
more dynamism," Spence said.
Also, he explained that courts must integrate back-office
procedures to reduce overhead. "Specialized courts are necessary,
but as it stands now each has its own back-office functions, which
renders many processes redundant," he said. New performance
appraisal methods are on their way, he added, and the courts must
also increase their use of technology, such as centralized billing,
internet payments, and e-filing, to improve the system.
The formal speaking program gave way to a networking reception
help in the conference room at the courthouse.