News from the Courts

Issue March 2014

Attorneys urged to respond to SJC's Judicial Performance Evaluation survey

The Supreme Judicial Court's Judicial Performance Evaluation Committee is asking attorneys to respond to questionnaires evaluating the performance of Western Mass. judges. The full participation of the bar is crucial to enhancing the performance and quality of the judicial branch.

Judges of the District, Superior, Probate and Family, Housing, and Juvenile courts in Berkshire, Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties will be evaluated by attorneys, court employees and jurors.

Attorneys should take the time to complete the questionnaire, as the more responses received, the more accurate the judicial evaluations will be. The SJC's evaluation program is the best opportunity for attorneys to voice their opinions of the members of the judiciary.

SJC approves changes to Rule 4:02

The Supreme Judicial Court has approved changes to Rule 4:02 of the Rules of the Supreme Judicial Court effective July 1, 2014. Visit www.mass.gov/courts/sjc/ to view changes.

2014 edition of the 'Massachusetts Guide to Evidence' now available

The Supreme Judicial Court and its Executive Committee on Massachusetts Evidence Law have announced the release of the 2014 edition of the "Massachusetts Guide to Evidence." The justices of the Supreme Judicial Court recommend use of the guide by the bench, bar and public.

The 2014 edition is the sixth annual edition of the guide. It is available without charge at www.mass.gov/courts/sjc/guide-to-evidence. The official print edition is available for purchase from the Flaschner Judicial Institute, which is again providing a complimentary copy to every judge and appointed and elected clerk in the commonwealth.

The "Massachusetts Guide to Evidence" assembles existing Massachusetts evidence law in an easy-to-use document organized similarly to the "Federal Rules of Evidence." The guide includes extensive explanatory notes and citations to pertinent authorities.

Judiciary submits proposal to expand Housing Court to cover entire state

The Judicial Branch has submitted a proposal to the Legislature to expand the Housing Court to the entire commonwealth by July 1, 2015.

Created in 1978, the Housing Court Department is a court of specialized jurisdiction that deals with residential housing matters, including landlord-tenant issues, and enforces the commonwealth's building, fire and sanitary codes. Its growth over the ensuing decades has been patchwork in nature: about 20 percent of Massachusetts in geographic terms is not covered by a Housing Court and, since the uncovered areas are quite populous, about 30 percent of the state's population does not have access to a Housing Court.

Major areas of the commonwealth do not have the much-needed services of a Housing Court. There is no Housing Court for all of Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket counties, most of Norfolk County and much of Middlesex County. Cities with some of the highest number of rental units, such as Chelsea, Framingham, Malden, Cambridge, Medford, Somerville, Watertown, Woburn and Waltham, do not have a Housing Court. Barnstable County has a significant number of rental units. New legislation would address this shortfall, expanding access to justice in housing matters throughout the state.

In areas unserved by a Housing Court, housing cases, along with a broad range of legal matters, are heard in a District Court. Housing Court judges have in-depth knowledge to analyze the labyrinth of federal, state and local housing laws. The judges also work closely with the court's Housing Specialists, who mediate cases, saving time and expense of litigation, and perform on-site property reviews to resolve issues concerning housing conditions.