Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants outlined a
four-point agenda to improve the state's justice system and
stressed the importance of cooperation in his first State of the
Judiciary address on Oct. 16, at the Massachusetts Bar
Association's Annual Bench-Bar Symposium.
"We in the judiciary increasingly are recognizing that our role is
not only to do justice, but to solve problems," Gants said. "Once
we recognize that every court is a problem-solving court, we see
that the problems that come to us cannot effectively be solved
without the funding and legislation that only the legislature can
provide, without the drug and mental health treatment programs that
only the executive branch can establish and administer, and without
the legal advocacy that only the bar can offer."
Addressing the crowd of lawyers, judges, legislators, clerks and
court staff at the John Adams Courthouse in Boston, Gants called
for an end to mandatory minimum sentencing in drug offenses. Noting
that such punishments have had a "disparate impact" on minorities,
the chief justice advocated for individualized, evidence-based
sentencing "that will not only punish and deter, but also minimize
the risk of recidivism by treating the root of the problem behind
many drug offenses - the problem of addiction."
Gants also challenged the courts and bar to "compete with private
arbitration" by developing more litigation options for civil court
cases "to ensure that our courts … continue to create the common
law that is the legal infrastructure of our civil society." He also
announced plans to release information sheets that will help
self-represented litigants know how and where to access legal
Gants concluded his remarks by pledging his commitment to voir
dire and thanking the Supreme Judicial Court Committee, which
includes former MBA President Douglas K. Sheff.
"By February 2015, when the new statute takes effect, there will
be a provisional Superior Court standing order that will establish
protocols for attorney voir dire, and the Superior Court, hand in
glove with the committee, will learn from our experience with the
provisional standing order before issuing a more permanent one," he
said. "We will make attorney voir dire work."
Collaboration on display
MBA President Marsha V. Kazarosian delivered opening remarks at
the Bench-Bar Symposium, which celebrated the strong and
long-standing collaboration between lawyers and judges, as well as
legislators and others who work closely with the legal community.
"This is truly a community of people used to working toward common
goals, and achieving those goals. And each time I have the honor of
speaking to our legal and legislative community, I am reminded of
the humbling power of cooperation and collaboration," she
Kazarosian singled out the passage of voir dire as a
recent example of unity. "Voir dire is a goal that the MBA
and the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys have worked toward
for a very long time, and we are extraordinarily grateful to Gov.
[Deval] Patrick and our legislative leaders, as well as our
partners in the judiciary, for recognizing its worth as an
incomparable tool in rooting out hidden bias."
Looking ahead, the MBA president noted that "although we have
certainly moved mountains together, there are still more mountains
to move," citing the MBA's goal of higher salaries for assistant
district attorneys, public defenders and bar advocates. Kazarosian
noted she had accepted an appointment by Patrick to serve on his
Commission to Study the Compensation of ADAs and CPCS
"I look forward to continuing down that road paved by the MBA's
Blue Ribbon Commission on Criminal Justice Attorney Salaries,"
Kazarosian said. "Without appropriate funding for a balanced system
of criminal justice that provides for the rights and securities
afforded to us all by our constitutions, we are not meeting our
obligation to provide true access to justice for those who need it
Before turning over the podium for Gants' first State of the
Judiciary address, Kazarosian reiterated that one of the greatest
benefits about the MBA was the "terrific rapport" it shares with
the judiciary, including Gants.
"Whether he is chairing commissions or task forces to ensure legal
services for the underrepresented … or [rushing] back across the
state after a long and difficult day to attend an evening reception
because he promised he would be there," Kazarosian said, "Justice
Ralph Gants is the respected and admired voice of our judiciary,
the leader of our legal community and a really nice guy."
Serving the people
Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula M. Carey and Trial Court
Administrator Harry Spence also spoke at the symposium. Spence
praised the trial court administration's organizational and
technological advances, including an attorney's portal being
piloted in Bristol County.
"The pilot allows lawyers to go online to view their cases,
including all docket and event information. We expect to expand it
across the state and across trial court departments," Spence said.
"Soon we also expect to offer, for a small fee, an application that
pushes information on scheduled events to attorneys' electronic
Carey celebrated the state's addition of nine new specialty courts
- five drug courts, two mental health courts and two veterans'
treatment courts - and discussed efforts to implement domestic
violence legislation passed this year.
She concluded her remarks by praising the bar for helping the
courts serve the people of Massachusetts.
"[T]he trial court would not have been able to effectively deliver
justice over the five years of the fiscal crisis without the help
and commitment of the bar," Carey said, adding: "As we move
forward, we are keeping the needs of the bar in the
Jason Scally contributed to this story.