Fully funding Massachusetts courts protects fundamental rights

Issue May 2015

BMC's Hogan discusses how budget cuts to the judicial branch impact access to justice

As Massachusetts legislators prepare their proposals for the commonwealth's fiscal year 2016 budget, it is important that the judicial branch be fully funded so that our courts can continue to provide equal justice for all. The Massachusetts Bar Association continues its advocacy on behalf of the courts.

In addition, the American Bar Association's Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section (TIPS) has created a Full and Fair Court Funding Toolkit, which includes information to help people understand the national crisis caused by underfunded courts, as well as tools to "take action." One of the most powerful components of the toolkit is a video featuring Boston Municipal Court Clerk-Magistrate Daniel J. Hogan, president of the Massachusetts Association of Magistrates and Assistant Clerks, who discusses how budget cuts have impacted the courts in Massachusetts.

Hogan, who is involved with the ABA's Fair Court Funding Initiative through his work with the association's Tort and Insurance Practice Section, took part in a Q&A to discuss how the Massachusetts courts, and the general public, are impacted by lower funding of the judicial branch.

What is the ABA's Fair Court Funding Initiative?
An important initiative undertaken by the TIPS section of the ABA to bring awareness to the importance of full and fair funding of our courts throughout the country.

How did you get involved with it?
The ABA Annual meeting was held  last summer in Boston, and I was asked to participate and advise on a local level regarding approaches to secure adequate funding for our courts.

From working with others at the ABA, how does the situation in Massachusetts compare to other states around the country?
Massachusetts, like so many other states, has endured several years of significant reductions in funding that has clearly impacted our ability to perform our core functions, namely, justice with dignity and speed. However, over the last few years, the Massachusetts judiciary, with significant assistance from the bar associations - specifically the Massachusetts Bar Association - has been more successful in articulating that adequate court funding cannot simply be a policy decision but a core issue of good government. The courts have done a very good job, in my opinion, at changing the way we operate in many areas and streamlining our procedures to adapt to the changes in our business practices and the explosion of pro se litigants. We are working closely with our partners and legislative and executive branches.

How many years have you worked as a clerk?
I was appointed and sworn in as the clerk-magistrate by His Excellency, Argeo Paul Cellucci, in March of 2000.

In that time, what for you personally at the Boston Municipal Court has been the most noticeable fallout from lower court funding?
We have experienced a reduction in staff from a high of 105 employees to approximately 46 employees now. This negatively impacts our ability to perform from the most mundane to the most complex situations efficiently and effectively. Crime and other disputes don't suspend in difficult economic times. Actually, I would suggest the reverse is true. What was also equally noticeable was the dedication and commitment of the courts most important resource, its workers, who sacrificed much and worked three times as hard to maintain a level of competence and professionalism in the most difficult of economic times.

Do you think this is the same at all courts across the state?
My experience has shown that all courts across all court departments throughout this commonwealth experienced not only the same significant reduction in resources as the BMC but also the same commitment and dedication from court staff.

With lower funding, the courts have had to do more with less. Can you give an example of an area where you feel your court has particularly shined in this respect?
Court staffs have been asked on a daily basis to be magistrates, managers, social workers, mental health experts, substance abuse councilors, mediators, referees, and teachers when dealing with the 42,000 people who enter our courts on a daily basis, who often enter the courts seeking assistance at the worst of times. Even with limited resources, I am always impressed at how well the courts do at resolving disputes with dignity and compassion.

When it comes to court funding, what's the number one priority for your court?
Despite being just two percent of the entire state budget, the Judicial Branch has experienced almost a 20 percent reduction in funding. Over the last several years, the workforce has been reduced from approximately 7,800 employees to our current level of approximately 6,300 employees. Our courts must begin to replenish their workforce first and then move to secure additional funding for specialty courts, automation and infrastructure, mediation and arbitration, and alternatives to incarceration initiatives.

What can lawyers do to help?
Lawyers must continue to publicly advocate for the full and fair funding of the judiciary. They must continue to emphasize not only to the executive and legislative branches, but also to their clients and the citizens, just how important a fully funded court system is to our commonwealth. Because without the courts, our democracy is at stake where individual rights may be sacrificed, business would suffer, victim's rights would go unprotected and all of our constitutional protections would be at risk.