At the annual Bench-Bar Symposium on Oct. 22, Supreme Judicial
Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants updated the legal community on
the progress made on some of the initiatives set over the past
Last fall, the Trial Court departments with civil jurisdiction
worked toward making the resolution in civil cases more
cost-effective, and examined whether litigants could choose from
alternative means of resolving the disputes to avoid the need for
arbitration. Gants reported the beginning of ongoing improvement in
Gants introduced three impending changes in civil litigation -
the first being a wider selection of options for resolving
"It is premature for me to list them, since they are still a
work in progress, but I am confident that you will be surprised by
the variety of options, because I was surprised by the variety of
options," he said.
Second, judges will help ensure a reduced time to resolution and
that litigations costs remain reasonable. Gants also pointed out
that Rule 26 of the Rules of Civil Procedure currently provides
that discovery may not be objected to as long as the "information
sought appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of
admissible evidence." He disclosed the expectation that the Supreme
Judicial Court's Standing Advisory Committee on the Rules of Civil
and Appellate Procedure will amend the rule to provide for
Third, in the District Court and the Boston Municipal Court,
there will be an increased number of dedicated civil sessions where
civil cases will be the sole priority. These dedicated sessions
will be designed to enable attorneys to litigate civil cases at an
Gants emphasized the need for fair and proportionate sentences
tailored for each defendant and designed to reduce the likelihood
of recidivism and prevent future crimes.
He also explained the results of an examination of the state's
legal system and introduced options for potential resolutions.
"In 2012, 46 percent of those released from state prison in
Massachusetts were released without parole or probation
supervision, which is one of the highest rates of unsupervised
release in the nation. And of those released with supervision, far
more are on probation than are on parole," Gants said.
He also examined some of the fees which are tacked on throughout
the legal process and finished with a discussion of voir
"We have issued a Superior Court standing order governing
attorney participation in voir dire. We have designed a
pilot project in which 15 Superior Court judges are using and
studying panel voir dire. With funding obtained from the
State Justice Institute, we have recruited 30 Superior Court judges
to study attorney-conducted voir dire (and in fact that
study group is meeting as we speak)," he reported.
"The people of Massachusetts are fortunate to have judges who
are not only heard from at decision time, but also at events like
our Bench-Bar Symposium, where lawyers and judges speak together as
a united legal community and learn from each other," said
Massachusetts Bar Association President Robert W. Harnais. "The MBA
is proud to work with Chief Justice Gants and other members of the
judiciary as we continue our joint efforts to advance our system of
justice and improve access to justice for all."
Social issues and e-filing
Chief Justice Paula M. Carey also spoke about the increasingly
pressing social issues she has noticed making their way into the
courts system - substance abuse, domestic violence and mental
"The key to our efforts in addressing substance use and mental
health issues for justice involved individuals is Specialty
Courts," she said.
The Trial Court has funded eight additional Specialty Courts
this fiscal year, she said.
"By the end of the fiscal year we expect to have 42 sessions up
and running statewide," Carey said.
A task force has been established for dealing with substance
abuse and mental health issues and to identify internal and
external resources to fill in any gaps.
Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence closed by discussing a
push toward a paperless legal future. He detailed the many efforts
underway to modernize the system and use technology to help
streamline the process.
The last county in the Superior Court converted to MassCourts,
an automated case management system, bringing all of the seven
Trial Court departments on a unified case management system, he
"I predict that by the end of fiscal year 2018, less than three
years away, the Massachusetts Trial Court will be at least 85
percent digitized," he said. "At least 85 percent of the ongoing
work of the Trial Court will be done with digital documents, not
E-filing and the increasing introduction of the attorney's
portal among departments in the Trial Court continues. The Public
Access Committee has also been working to create a set of rules to
guide for publication of court cases online.
Spence wrapped up by adding that evidence-based practice in the
work of probation is well underway.
The event concluded with a message to unite the legal community
-- to maintain work as a problem-solving court and learn from each
other to continuously improve the system.
Malea Ritz is an associate editor with The Warren Group,
publisher of Massachusetts Lawyers