The Massachusetts Bar Association hosted its annual State of the Judiciary Address on Thursday, Oct. 26, at the John Adams Courthouse.
MBA President Christopher P. Sullivan welcomed the crowd of esteemed judges, lawyers and government officials by ruminating on the courthouse’s namesake and founding father John Adams, who “designed a system of government where the executive, the legislature and the judiciary need to work together if anything meaningful is to be accomplished.” This introduction harkened back to his acceptance speech from his President’s Reception in September, in which he emphasized the rule of law. He then introduced Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, who received an emphatic welcome.
After acknowledging all those who make the operation of the courts possible, Gants expressed his belief that the “judiciary today has never been more thoughtful, more willing to explore better ways to do things we have always done, and more focused on addressing the problems that plague our commonwealth.”
He pointed to the July 1 expansion of the Housing Court as a recent success, but also noted that other courts need to be augmented, as well, “especially our drug courts,” Gants said, “which are so desperately needed at a time when we are losing more than five people every day to opioid overdoses.”
The SJC chief justice also announced that Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey and Probate and Family Court Chief Justice Angela M. Ordoñez have already begun the process of finding innovative ways to address certain issues in the Probate and Family Court, including self-represented litigants and the burdens placed on Probate and Family Court judges. Retired SJC Justice Margot Botsford has volunteered to help out and offer a “fresh perspective,” he added.
Gants made particular mention of the need for more attorneys to step up to handle care and protection cases at the Juvenile Court. He received a burst of applause from the audience after he said the Legislature should consider an increase from $55 to $80 for bar advocates who take on such cases.
The crux of his remarks focused on the fight against mandatory minimum sentences. Gants recalled the words of former SJC Chief Justice Edward Hennessey who, in 1980, said, “I opposed then and continue to oppose a system of mandatory sentencing totally eliminating judicial discretion to consider mitigating and aggravating circumstances.” In this vein, Gants urged that more focus be turned toward criminal justice reform to help curb the recidivism rate and thus reduce the overall crime rate.
Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey, who spoke after Gants, also addressed the recidivism rate in her remarks. She also reiterated the importance of the Trial Court’s mission to deliver “justice with dignity and speed.” New Court Administrator Jonathan S. Williams, recently featured on the MassBar Beat podcast (www.massbar.org/massbarbeat), finished the evening by calling attention to the $2 billion in deferred renovation costs the state’s court facilities face. He outlined a plan to consolidate facility footprints by optimizing the number of courthouses and making better use of technology.
Mike Flaim is a freelance writer and an associate editor with The Warren Group, publishers of Massachusetts Lawyers Journal.