BOSTON – Saying that Massachusetts’ state trial courts “are already operating on the brink” following cuts of $24.4 million to the judiciary budget in Fiscal Year 2010, the Boston Bar Association today released a report warning that any additional budget cuts — such as the additional $10 million reduction proposed by House One — would decimate critical services for the most disadvantaged Massachusetts residents and pose serious risks to public safety. The report was drafted by the BBA Task Force on the FY2011 Judiciary Budget, chaired by Joan A. Lukey of Ropes & Gray.
“Our courts have reached the breaking point,” said BBA President Jack Regan. “We know the Commonwealth is in dire fiscal straits, and every branch of government is expected to maximize efficiencies and ensure that every taxpayer dollar is spent wisely. But in this case, management reforms and cost-saving measures have already been maximized by the judiciary. Anything less than maintenance funding for FY 2011 will have catastrophic, real life consequences.”
The report – based on interviews with judges and lawyers – provides these and other examples of the adverse consequences directly attributable to budget constraints in the Trial Court:
- Several courts now have a severe shortage of court officers. In some courts, uniformed police officers are asked to provide security during sessions; in others, court sessions proceed without any court officer at all, creating a significant security risk for judges, litigants, witnesses, court staff, and the public.
- The Boston Municipal Court in South Boston routinely receives more petitions for substance abuse commitments than there are available treatment beds. A court clinician is available only after 1:00 p.m., with the result that afflicted individuals languish until they can be evaluated late in the day. Beds that might have been available in the morning — when patients are typically discharged – – are no longer available. Because the patients do not receive the full treatment they require, they tend to relapse more often, creating a vicious cycle of addiction and crime.
- Another Boston Municipal Court judge told of a situation in which medical evaluations of three individuals were not completed until the end of the day, at which point only one treatment bed was available. When the clinician reported that all three persons should be committed, the judge was forced to decide which one would receive the bed and which two would be sent home.
- The Probate and Family Court in Middlesex County no longer has sufficient sessions clerks to cover all courtroom sessions. As a result, all assistant judicial case managers (AJCMs) are required to attend court sessions, meaning that they generally are not available to assist the public or the bar. The Boston Bar Association has received several reports of situations in which litigants or attorneys have waited hours for an AJCM to become available to respond to a simple query.
- Attorneys working in the Superior Court have innumerable stories of lengthy waits for rulings on dispositive motions and the scheduling of hearings as reductions in both court staff and clerks have resulted in an increasingly overburdened judiciary. Attorneys told of cases that directly affected the health of their clients, including one case where a contentious family business matter had caused a severe strain on the physical health of the parents involved. In another case, a victim of an alleged assault and battery who suffers from severe facial injuries had hearings on dispositive motions postponed for several months due to personnel cutbacks. The individual’s health has been prejudiced due to the unavoidable delay.
- Of the over 600 employees who have left the Trial Court since July 2008, many did so pursuant to early retirement incentives. The consequence has been the loss of some of the most experienced court personnel, none of whom can be replaced due to the hiring freeze.
The report also notes that cases in which antipsychotic medications are required will be delayed due to a lack of court-appointed personnel to monitor the treatment (so-called “Rogers monitors”). Cases requiring civil commitment of persons with mental health issues will likewise be delayed due to the reduced number of guardians ad litem. Such reductions can pose severe health and safety threats.
The members of the BBA Task Force on the FY2011 Judiciary Budget are: Joan A. Lukey, Chair, Ropes & Gray LLP; Michael B. Keating, Foley Hoag LLP; Lawrence S. DiCara, Nixon Peabody LLP; Mark C. Fleming, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP; Suleyken D. Walker, Meehan, Boyle, Black & Bogdanow, P.C.; Mala M. Rafik Rosenfeld & Rafik, P.C.; Lisa G. Arrowood, Todd & Weld LLP.