This week, BBA President Paul Dacier and the BBA Council had the opportunity to meet with newly appointed Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence. He was informative and enthusiastic about the trial court’s positive momentum.
The court is improving on all levels. From the macro-perspective, the court continues to cultivate its good relations with the other branches of government. The last few years have resulted in stable budgets with modest increases. This is due in large part to the tireless efforts of Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, who spends days at the legislature building relationships and the respect of lawmakers and key government leaders. Spence believes that other branches of government have made a fundamental decision to give hands-off support to the courts, and that they won’t return to budget cuts and micromanagement.
Spence is relishing his collaboration with new Chief Justice of the Trial Court, Paula Carey. They are working hard to implement the steps and mission statement of the new Strategic Plan, to achieve “one mission with dignity and speed.” The first changes will come in the areas of technology, specialty courts, and court service centers.
Technology advances will change the way courts operate. For example, the courts recently completed their online platform. E-Filing will be available for a majority of criminal cases and a large amount of civil cases in the near future. Smart phone apps will soon help streamline the court experience for attorneys. In addition, the court is using other technological advances to overcome staff shortages such as upgrading the phone system in Boston Municipal Court to reduce calls to clerks’ offices and preserving documents digitally so they are infinitely smaller and easier to transport.
The court will also add and improve specialty courts. These courts have proven effective at reducing incarceration and recidivism by increasing effective responses specially tailored to those suffering from problems such as addiction, homelessness, or veterans’ issues. Despite initially being a leader in establishing specialty courts, the Commonwealth has lagged behind other states in their development. Spence foresees a future where these courts work in collaboration with the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Public Health, and the Department of Veterans Services to maximize their impact. They will be located in the areas most in need of their services and they will operate based on universal standards instilled through a mandatory certification and training process. They will enhance efficiency by capitalizing on the expertise of clerks and judges, while at the same time sharing back room staffers to avoid the repetition of overhead expenses. Furthermore, they will gather detailed data and undergo constant evaluation so their true value can be understood.
Finally, the court will implement service centers to help self-represented litigants. This will take some strain off litigants and judges alike. Pro se litigants can get the help they need to navigate the court system and judges will see better prepared parties. Spence described visiting a Connecticut court with mandatory service centers where judges spoke of saving an estimated two to three hours daily thanks to this innovation.
Spence described an ambitious present and bright future for Massachusetts courts. We at the BBA look forward to these advances and are confident the trial court can make it happen thanks to their new leadership team, strategic plan, and cooperation with other branches of government.
– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association