Just under a month ago, new Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), Ralph Gants, gave his first annual State of the Judiciary address. He declared four points of emphasis, all of which have ties to the BBA. We are already seeing movement in these areas, behind the energetic and committed leadership of Chief Justice Gants. The following is a rundown of his four stated priorities and the BBA’s involvement with each.
- Sentencing reform. The Chief called for individualized, evidence-based sentencing and a reconsideration of mandatory minimum sentences. A long-time proponent of sentencing reform, the BBA has opposed mandatory minimum sentences, and worked to establish fairer graduated sentencing, with heightened judicial discretion, for decades. We are interested in working with the judiciary to re-examine the current sentencing structure.
- Civil justice system reform. We are currently working with the courts to reform the civil justice system. Chief Justice Gants pledged that each Trial Court department that handles civil litigation would convene a working group to develop cost-effective options that parties could agree upon for proceeding with their cases. Over the last few weeks, the BBA has been asked for nominees to serve on the working groups for various court departments,. While each request is slightly different, they ask the BBA to name a few members with expertise in the court department at hand to help with the goal of streamlining civil litigation. Each working group will devise a “menu” of options for litigants, starting with, in the Chief Justice’s words, “the usual three course meal of full discovery, a jury trial. . . and full rights of appeal.” However, the working groups are tasked with finding other, less expensive and less time-consuming dishes for litigants desiring them. Examples from Chief Justice Gants’ speech include limited discovery, bench trials, and possible limitations on the right or scope of appeal.
- Access to justice. We have been at the forefront of work on access to justice with the BBA Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts (task force). In his speech, the Chief Justice referenced the work of the BBA task force directly, saying, “The Report demonstrates that investing in civil legal aid is not only an investment in equal justice, but also a sound fiscal investment, generating savings in public expenditures greater than its costs.” He urged the Legislature to consider the task force’s request for an additional $30 million in funding for civil legal aid over the next three years. The Boston Globe editorial team endorsed the funding request shortly thereafter. The Globe also published a letter to the editor earlier this week, authored by Jeff Baliban of Alvarez & Marsal, one of the independent economic analysts who focused on domestic violence issues in the task force report.
- Jury voir dire. We have also been involved with jury voir dire issues. BBA Council member Mark Smith of Laredo & Smith, currently serves as BBA liaison to the SJC working group on voir dire. The working group is critical for the Chief Justice’s commitment to establish protocols implementing the new law on attorney voir dire by February 2015. The group anticipates the release of a draft proposal around the end of this year. The superior court will work to develop pilot programs soon after. We look forward to seeing what they come up with and to working with the courts on making the new law a success.
In short, we are pleased that progress is already being made in these four important areas highlighted by Chief Justice Gants. The BBA takes is proud to be a thought leader in the law and a long-time supporter of the judiciary. We look forward to helping see these efforts through to fruition, as part of our long-standing commitment to advancing justice in our community.
– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association