Massachusetts State House.
Policy Library

One More Time…the Judiciary is a Separate Branch of Government and NOT a State Agency

November 08, 2012

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again:  The Judiciary is a separate and co-equal branch of government.  The other two branches are the Legislative and Executive branches and the purpose of this tripartite form of government is to prevent too much power from being amassed and brandished by any one branch.

When Governor Patrick filed a $30 million supplemental budget with the House of Representatives this week, we paused.  The $30 million supplemental budget request asks for money to cover the investigation and response costs for “state agencies and municipalities” associated with the state drug lab crisis.  The $30 million supplemental budget request refers to “state agencies and municipalities” four separate times.

So where do the costs to the Judiciary associated with the drug lab fit into all of this?  Nowhere in the supplemental budget document does the Governor refer to the costs the Judiciary is incurring due to the drug lab crisis.  We do know that the Governor meant well and is committed to addressing these costs to ensure justice and public safety.  We also know that the Governor did contemplate the costs to the Judiciary when he asked for $30 million to cover the costs from the drug lab mess.  But we’re left scratching our head as to why the Judiciary is being lumped into “state agencies and municipalities.”

The legislation even goes on to define “state agency” as “a state agency, board, bureau, department, division, section, or commission of the commonwealth.”  The Judiciary isn’t a department or a division of the commonwealth.  We’re saying it again – the Judiciary is a separate and co-equal branch of government.

Governor Patrick wants the supplemental money for the state drug lab to be appropriated into an account under the control of his Secretary of Administration and Finance.  The Governor wants his administration to be in charge of the various transfers to ensure that this extra money does indeed go to costs associated with addressing the drug lab fiasco.  But it appears that this scenario, at the very least, raises some important separation of powers issues.

It would be great to see the Legislature sign off on this $30 million request in a timely way, but the Legislature should be open to some friendly amendments that would allow the Judiciary to receive the state drug lab money directly.  This is simple.  The amendments should give the Judiciary the money they need to cover the costs from the drug lab while requiring them to provide a full accounting to the Legislature as to how the money is being spent.  We are confident that the Judiciary will cooperate and be fully transparent every single step of the way.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association