On Tuesday, the Supreme Judicial Court announced that it will reduce public office hours for 38 courthouses across the state starting September 19th. The scheduling of court sessions will not be affected by the changes in office hours and access will be available for cases of the greatest urgency.
Kyle Cheney’s story on this subject ran in the Boston Globe on Wednesday, generating reader comments that reveal gross misperceptions about the work going on in our courthouses each day.
The court system is a sitting duck for attacks because it has no natural constituency, unlike the other branches of government, and because most of the public’s interaction with the courts stems from a negative life experience. “Before the courts stage there (sic) work slowdown over budget cuts somebody ought to do a time study of what the court workers really do especially the judges,” wrote seen-it-all. “No money should be restored until the waste and fat is trimmed. Stop your whining!!!!!!”
What waste and fat? The courts are in full triage mode. Every day 42,000 people access our courts. At last count, the number of Trial Court employees was down 1,167 people, a 15 percent reduction in staff since 2007. In combination with budget reductions of $85 million over three fiscal years, the result has been a hiring freeze, work furloughs and an exhaustive reduction in non-personnel expenditures. Cuts have been made everywhere, as the courts have been forced to use an ax in place of a scalpel. Courthouses have been consolidated, judges have asked for a moratorium on judicial appointments and plans for court relocations have been announced.
Another reader commented as if the recent announcement is nothing more than a political ploy: “Let the games i.e. posturing begin. Cut my budget we’ll cut back hours and penalize everyone like a petulant child,” wrote XENOPHONIC. The truth is that our state courts are staffed at levels well below national standards and there are just not enough employees to keep up with the caseload.
Our courts are hurting and the people who need access to them the most have been hit hardest. Ill-informed comments about our state courts do not help the cause. Facts and figures are important, but numbers can only tell part of the story. It is essential that we consider the real life anecdotes about the effect of the cuts on real people. We understand the financial situation facing the Commonwealth, but while cutting the state court budget may seem inconsequential to some people, it endangers the basic constitutional rights of Massachusetts citizens. This cannot continue without disastrous consequences for the administration of justice.
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association