State of the Judiciary

Each year at the John Adams Courthouse, the SJC’s Chief Justice, the Trial Court’s Chief Justice and the Court Administrator all present remarks on their priorities for the coming year.

This past October 30, Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the SJC gave his sixth such address, using the occasion to express his support for a right to counsel in eviction cases and discuss plans to develop a “virtual court service center” to assist litigants who need help navigating the court system.

He also demonstrated his continued concern about lawyer well-being with two new measures, following up on this past year’s report by a special committee the Court had appointed. The chief announced the establishment of a new Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being, as recommended in the report.

Second, the SJC will be establishing a pilot mentoring program for newly admitted solo and small firm practitioners. He also called on attorneys to honor their responsibility to be civil, while adding that judges should show deference to requests for extensions.

On other issues, Chief Gants said a new court working group will address best practices in dealing with criminal defendants who have substance-abuse and mental-health challenges, and pledged that the District Court and BMC have made necessary changes to handle the increased caseload once new rules on procedural-amount jurisdiction in civil cases go into effect in January.

Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey talked about implementation of the 2018 criminal-justice reform law, saying that new funding will expand evidence-based support services, including community corrections, for high-risk/-need defendants, building a comprehensive re-entry pathway.

She also pledged that no court in the nation is more engaged in a systemic effort to improve initiatives on diversity, equity, and inclusion, both in the courts and in the community at large. All Trial Court departments, she said, are committed to education, training and outreach, including engaging in difficult conversations.

Chief Carey also discussed the importance of tackling the impact on the courts of substance abuse and trauma, saying, “Trauma can be difficult to identify but is ever-present and overwhelming for both the individual and the court. What is often lost is the trauma experienced by employees of the Trial Court. [It is] imperative that we have resources available for court users, judges and staff.”

Finally, Trial Court Administrator Jon Williams talked about the newly-filed bond bill that promises to significantly upgrade the Trial Court’s information-technology capacity.

“We need major capital investment to transform the role of technology in the [courts],” he told the audience. “Working with our legislative partners, an IT Bond Bill was recently filed to meet the wide range of technology needs for the [judiciary to] transition to…eCourts and cybersecurity.”

-Michael Avitzur
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association