Last week was a busy one at the BBA. Not only did I spend Tuesday as Principal for the Day, but later that evening, the BBA Council had the chance to hear directly from Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula Carey and Court Administrator Harry Spence – the dynamic duo who lead the Trial Court department. We know that they have extremely busy schedules, so we appreciate the time they took to discuss the status of the courts and give us a sneak peek at what might be in store for the future.
“One Mission: Justice with Dignity and Speed,” the court’s strategic plan, has been in place for over a year under Chief Justice Carey and Court Administrator Spence, and through its emphasis on collaboration both internally and with other outside agencies, it has moved the courts forward in leaps and bounds. While change is still ongoing, there are a few significant updates from the discussion that I’d like to share as we continue our own advocacy for the courts:
- Specialty Courts: The number of specialty courts has been rapidly expanding and is sure to continue to do so; in fact, a portion of the Trial Court’s funding for the year was specially earmarked by the Legislature, indicating lawmakers’ support for the specialty courts. Chief Justice Carey was emphatic about the great work and successes these programs achieve, challenging all of us to attend a specialty court graduation and not cry. One year into a three-year plan, eight new specialty courts have already been added, and, by the end of the year, we are slated to see a total of thirty-five. In addition to expansion, the Trial Court is working to standardize specialty court operation and study outcomes so that we can better measure their effectiveness. This can help us find ways to maximize the effectiveness of the specialty courts in response to specific challenges, such as the opiate crisis, and ultimately reduce rates of recidivism.
- Technology: This is another area in which we can expect continual change from the courts as they update their systems and move toward becoming more streamlined, efficient, and user-friendly. They are moving to an all-digital system and are aiming to become 90% digitized within the next few years. Already, we can expect to see new features being set into place. For example, in Bristol and Barnstable Counties, attorneys can already find dockets and documents online. In January, they will implement e-filing for civil cases in certain demonstration sites and will soon begin to offer digital preservation of documents. The courts will also completely install MassCourts, the electronic case access tool, for the Superior Court by June. The Trial Court is committed to making its operations more user-friendly and accessible to the general public.
- Security Screening: Under the guidance of their Director of Security Jeff Morrow – formerly of NCIS – the court has identified security issues in the courthouses and is working to address them. It may mean stricter security measures for all, but this will likely be a worthwhile trade-off for the added peace of mind. I found this particularly striking as the courts are hoping to maintain a dialogue with the bar to figure out the most effective way to ensure the safety of all who enter any courthouse.
We also heard more about the court service center that recently opened at the Brooke Courthouse, which has assisted over 3,000 litigants since June. New court service centers are in the works for all major courthouses across the Commonwealth. We are proud that our most recent Public Interest Leadership class had the opportunity to work with the courts to develop materials for the center and help it to launch – it’s a great example of how the bench and bar can collaborate on issues of mutual interest. It is a privilege to work with powerhouses like Chief Justice Carey and Court Administrator Spence, and we’re looking forward to lending our support as the year progresses. This stated mission of “justice with dignity and speed” is one that we share wholeheartedly.