For Immediate Release - October 20, 2016

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants Delivers State of the Judiciary Speech

BOSTON, MA -- The Honorable Ralph D. Gants presented his third annual address at the Massachusetts Bar Association's State of the Judiciary event in the John Adams Courthouse today.

Major initiatives described by the Chief Justice include efforts to address issues of race in the criminal justice system. Data from the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission shows that the racial and ethnic disparity in the rates of imprisonment in Massachusetts is significantly greater than it is nationwide. To learn the reasons for this disparity, the Chief Justice has asked Dean Martha Minow of Harvard Law School to establish an independent research team to examine the issue. The Chief Justice also declared that courts are working to address implicit bias in the court system through training of judges and staff, jury instructions, and other measures.  

Issues of poverty in the criminal justice system are also being confronted. The Chief Justice noted that last term the Court "reaffirmed the legal principle that no defendant should be imprisoned or otherwise punished because he or she is too poor to be able to pay a fine, fee, or an order of restitution...We are examining whether we are unwittingly punishing poverty by the imposition of fines, fees, and restitution that a defendant has no ability to pay."   

Chief Justice Gants reiterated his support for a statewide Housing Court to provide every person equal access to the courts of the Commonwealth. Stating that Housing Court programs are good for both landlords and tenants and make economic sense because of their programs to avoid homelessness and evictions, he said. "If we care about tenants, if we care about landlords, if we care about homelessness, we must care about Housing Courts."  

On the civil side, the Chief Justice described some of the many new options developed in the trial courts to provide faster and more economical resolution of civil cases. He encouraged the bar to make use of these options, and to discuss them with clients for "a fair, timely and cost-effective resolution of their civil dispute."

Chief Justice Gants expressed optimism about the collaborative effort of the Governor, Speaker, Senate President and Chief Justice in working with the Council of State Governments on criminal justice reform.  He noted that the group eagerly awaits the final recommendations of the CSG to assist in "shaping criminal justice policy and improving public safety by reducing the rate of recidivism."

Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey, Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence, and Massachusetts Bar Association President Jeffrey N. Catalano also delivered remarks.

"The Court system is the last haven for people who have nowhere left to turn and we must deliver fair and impartial justice to every litigant. We continue to address the tragedy of the opioid crisis and mental health crisis through our use of 44 specialty courts, including Drug, Mental Health, Veterans and Homeless Courts," said Trial Court Chief Justice Carey. "For self-represented litigants and attorneys, we have expanded to six Court Service Centers beginning in 2014, which have provided assistance with information with regard to court procedure and process, the completion of court forms, computer access in real time and information regarding interpreter services to nearly 50,000 people."

Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence spoke of this being his last State of the Judiciary address, as he reaches the end of his five-year appointment in April.  

"Almost five years ago, I became the first Court Administrator for the Trial Court under the newly enacted court reform legislation, passed under the leadership of House Speaker Robert DeLeo and embraced by the Supreme Judicial Court," said Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence. "The new governance structure has proven itself as an effective mechanism for situating outstanding judicial decision-making in a court system that is both efficient and accessible. Highly professional hiring practices today ensure that the Trial Court identifies and selects the most qualified employees in crucial roles that support the delivery of justice throughout the Trial Court, in Security, Probation, Clerks offices, Facilities and elsewhere. The people who administer our system of justice are intelligent, resilient, good humored and morally committed. They serve some 40,000 people who come through our doors every day. I am honored to have worked with such a group of people."

“The State of the Judiciary address provides a unique and important opportunity for lawyers and judges to assess where we are and look forward to where we’re headed as a united legal community,” said Massachusetts Bar Association President Jeffrey N. Catalano. “The Massachusetts Bar Association is proud to host this annual event and looks forward to our continued collaboration with Chief Justice Gants, Chief Justice Carey, Court Administrator Spence and other members of the judiciary, as we work together to improve access to justice and protect the rule of law in the Commonwealth.”