Justice Margaret H. Marshall Addresses
Judicial Accountability and Public Trust in Courts
in Keynote Speech to Massachusetts Bar Association
the public’s confidence in the judicial system is the “central
challenge” of judges and lawyers, Supreme Judicial Court Chief
Justice Margaret H. Marshall stated today in her keynote address
to members of the Massachusetts Bar Association at their annual
meeting. Judges and lawyers should work together to learn
from people outside the legal system how it can be improved,
she said at the Park Plaza Hotel this afternoon.
Justice Marshall emphasized that judges must be fair, impartial,
and independent in making judicial decisions and must continue
to demonstrate their strong commitment to those constitutional
principles. She said that judges do, and must, take seriously
their responsibilities to protect the rule of law in society.
The Chief Justice said the public’s
perceptions of how judges and court personnel perform their
duties must be “a shared responsibility” by the judiciary and
the bar. Of
people’s questions or concerns about the judicial system,
Chief Justice Marshall said, “We must examine the questions.
We must understand them. And we must respond to them.”
To meet the challenge, Chief Justice
Marshall said she will ask the bar to help the Court convene
public meetings throughout the state to hear from jurors, witnesses,
litigants, their families, and community leaders about specific
issues that will “help to define and accomplish goals that will
advance our constitutional mission.”The Chief Justice said that
she wants to continue “to listen broadly, openly” to judges,
lawyers, and court employees “without predisposing ourselves
to hear what we want to hear,” and to learn from leaders of
the bench and bar in other parts of the country.
A system of performance evaluation
of judges, which is moving forward and building on initiatives
already underway in the trial courts, is a major priority for
the Court and “an opportunity to demonstrate our accountability
to the people we serve,” said Chief Justice Marshall. She stated that all judges, including those
on the Supreme Judicial Court, will participate in a judicial
evaluation program as a way to increase the public’s trust and
confidence in the judicial system.
Chief Justice Marshall also challenged
more experienced lawyers to help new lawyers, many with heavy
educational debts, to find affordable public service opportunities
and to give them “a helping hand” to gain valuable legal experience.
The Chief Justice recounted how she first came to the
United States from a vastly different South African culture
without legal experience and community contacts and was grateful
for simple invitations from lawyers to participate in various
bar association activities.
Responding to the urgent needs
of individuals who represent themselves in court (pro se litigants)
is “a national challenge, ” as well as a statewide issue, said
Chief Justice Marshall. She
stated, “The common goal is to make justice available to every
individual in our Commonwealth, regardless of their ability
to pay.” Chief Justice Marshall said the courts will hold the
first Statewide Conference on Unrepresented Litigants in Worcester
in March, and asked the bar to help the courts address
the complex issues raised by the numbers of unrepresented litigants.
She also praised the pro bono
efforts of lawyers who, without financial compensation, help
individuals with their legal problems, and she thanked the members
of the SJC’s Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services for their
continued commitment to support pro bono efforts.
The Chief Justice also emphasized
the need to educate young people and adults about the legal
system as another way to serve the public and to bolster their
confidence in the judicial system.
She cited the SJC’s Judicial Youth Corps, a 16-week court
educational program for high school students in Suffolk County,
Worcester, and Springfield as an outstanding example of the
way in which judges, lawyers, and court personnel can work together
to give youngsters an understanding of fundamental values on
which the judicial system is based.
She asked the lawyers for their help in expanding the
program to other parts of the state.
In her closing remarks, Chief
Justice Marshall reminded the audience that the public’s respect
for the judiciary and the rule of law is essential to society.
She said, “To earn and keep that respect is, and must
be, our common goal. The root purpose of judicial independence
is not that judges be free. It is that our citizens receive fair and equal treatment before
the law when they come to our courts, promptly and efficiently.”