Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland Focuses on Judicial Branch Priorities and
Achievements in First Annual Address to the Legal Community
In his first annual address to the legal community, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland today gave a positive account of actions underway in the Massachusetts Judicial Branch. He elaborated on priorities that he announced when he became Chief Justice on December 20, 2010. He said that building bridges to court constituencies, broadening access to justice, and reaching out to youth through mentoring and educational programs will allow the judicial system to maintain its high standards of excellence.
The Massachusetts Bar Association's Bench-Bar Symposium was the forum for his first major address which was given in the late afternoon at the John Adams Courthouse. MBA President Richard P. Campbell introduced Chief Justice Ireland and gave opening remarks. Juvenile Court Judge James G. Collins, President of the Massachusetts Judges Conference, spoke briefly about the importance of fair and impartial courts.
Executive Vice President and General Counsel Robert Baldwin and Paula L. Hannaford-Agor, the Director of the Center for Jury Studies, at the National Center for State Courts presented the prestigious G. Thomas Munsterman Award to Massachusetts Jury Commissioner Pamela J. Wood and to the Jury Management Advisory Committee, chaired by Superior Court Judge Robert C. Rufo. The innovative use of technology, improved juror utilization, and a superb juror information video that debuted in July were among the noteworthy accomplishments highlighted by the NCSC in awarding the national honor to the Office of Jury Commissioner and the Jury Management Advisory Committee.
Chief Justice Ireland began his remarks by thanking the Legislature for proposing a supplemental appropriation for the Trial Court and expressed his hope that the bill will be enacted and approved by the Governor. "Legislative support for funding a fair, efficient, and accessible system of justice is particularly noteworthy in this time of severe fiscal constraint," Chief Justice Ireland remarked. While acknowledging that Fiscal Year 2012 and future years will continue to present challenges for the courts, he said, "It takes courage in these difficult times to approve additional funding."
He also called the court management legislation passed by the Legislature in August a "milestone" because it re-engineers the management structure of the Trial Court and will provide new managerial support to judges and court staff. He said the legislation "strengthens the mechanisms of accountability and transparency," and he pledged to continue to reach out to the other branches for open dialogue on issues affecting the courts. He emphasized that the judicial system is making great strides with measures to strengthen accountability by noting that the Task Force for Hiring in the Judicial Branch, chaired by former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, has produced a series of reports and recommendations and that many reforms are underway. He also noted that the legislation keeps the Probation Department within the Judicial Branch and said that probation officers play a vital role in the courts and communities.
Chief Justice Ireland discussed how the Judicial Branch is now at a "turning point" and that the courts are adapting to technology and improved methods of serving the public. He said the courts must continue to embrace new opportunities.
"Many of the old ways of doing business are gone," Chief Justice Ireland said. "Transparency is replacing mystery. Performance measurement is informing management decisions. Collaboration is replacing isolation. Technology is driving new and better ways to work and reach out to the bar and the public."
He said that self represented litigants are increasing in numbers and it is the duty of the Judicial Branch to make our courts welcoming, particularly to individuals who have been historically underserved. He described various actions taken by judges, court staff and lawyers to improve legal access and court information, including innovative pro bono programs to help those in financial need, limited assistance representation by lawyers, court information booths in large courthouse complexes, self-help publications produced by courts, the Trial Court law library services for attorneys and the public, and the availability of multi-language forms used by courts, to name a few.
Chief Justice Ireland said that he wants to make the judicial branch "a force in civic education, particularly about the role of courts and the rule of law, and especially for young people." He noted that the John Adams Courthouse has become a learning center about the Massachusetts Constitution and the court's history, and it attracts hundreds of people each year, including students, who observe oral arguments, participate in courthouse tours, attend educational plays and meet with judges. He cited the Supreme Judicial Court's long established and successful Judicial Youth Corps program, in which he is personally involved, the MBA's Tiered Mentoring Program that encourages young people to learn about the law, various Law Day programs, among others. He also applauded MBA President Campbell for making public education about the importance of a well functioning court system a priority during his term.
Chief Justice Ireland singled out Massachusetts Appeals Court Justice James F. McHugh for special recognition for his numerous exemplary contributions to the Judiciary as a jurist, leader and innovator over the past 26 years. Justice McHugh was recently named the recipient of the 2011 William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence, the most distinguished national honor given to a state judge by the National Center for State Courts. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts will present the award to Justice McHugh at the U.S. Supreme Court next month.