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Media Contact for Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants Delivers State of the Judiciary Speech
Jennifer Donahue, Public Information Officer
BOSTON, MA — The Honorable Ralph D. Gants presented his fourth annual address at the Massachusetts Bar Association's State of the Judiciary event in the John Adams Courthouse today.
Chief Justice Gants thanked Speaker DeLeo, Senate President Rosenberg, Senator Spilka, and Representative Walsh for their leadership in bringing the benefits of the Housing Court to every resident of Massachusetts this year. Housing Court provides specialized services to assist parties in resolving disputes, helping both landlords and tenants, and reducing homelessness.
Chief Justice Gants addressed the urgent need for more attorneys to represent parties in care and protection cases when the Department of Children and Families has removed a child from parental custody. The number of these care and protection cases jumped by 45% from FY2013 to FY2016. By law, parents and children in these cases are entitled to an evidentiary hearing within 72-hours and, where they are indigent, are entitled to an attorney to represent them at this hearing. The Chief Justice noted that in Hampden County about half of these hearings have been continued because attorneys could not be found to represent all of the necessary parties, denying parents and children their right to a timely hearing "regarding a matter that affects a vital liberty interest -- a parent’s right to retain custody of his or her child."
"It is time to recognize this for what it is -- a constitutional emergency; we simply cannot continue to allow so many parents and children to be denied their right to a timely 72-hour hearing," said Chief Justice Gants, calling on the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the bar to find new ways to encourage more attorneys to do this work, and asking the Legislature to consider increasing the hourly rate for the CPCS bar advocates who represent parents and children in family law cases from $55 to $80 so that more attorneys can afford to do this work.
On the issue of criminal justice reform, Chief Justice Gants focused on what he described as "the fundamental takeaway from the research conducted by the Council of State Governments: effective criminal justice reform will reduce the crime rate, not increase it." Noting that 48% of those released from houses of correction and 38% of those released from state prison in Massachusetts were reconvicted within three years of their release, he declared:
"The lesson learned from CSG is that, if we can reduce this rate of recidivism, we can reduce the rate of crime. And we can reduce this rate of recidivism by providing drug treatment, mental health treatment, and cognitive behavioral therapy to those who presently cannot get this treatment in our prisons and houses of correction. We can reduce this rate of recidivism by giving defendants reasonable incentives to seek such treatment, such as earned good time and parole. We can reduce the rate of recidivism by reducing the degree to which a criminal conviction makes it harder to keep a driver's license, or get a job, or obtain further education, or find stable housing. We can reduce the rate of recidivism by diminishing the financial burden of fees and fines that sit like an albatross on the shoulders of those struggling to make a living and pay child support, and by allowing our probation officers to focus on rehabilitation rather than bill collection. We can reduce the rate of recidivism by taking the high risk 18-24 year old adults, whose recidivism rate is the highest of any age cohort, and enrolling them in post-release programs with a demonstrated rate of success."
Chief Justice Gants warned that "if we continue to allow many defendants to leave our prisons and houses of correction with untreated drug and mental health problems, with no job training or job experience, and then continue to place obstacles in their way when they try to find lawful employment, we can be sure that they will still find work; it might just not be the work we want them to find. Because, as one formerly incarcerated defendant noted at a recent MassINC forum, 'The streets are always hiring.'"
Chief Justice Gants also addressed the serious challenges faced in the Probate and Family Court, where so many individuals are self-represented. "The judges charged with resolving Family Court disputes -- alimony, property division, child custody, and guardianship -- must understand not only a single transaction or event, but each family's entire history, including the relationship between the spouses, their abilities as parents, and the needs of their children or, in some guardianship cases, the needs of an elderly parent or a drug-addicted adult child."
"In no other court do we have so many self-represented parties being asked to litigate disputes as complex, as emotional, as enduring, and as life-changing, as in the Probate and Family Court," said Chief Justice Gants "The burdens we place on our Probate and Family Court judges are simply not sustainable; we need to reimagine how we do justice in our Probate and Family Court." He announced that Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey and Probate and Family Court Chief Justice Ordoñez have already begun the process of finding innovative ways to address these challenges, and they will be aided by the "fresh perspective" of retired SJC Justice Margot Botsford, who served as an associate justice on the SJC from 2007 until 2017.
Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey, Trial Court Administrator Jonathan S. Williams, and Massachusetts Bar Association President Christopher P. Sullivan also delivered remarks.
"Our hope is to build capacity so that our leaders and our employees can hold each other accountable in ensuring that our users have trust and confidence in our system and that all employees feel valued and are treated with respect and dignity," said Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey.
"The workforce we seek is a diverse one that values merit-based hiring and promotion, continuing education, embracing innovation, and striving to live up to our ideals of justice every day," said Trial Court Administrator Jonathan Williams.
"We're proud to host the State of the Judiciary Address, which serves as an annual call to action for lawyers and judges to reaffirm our commitment to ensure justice for all in the Commonwealth," said Massachusetts Bar President Christopher P. Sullivan. "Bench-bar relations have never been stronger, and we are eager to work alongside Chief Justice Gants, Chief Justice Carey, Court Administrator Williams and all our partners in the judiciary to keep our courts moving forward."