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Media Contact for Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants Delivers State of the Judiciary Speech
Jennifer Donahue and Erika Gully-Santiago
BOSTON, MA — Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants today presented his fifth annual address at the Massachusetts Bar Association's State of the Judiciary event in the John Adams Courthouse.
Chief Justice Gants expressed gratitude for a "Speaker, a Senate President, and a Governor who understand that the problems we confront every day in our courts -- opiate addiction, mental illness, domestic violence, homelessness, delinquency, to name only a few -- are the same problems they are committed to address, and that our success is their success."
Chief Justice Gants addressed the profound importance of lawyer well-being, citing a study that surveyed nearly 13,000 practicing lawyers and found that between 21% and 36% qualified as problem drinkers; approximately 28% were struggling with some level of depression, 19% with anxiety, and 23% with stress.
"The health of our legal system depends on the health of the legal profession, and the health of the profession depends on the health of our lawyers," said Chief Justice Gants. "Too many attorneys are struggling with serious health issues that are exacerbated, if not caused, by the way that law is practiced today. The practice of law has always been demanding, but it is especially challenging now, fraught with ever-increasing financial pressures, client demands, and work expectations that are taking a terrible toll on many of our most resilient attorneys."
Chief Justice Gants announced that the SJC has recently formed a Steering Committee on Lawyer Well-Being that will explore ways to reduce stress on attorneys, increase professional satisfaction, help restore work-life balance, and better support those who are confronting mental health and substance use disorders.
On the issue of criminal justice reform, Chief Justice Gants said that the landmark legislation enacted this year is an impressive beginning to criminal justice reform but that more work toward reducing recidivism must be done. Chief Justice Gants stated that criminal justice reform must focus on reentry so that defendants are given a fair and a reasonable chance of succeeding upon release, and described the crucial role probation officers play in supporting defendants' reentry into their communities.
"Just as a primary care physician can refer patients to specialists who will address the identified medical and psychiatric needs of their patients, so, too, can probation officers refer their probationers to special programs that provide them with mental health or drug treatment, or to programs that provide job training, tutoring, mentoring, or peer counseling, or to legal assistance providers that can help them to keep or obtain affordable housing, to remove obstacles to finding employment or obtaining student loans, and to reinstate drivers' and occupational licenses," said Chief Justice Gants.
"If probation officers are to succeed in this role, we need to provide them with an inventory of available resources in their geographic area so they know what services are available, and with the training needed to learn how to access them. And, most importantly, we need funding to ensure that these services actually become available. One way that the Legislature has done this is to appropriate funds to allow Probation to contract for residential reentry services. If someone released from custody does not have a stable place to live, that person is unlikely to succeed in recidivism reducing interventions and treatment. But residential reentry, even with this new appropriation, can help only a fraction of our probationers. We need additional funding to enable Probation to obtain the range of support services that are needed by the majority of our high risk, high need probationers."
Chief Justice Gants also addressed the importance of judicial independence, saying "Every day, judges must make tough judgment calls in difficult cases. A judge reviews the law and the evidence and makes the best decision he or she can under the circumstances, often with too little time and too few resources. Everything a judge says in a criminal or civil case is on the record, and subject to being closely scrutinized, second-guessed, and sometimes taken out of context. Sometimes the facts are not clear; sometimes the law is not clear; and sometimes, it simply may not be clear how to weigh legitimate and sharply divergent arguments and interests."
"It is fair game to criticize a judge's decision. And if you do not think judges hear and are sensitive to such criticism and to being reversed by an appellate court, I can tell you from personal experience that you are wrong. But threatening judges with removal solely because of a mistake or an unpopular decision threatens the independence of the judiciary and, more importantly, threatens our constitutional obligation to apply the law equally and fairly to every litigant, whether that litigant be a sex offender, a drug dealer, a drug addict, or the Commonwealth, a landlord or a tenant, a husband or a wife, an alleged abuser or a victim of abuse. If we are to provide every person fair and impartial justice in our courts, we must allow judges to make decisions based on their best judgment of the law and the facts, unburdened by any fear that a controversial decision may jeopardize their career."
Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey, Trial Court Administrator Jonathan S. Williams, and Massachusetts Bar Association President Christopher A. Kenney also delivered remarks.
"In many ways the Trial Court is the default mental health and substance use coordinator. Our system has had to adapt and employ evidence based practices in order to address the needs of justice-involved individuals," said Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey. "We have embraced the role of being the conduit for behavioral health and substance use services through our Specialty Courts and our Community Corrections Centers for those justice-involved individuals who find themselves in need of services."
"We must continue to expand our planning capabilities and seek operational excellence. And that excellence must embrace the ability to manage and successfully deliver on a constant stream of change, whether the changes are driven by new technology, new services, or new statutory requirements and public expectations," said Trial Court Administrator Jonathan Williams.
"The Massachusetts Bar Association is proud to once again present the Annual State of the Judiciary Address, which offers a valuable window into the court system for legal professionals across the Commonwealth," said MBA President Christopher A. Kenney. "Collaboration between the bench and the bar is integral to advancing our shared goal of equal justice for all, and we look forward to learning how we can best align our efforts over the next year."