With the Massachusetts court system facing a crippling budget cutback for the coming fiscal year, the MBA has issued a strong statement of support for court funding and announced plans to hold a lobbying day on Beacon Hill to take that message to the Legislature as it undertakes the budget process for FY 2003.
In the statement on court funding, MBA President Carol A.G. DiMento said:
"The courts today are staggering under a significant loss of personnel and resources that seriously risk denying judicial access to all citizens of the state. Without proper funding, the administration of justice in Massachusetts will grind to a halt and our courts will become inaccessible to much of the state's population.
"We recognize the seriousness of the budget crisis that is affecting many segments of the Commonwealth," DiMento continued. "As lawyers, it is our responsibility to speak out on behalf of all citizens who might need the services of the courts. This crisis cuts across all strata of the state – wealthy and poor, connected and disenfranchised, native and immigrant. Without a fully functioning court, there can be no access to justice for our citizens."
The current crisis began with the state's FY 2002 budget, which was $40 million short of the courts' spending needs plan, which necessitated an 11 percent cut in its workforce. Those 800 lost jobs are in addition to other cost-cutting measures, including a salary-deferral program, a four-day workweek reduction for Superior Court clerks and steep cuts in discretionary spending, energy costs and capital expenditures.
The crisis will deepen on April 15, when funds run out for interpreters, court reporters, guardians ad litem, investigators, monitors, transcribers, psychologists and expert witnesses, and again in June, when funds to pay judicial salaries fall short by $3.1 million.
If the FY 2003 budget for the courts is reduced by another $50 million, as is expected, 930 additional Court personnel are expected to be laid off in July.
"These dramatic cuts, on top of what has already come," said DiMento, "will mean even fewer people to handle vital court services, further backlogs in case processing, reductions or elimination of critical court programs, and the potential shutdown of court sessions."
To take this message to the Legislature, the MBA is organizing a Court Funding Lobby Day, to take place May 7, 2002 at 11:00 am in Hearing Room (Rm. A-1) at the State House.
The MBA expects to draw together a significant cross section of the state's legal community for this event, including members of county bar associations, affiliated bar associations, judges, and members of related associations of legal professionals. More details of the Court Funding Lobby Day will be available closer to the event.
MBA members who want to participate in the Court Funding Lobby Day should contact Martin Healy, MBA general counsel, at (617) 988-4777 or by e-mail at [e-mail healy].