Lawyers Journal

New chief justice committed to improving District Court system

How could any one person assume the mantle of legendary former Chief Justice Samuel E. Zoll upon his retirement from 28 years as District Court chief justice?

An intimidating prospect for most, but one that the Hon. Lynda M. Connolly, new chief justice of the District Court Department of the Trial Court, considers "a real privilege and an honor."

Connolly's five-year term began in June after she was sworn in by Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert A. Mulligan.

Hon. Lynda M. Connolly brings a fresh perspective to court management
Zoll believes Connolly is a superb choice. "She's a very fine judge and an extremely hard worker. She's eminently qualified for the position and I know she'll do a great job."

He adds that through an extensive transition period, "She absorbed vast amounts of material very quickly. I think she's well-prepared to handle anything that comes up."

After three months on the job, Connolly admits she has a much better sense of the breadth of the job than when she came in.

"I anticipated management issues, but there is an issue, at least one a day, that arises," says Connolly.

She readily acknowledges that she had an advantage coming into this job in that Zoll had "professionalised" the department. She believes that legacy will allow her to better focus on programmatic initiatives, such as the civil one trial program, management and leadership initiatives with first justices, and case management and time standards.

Edward P. Ryan, Jr., past MBA president and current chair of the Criminal Justice Section, said the District Court remains in good hands.

"Sam Zoll saw the district court through 25 years plus of change and was a very good captain of the ship," Ryan said. "On the other hand, the future will bring many more changes and I'm very confident that Justice Connolly is more than equal to the task. By the time she's through, her tenure will be as highly regarded as Zoll's."

Improving public opinion

Connolly's primary goals are to improve case flow management and increase the public's confidence in the judicial system.

"Given our ability to influence the perception of public justice, we have an extraordinary responsibility and a great opportunity to influence it positively by ensuring the experience in district court is fair and impartial; that justice is speedy; that it's punctual; that courts are user friendly; that court employees are polite and treat everybody who comes before the court with respect and dignity; that we work cooperatively with the bar… and that courts remain community courts, connected to the communities they serve," says Connolly.

Connolly also recognizes the importance of being responsive to the needs of the 62 courts and their staff, and to recognize their work.

"I think it's important that the chief justice of this department be out in the courts, hearing from the staff out there as to what their concerns are. Supporting them, encouraging them, letting them know how much their efforts are appreciated," says Connolly.

Those concerns are diverse, and include problems with court facilities and personnel issues, as well as the identification and implementation of management initiatives such as unit performance measures, staffing models and the new technology of MassCourts.

The path to the position

Zoll appointed Connolly as first justice of the Dedham District Court in 2003. Prior to that, she was designated as acting first justice of the Charlestown District Court (now a division of the Boston Municipal Court) for almost two years.

Former Gov. William F. Weld appointed Connolly to the bench as an associate justice of the Marlborough District Court in 1997.

Prior to her appointment as a judge, Connolly served as general counsel at Gallagher & Gallagher, P.C. and practiced in litigation, and insurance regulatory and employment law areas. From 1991 to 1997, she also served as a special assistant attorney general to assist the Attorney General's Office with its civil trial backlog.

From 1980-89, she worked as a sole practitioner in Boston in the areas of probate and corporate law. She also was associated for two years with the firm of Connolly & Johnson, where she focused on litigation, care-and-protection matters and custody and adoption proceedings. She began her legal career in 1975, serving as a special prosecutor in the Major Violator's Division of the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office.

Between 1981 and 2002, Connolly also served as an adjunct associate professor at Bentley College, adjunct professor at New England School of Law and Suffolk University Law School, and as a guest lecturer at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. She continues to serve on the faculty for educational programs sponsored by Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, the Judicial Institute and the District Court. She is a member of the District Court Committee on Continuing Education and of the Committee on Chapter 123 Commitments.

Connolly appreciates the acumen her admittedly eclectic career has given her.

But will her prior experience provide her with unique skills or experiences to draw on in her new role?

According to Connolly, "in any undertaking I've had, there is no substitute for the experience of being the mother of four kids, and all four were teenagers at the same time."

Court management

After being appointed to provide an independent perspective on management in the state's courts, the Visiting Committee on Management in the Courts offered specific recommendations to achieve the efficient and timely delivery of quality justice. These include: clear lines of authority throughout the judicial system; performance standards and evaluations at all levels of the court system; a rational allocation of resources; improved court facilities, working conditions and incentives; and, the need for management expertise.

"Their recommendations are right on," Connolly said. "Chief Justice Mulligan has been very clear in articulating his commitment to implementing those recommendations. In the larger context of the trial court, it falls to me to come up with creative ways for the district court to assist the trial court as a whole to achieve those goals. … I'm certainly committed to doing my utmost to have the district court respond to those initiatives."

Building on a legacy

Connolly has large shoes to fill. But in creating her own legacy, she would like to preserve and build on that of Zoll "in a way that the district court becomes the model court department for putting a face on the concept of justice in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

MBA President Kathleen M. O'Donnell says, "Chief Justice Zoll was an institution because he was there so long. Chief Justice Connolly will have a different approach, but change is always good. Zoll did a wonderful job, but it's good to have a fresh set of eyes, and I think Chief Justice Connolly will do a great job."

Chris A. Milne, chair of the MBA Civil Litigation Section agrees.

"She has an incredible reputation and is very well thought of," Milne said. "People are very supportive of her … She's going to make her own mark, which will be wonderful. There is something to be said for new blood and enthusiasm in an administration, which I think people are excited about."

When announcing her appointment, Mulligan said commended Connolly's level of commitment to work and her track record.

"She is a proven leader and is greatly respected and admired by judges, lawyers, and all who work in the court system," he said. "I am certain that in the tradition of the District Court Department she will continue to advance the tremendous achievements of her predecessor, Chief Justice Samuel E. Zoll."

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association