The Monan Committee report ushered in a new era for the Trial Court to become more accountable and focused on how we deliver justice in the commonwealth. The report was the impetus for the development of time standards, metrics that enable us to measure how we are processing our cases and staffing models that provide a rational basis for the allocation of personnel in each department.
Judges, registers and employees of the Probate and Family Court have embraced and welcomed the changes. Each division has implemented the individual calendar which enables one judge to handle a case from start to finish, providing continuity, efficiency and consistency for lawyers and litigants.
Each division has implemented “next event scheduling” in connection with the implementation of time standards, which sends the message that the court is managing each case and gives litigants and lawyers a road map for what will come next in their case and when. These cultural changes have enabled the Probate and Family Court to more efficiently deal with the issues affecting those who appear in our court.
The Probate and Family Court has engaged in an innovative imaging project. As of Dec. 7, 2007, 1,888,929 documents have been scanned and are available to judges and staff for retrieval in the courtroom and in the registries. Images are also available to court users across divisions, which has improved the case transfer process. As MassCourts rolls out in our department, images will be available to a variety of users.
A discussion of management initiatives in the Probate and Family Court is not complete without addressing the issue of unrepresented litigants. Based on information from our court divisions, we estimate that there are at least 100,000 pro se litigants appearing each year in the 14 divisions of the Probate and Family Court. The Probate and Family Court Department has undertaken in recent years numerous major prose initiatives which include the limited representation pilot project, the hiring of family law facilitators and the I-CARE self help program for the completion of forms necessary to file a guardianship of minor case. The Probate and Family Court has developed a Self Help Center on the Trial Court’s Web site which includes commonly used forms; links to individual division Web sites; child support guidelines; Trial Court libraries and health law advocate cites. Our court has become more actively involved in planning courthouse design expressing our concern and desire for Family Law Information Centers. The development of these initiatives is a management recognition of a need to provide more information to litigants representing themselves in the Probate and Family Court.
Attorney John Cross, the pro se coordinator in the Probate and Family Court, is chair of a subcommittee that is charged with writing a training manual which will provide practical guidance for court staff as to what they can and cannot do in terms of assisting pro se litigants. The manual will provide the basis for training for employees within all departments.
The Probate and Family Court has established a task force consisting of judges, court staff, registers and lawyers to explore the issue of scheduling in our court. As a management initiative, the task force was established to address concerns raised by the users of our court. This is a further indication of the Probate and Family Court’s responsiveness to concerns and accountability for the way our sessions operate.
The Probate and Family Court’s Performance and Accountability Committee is developing a mission statement for our court. The mission statement will clarify the shared goals and priorities of our department and will provide us with a focus for the future. The committee is also spearheading the rollout of the Access and Fairness Survey in Middlesex County.
Change is not always easy, but the judges, registers and court staff of the Probate and Family Court have enthusiastically embraced the management initiatives of Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert A. Mulligan as well as some of our own.