Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposed
budget cuts could force the courts to close courthouses and leave others
“perilously” understaffed, Chief Justice for Administration and Management
Robert A. Mulligan said.
Unless the Legislature restores
some of the additional $23 million that Patrick has proposed cutting, the
courts department will struggle to provide an adequate level of justice,
| Hon. Robert A. Mulligan
“My main concern right now is having
an adequate number of personnel. We’re getting perilously low,” he said, with
55 percent of the state’s courts below 85 percent of optimal staffing levels.
“We have to have an adequate level of staffing to meet justice.”
In October, the Trial Court voluntarily
cut $22 million out of its $605 million fiscal 2010 budget for a $583 million
budget request. The Jan. 15 House of Delegates voted unanimously in favor of
supporting the amount requested by the Trial Court, but Patrick announced an
additional 7.5 percent cut on Jan. 28, to $560.3 million.
After Patrick’s cuts were
announced in January, MBA President Edward W. McIntyre said the cuts were
coming at a time when many citizens are depending on the state’s court system
the most. McIntyre said the cuts will “imperil the core functions” of the
courts and “impede access to timely justice.”
Michael Keating, chairman of the
Court Management Advisory Board, said “The cuts in the
judiciary are severe and they present real problems.”
The cuts, Mulligan said, will
require layoffs on top of the hiring freeze, travel freeze and other budget
cuts the courts made in October.
In addition to reducing hiring
since February 2008, the courts have done everything from cancel travel and
conference budgets to eliminate the interns program at the beginning of the
year, meaning no new law clerks will be hired for fiscal 2010.
Mulligan even decided not to renew
the courts’ bottled water contract, which is expiring now, in an effort to save
roughly $200,000 next year.
“It underscores in a symbolic way
that we’re doing everything we can to cut expenses,” he said.
And now Mulligan and his staff are
evaluating canceling leases for courthouse space and staff offices, including
the administrative offices of the Trial Court, which is located
steps from the John Adams Courthouse in Downtown Boston at Two Center
“We’re going to start looking at
leases,” he said, noting that the courts are asking landlords to adjust their
leases in hopes of staving off moves and consolidations.
“We may have to move our
administrative offices to a suburban location. Obviously, we like to be close
to Beacon Hill and the Adams Courthouse,” he said, but the money must be saved
wherever possible to protect as many jobs as possible. “Everything we’ve done,
we’ve tried to translate into the number of positions we’ve saved. We need the
Beside the practical need for
adequate court resources to meet the needs that typically increase during times
of economic distress, Mulligan said the courts serve an important psychological
function: people need to have faith that they can depend on continued access to
“That restores people’s confidence when there’s a crisis,”
he said. “It increases public confidence. It has an effect on the culture
that’s not measurable, but is very important. It diminishes anxiety that we’re
not going to be able to deliver justice.”