Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland and
other court leaders assembled the heads of the state's bar
associations recently to ask their support in lobbying legislators
for adequate court funding in next year's budget.
Trial Court funding has dropped from around $583.7 million in
fiscal 2009 to $544.1 million in fiscal 2011, and now is urging bar
leaders to lobby for more than the $518.7 million recommended by
the House Ways & Means Committee.
Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert A. Mulligan
described the Ways & Means amount as "very, very disappointing.
That's a very tough number to deal with."
Despite having more courthouses and a larger caseload, the courts
have lost 1,071 people since July 1, 2007, leaving staffing at its
lowest level since 1997. The hardest hit Trial Court division has
been the Land Court, which is currently operating at 45 percent of
its staffing model level, with 85 percent considered "adequate" and
anything below 75 percent considered "critical."
"We're bleeding out people," he said, describing the combined
effect of attrition and a strict no-hiring policy.
"I don't think we can do this much longer," Mulligan told the
audience of about three dozen people. "I hope you will advocate for
us. $518 (million) is a very disappointing number."
The bar association leaders were provided contact information for
House and Senate leaders and asked to lobby them for level funding
of $544.1 million for the Trial Court Department and $34.9 million
for the appellate courts.
Speaking on behalf of the Massachusetts Bar Association, Treasurer
Robert L. Holloway Jr., emphasized the association's commitment to
improving the courts' budget problems.
"As Chief Justices Ireland and Mulligan know, the MBA remains
committed to lending a voice to this critically important issue,"
Holloway said. "In addition to our ongoing lobbying efforts with
legislators, we continue to raise awareness among the bar and the
public alike regarding the necessary funding to sustain the
critical needs of the Massachusetts court system."
Probate and Family Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey said her
staff is relying on "triage" to get by. For example, she said her
court can't do investigations, judges have had to share rulebooks
because of budget cuts, and the lack of court officers is causing
delays and safety concerns.
With the widespread court reforms initiated in the wake of the
Monan Report, the courts are now the most transparent, efficient
and well-run branch of government, Carey said, adding that the
courts can quantify the effects budget cuts have had. Carey said
she feels like she's operated in crisis mode since she was
appointed in 2007.
"We desperately need your help," she said. "We are at the