House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, with Supreme Judicial Court Chief
Justice Roderick L. Ireland literally and figuratively standing by
his side, unveiled major court reform legislation on April
"Today, we have two branches of government standing together,"
DeLeo said at the start of a Statehouse press conference. In
emphasizing the new level of collaboration between his office and
the judiciary, he said longstanding tension between the two "ends
The legislation, scheduled for a May 3 hearing, calls for
splitting the responsibilities of the chief justice for
administration and management by 1. creating a "chief justice of
the Trial Court" to manage judicial duties and 2. creating a new
Office of Court Management headed by a non-judicial professional to
manage the courts' business operations. Civilian mangers would also
be hired as deputy court administrators for each of the Trial
Court's seven departments.
"The legislation announced today marks an historic and
unprecedented agreement between the Legislature and court system.
The creation of a court administrator position to be filled by an
expert, non-judicial civilian administrator brings to fruition
decades worth of independent reports and findings on Massachusetts
court reform that have recommended such action," said Martin W.
Healy, chief operating officer and chief legal counsel of the
Massachusetts Bar Association.
The MBA has called for court reform for decades, including issuing
the independently commissioned 1991 Harbridge House Report, as well
as the 2003 MBA Court Study Task Force Report, both of which
included detailed findings supporting the use of a non-judicial
The legislation would also keep the Probation Dept., which had
been plagued by a patronage hiring scandal, under the courts'
jurisdiction, but make major reforms in the hiring process. Gov.
Deval Patrick wants to put Probation under executive branch
authority, but DeLeo and court leaders say it needs to remain part
of the courts to maintain essential working relationships between
judges and probation officers.
The bill removes the Probation commissioner's unilateral hiring
authority and requires a standardized test for all Probation Dept.
job applicants. For candidates who pass the test and advance, any
hiring recommendations would have to be written and made public.
Also, all successful candidates would have to disclose any
relatives working in state government.
A number of allies flanked DeLeo at the press conference,
including fellow legislators and: Boston College's Father J. Donald
Monan, who chaired the committee that wrote 2003's Monan Report,
the blueprint for court reform, and Stephen Crosby, Gov. William
Weld's secretary of Administration and Finance, who led the
Probation Department hiring task force in response to last year's
Ireland praised the bill, saying it would bolster improvements
that have been underway since the Monan Report highlighted
significant problems in the court system. Ireland said that Chief
Justice for Administration and Management Robert A. Mulligan "has
achieved remarkable results" implementing those reforms in the last
Ireland said, "I look forward to continuing to work with the
speaker on improving the administration of justice." He cited a
number of studies, including the MBA's reports, as support for
hiring a professional business manager with no judicial
DeLeo hopes to pass a bill in the House by mid-May, in time for
the Senate to consider it during its budget
"The MBA urges swift passage of the legislation to professionalize
court management and better align the state with other court
systems with professional managers. Litigants and the public alike
deserve a highly efficient system that makes the most use of every
dwindling taxpayer dollar," Healy said.
"This isn't 'tinkering around the edges,'" DeLeo said. "This is a
major, major policy change for how people are hired in the
In response to a question, Ireland said he didn't see any conflict
with judges helping shape the legislation. "We felt it was an
opportunity for the judiciary to have a say in the way the
legislation was drafted."