Lawyers Journal

Court Advocacy Day draws crowd, sends message to Legislature

Massachusetts courts will lose the ability to both deliver justice and ensure security within their walls if the Legislature does not approve adequate funding for fiscal 2013. That was the message delivered by court leaders and lawyers at a Court Advocacy Day hosted by the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Boston Bar Association at the Grand Staircase of the Statehouse on March 19.

"Losing more than 17 percent of court personnel directly affects our ability or deliver justice in ways that are all too familiar to you and your colleagues," Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland said. "Inadequate funding has made access to justice all the more harder."

The Trial Court Department is asking for $593.9 million in "critical funding" it needs to preserve the integrity of the courts. Gov. Deval L. Patrick recommended level funding the courts when he released his state budget proposal in late January. The House and Senate will start debating the budgets in April and May, respectively.

"Our message today is pretty simple … supporting the courts request for $593 million is essential," MBA President Richard P. Campbell said.

Following the speaking program, attendees met with their local legislators to emphasize the need for $593.9 million in funding.

"The erosion in the judiciary's budget that has characterized the past several years has brought the Trial Court to an unacceptable level of capacity," said BBA President Lisa C. Goodheart, who shared the example of judges from the criminal session borrowing court officers from the civil session, forcing those proceedings to a halt.

Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert A. Mulligan said that since July 2007, the Trial Court has 1,316 fewer employees, which has led to a drop in the courts' clearance rate and the reduction of clerks' office hours in 40 court divisions.

Court Advocacy Day complements the Massachusetts Bar Association's comprehensive public awareness campaign on underfunded courts. In addition to a statewide billboard campaign on this topic, the MBA has posted videos on YouTube and conducted outreach to members of the legal community and other key community leaders and groups. All stress the importance of adequately funding the state's third branch of government.

For more information on the event or the MBA's overall campaign on underfunded courts, go to www.MassBar.org/CourtFunding.

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association