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Lawyers Journal

Justice with dignity and speed: The Hon. Paula M. Carey set to lead Trial Court

Chief Justice Paula M. Carey has been tapped to lead the Massachusetts Trial Courts starting July 16, upon the retirement of Chief Justice Robert A. Mulligan. No newcomer to the system, Carey has led the Probate and Family Court for the past six years and oversaw an ambitious reform of child support guidelines. She was first appointed to the bench in 2001, by the late Gov. Paul A. Cellucci.

"Chief Justice Carey's genuine leadership abilities will ensure her success as the next Chief Justice of the Trial Court. She is energetic and has a collaborative, consensus-building approach to resolving issues. She effectively introduced major, complex reforms in the Probate and Family Court with her mission-driven style and legendary work ethic. Chief Justice Carey is accessible, compassionate and treats everyone, regardless of station or status, with the utmost respect,"  Mulligan said.

One voice, one mission

Carey will be the first chief justice of the Trial Court to begin her appointment working alongside a civilian court administrator. As part of the state's recent court reform initiative, Harry Spence was named the Massachusetts Trial Court's first court administrator just over a year ago in April 2012, with the goal of modernizing the trial courts. Spence oversees all administrative functions, including budget preparation and oversight, labor relations, information technology, capital projects and personnel policy. Carey will lead judicial policy at the Trial Court, which includes the Boston Municipal, District, Housing, Juvenile, Land, Probate and Family and Superior Courts, the Office of Commissioner of Probation and the Office of Jury Commissioner.

Both Carey and Spence will report directly to Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court Roderick L. Ireland. The Trial Court is comprised of 380 judges and more than 6,000 employees who work in 100 courthouses throughout the state.

Since the announcement of her appointment, Carey and Spence have made numerous public appearances together as they visit courts across the commonwealth, connect with legislators, and discuss publicly their new strategic vision for the trial court system.

"We have one voice," Carey states.

"One mission -- justice with dignity and speed," is how Carey summarizes the strategic plan she and Spence recently presented to Ireland. The plan itself is quite detailed, crafted after a year-long process headed by a policy steering committee comprised mostly of trial court employees.

"The driving force behind this plan is the troops -- the people out there in the field doing this work each and every day," Carey said.

In creating the plan, court employees were surveyed about their appetite for change. The results were conclusive. More than 90 percent said they wanted change, and nearly one out of three called for aggressive change.

Carey calls the plan "ambitious" yet reiterates her confidence that everyone will reach the goals that have been set. It is aggressive for the first one to three years and is designed to include initiatives that extend out to 2025 and beyond.

Access to justice is a major thread in the strategic plan. One of the items set forth is a staggered scheduling pilot program in four to five courts. At a conference as recently as last November, Carey voiced her concerns about the decreasing number of lawyers seen in the Probate and Family Court due the rising costs of representation. She feels strongly that the courts need to do a better job of streamlining processes so that people can get in and out quicker, or hear cases administratively, so that people don't need to come to court at all. In reducing the time billed, more people can afford to hire a lawyer to help them with their legal matters.

"Any time you can limit the wait time for not only litigants but for lawyers is a good thing," Carey said.

The strategic plan also calls for an extended-hours project in the Burke courthouse, where evening sessions in the Housing, Boston Municipal and Probate and Family courts will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. Improved facilities management and enhanced personnel evaluations remain high on the priority list as well.

The way to the future is through dignity

Carey believes dignity is crucial to the future of the trial courts, describing how dignity is multi-faceted and encompasses people's rights to be treated in a dignified manner when they enter the courts, to be exposed to dignified facilities and to be entitled to procedural fairness.

"When you walk into a new facility, people dress better, they act better and they feel like there is something noble about the system of justice," Carey said.

While her main role is as the new Chief Justice of the Trial Courts will be judicial policy, she believes that it transcends all that takes place in the court system. For example, when building a new courthouse, there are things to take into consideration - the community's demographics, the size and number of courtrooms, the location of jury seating. All these "facility" issues overlap with judicial policy. "We have one interest, and that one interest is moving the trial courts forward in a positive direction," Carey said.

Spence has personally visited 35 courtrooms in 2013, with Carey recently joining him. Carey notes how impressed she is with some of the innovative practices that already exist today. She cites examples, such as drug courts, homeless courts and literature initiatives focused on improving lives. "It's been really empowering for me to see what is going on every day," said Carey.

No ego

"I don't have an ego," is Carey's answer to the question of how she and Spence will get along in the months and years to come. She is committed to consensus building, having honed that skill in her many years on the bench. She's not afraid to bring critics to the table and craft a resolution that moves an issue forward. Carey's mantra is "to inspire people to remember why they went into public service in the first place."

Carey and Spence are embarking on their plans amid a backdrop of budgetary tightness, and an ever-increasing back-log of cases that has been exacerbated by the recent state drug lab scandal. In the past five years, the trial court system has seen staff reduced by 25 percent, combined with a 20 percent decrease in budget allotment. Several courthouses are outdated and decrepit, with mounting fixed costs that are not offset by courtroom traffic. Carey and Spence will have a difficult task balancing efficiency with access to justice in these courthouses.

Technology also remains a huge issue. While the Federal Court system has gone paperless, the trial courts are scrambling to move in the same direction. They have begun the process of digitizing files for cases and online complaints, but the backlog is extensive and the technology and manpower is oftentimes inadequate.

People are confident that Carey is the right leader at the right time.

"Chief Justice Carey has risen to the top of the legal profession and the judiciary through her indefatigable commitment to hard work and a genuine passion for leadership. Lawyers quickly grasp that she is the real deal and very open to solving any issue at hand. She will literally work with anyone to get a job done without any hint of pretense about her. The MBA is very proud of her many accomplishments. We are delighted to have a chief who once served as an active MBA volunteer," said MBA Chief Legal Counsel Martin W. Healy.

When thinking about the trial courts, Carey says she realizes that she doesn't need to craft a "catchphrase" to describe the courts' mission.

"We have a ready-made catchphrase -- the delivery of justice. I can't think of a more noble purpose," Carey said.

Her positive energy is evident throughout the interview as Carey talks about her past and her future. As she embarks on the latest stage of an already illustrious career, she reflects on what keeps her grounded. The Boston native maintains a strong sense of family and community, both uniquely reflected in the bracelets that jingle softly on her wrist -- one symbolizes "sister" and the other her ancestral heritage. She's truly focused on her mission of justice with dignity and speed.

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association