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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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.