MBA officers meet with SJC on court reform

Issue July 2003

SJC Justice Martha B. Sosman and a delegation of MBA officers met on June 5 to discuss how the bench and bar can work together to improve court administration and funding issues.

Among the MBA delegation was President Joseph P.J. Vrabel, President-Elect Richard C. Van Nostrand, Treasurer Warren F. Fitzgerald, Executive Director Abigail Shaine and General Counsel Martin Healy. Also in attendance were SJC Executive Director Ronald C. Corbett, Jr., SJC Coordinator of Program and Policy Development LaDonna Hatton and Administrative Office of the Trial Court Chief of Staff Marilyn J. Wellington.

Sosman opened the meeting by stating that the justices of the SJC were still reviewing the March 2003 report from the Visiting Committee on Management in the Courts to the SJC (the so-called Monan Report) and have been meeting with a number of leaders of the bar throughout the state before making a final determination on how to act upon the report's recommendations.

"We want to hear for ourselves from those who may not have had an opportunity to have input," Sosman said.

Vrabel used the opportunity to update Sosman on the ongoing work of the MBA's Court Reform Task Force.

"We feel it is important for the Mass. Bar to be proactive, to take it upon ourselves to review the recommendations of our Harbridge House Report of a dozen years ago, to see which issues continue to be relevant," Vrabel said.

The Harbridge House Report was a seminal study of the Massachusetts court system that continues to be the benchmark for all subsequent court studies.

"We want to get to some way to implement these ideas in a realistic timeline," said Vrabel.

He noted that three main areas of concern in the Harbridge House study - which are largely echoed in the Monan Report - are centralization of authority, streamlining the courts' budgetary process and introducing professional administration of the courts.

"The MBA can serve as the facilitator to shape the game plan," Vrabel said. "We can work with the legislature and the court to actually implement real change."

Van Nostrand, who recently stepped down as co-chair of the Court Reform Task Force to prepare for his upcoming presidency, said, "I am committed to whatever we as a bar can bring to bear on this issue."

Van Nostrand offered the bar as a "beta test group" to work with the court to develop plans and ideas, noting "we represent all areas of practice and all areas of the state."

Pressed by Sosman to offer any criticism of the Monan Report, Vrabel reiterated the common themes it shares with the MBA's own study and said, "We have a policy on record - that's the Harbridge House Report. Through our new task force, we will come up with recommendations that may not have a huge difference with our existing policy. But I'm hoping we can identify a few key goals and a finite period in which to accomplish them.

"We want to work with the courts to find a way to make change happen."