On Monan Report’s five-year anniversary, courts celebrate progress, promise more

Issue April 2008 By Bill Archambeault

Five years after the Monan Report called for sweeping changes in the state’s court system, top court officials recognized the significant progress that’s been made, but emphasized that there’s more work to be done.

The Supreme Judicial Court sponsored “Striving for Excellence In Judicial Administration: A Symposium on the Five-Year Anniversary of the Report of the Visiting Committee on Management in the Courts” at the John Adams Courthouse on Feb. 27, which was attended by more than 300 people.

Court Management Advisory Board Chair Michael B. Keating and Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall introduced the discussion, giving an overview of reform efforts.

“We are making important steps, but we have a long way to go,” Keating said.

The event featured a keynote speech from California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who drew comparisons between Massachusetts’ court reform efforts with his own state’s.
Before California’s court reform began, he said the courts operated like a conglomeration of 200 fiefdoms rather than a coherent system of justice.

“Addressing inequities across county lines required a sea change in court management,” he said, noting that Massachusetts has clearly been successful in its efforts.

“I was particularly impressed with the speed with which you implemented changes,” he said. “Massachusetts provides a truly sophisticated model. The progress you have already made is very impressive.”

A panel discussion moderated by SJC Justice Robert J. Cordy that followed included Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert A. Mulligan and business representatives, including several members of the Court Management Advisory Board.

The business leaders offered glowing praise of Marshall and Mulligan’s leadership for taking the situation seriously and establishing an environment for achieving significant results quickly.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Paul F. Levy noted that highly complex businesses and organizations that perform at high levels are characterized by an “ingrained discontent with how things are run” and the desire for constant improvement.

CMAB member Gene D. Dahmen, a partner at the law firm of Verrill Dana, said she thought that part of the genius of appointing the CMAB was including local business leaders with an outside perspective on running large, efficient organizations.

“We feel we’re really partners in this effort,” she said.

CMAB member Robert P. Gittens, the vice president for public affairs at Northeastern University, explained why court reform is so crucial: “I can think of no more fundamental issue than ensuring an effective, fair court system,” he said. “The decision to create a visiting committee was a bold and visionary step.”

He also noted a particular difficulty in attempting to overhaul a court system — reforms cost lots of money but are necessary.

“When funds dry up, the courts can’t downsize,” he said. “The courts can’t outsource.”

Father J. Donald Monan, who chaired the Visiting Committee on Management in the Courts, which became widely known as the Monan Committee, received a standing ovation for his role in overseeing the landmark report.

“Writing a successful management report is not nearly as difficult or important as implementing the report,” he said, adding that Marshall and Mulligan’s efforts at implementing his committee’s recommendations “could not have honored (the committee’s) work more highly.”

Mulligan said the successful court reform efforts so far could be credited to “an awful lot of work from an awful lot of people willing to take risks.”

He said that “once people realized we weren’t going to be deterred” in implementing sweeping changes, a sense of inevitability took hold, and that further evolved into enthusiasm for seeing the changes implemented.

Appeals Court Justice James F. McHugh was presented the first annual Monan Award for Leadership in Judicial Administration for managing the implementation of the MassCourts case management system.

“Although much remains to be done, clearly, we’re on the right course,” McHugh said, crediting Craig D. Burlingame, the chief information officer for the Administrative Office of the Massachusetts Trial Court, with transforming the way the system thinks about technology and actually changing the culture.

Marshall presented a special award for Excellence in Judicial Administration to the 19-member Court Metrics Working Group for their groundbreaking implementation of four CourTool performance measures focused on timeliness and expedition.

“You are change agents,” Marshall said in introducing the group. “You have improved the availability and usefulness of information at every level.”