Open Dialogue" forums draw practitioners from across the state

Issue July/August 2008 By Kate O'Toole

Organizers look forward to next session on Sept. 17 in Boston

After successful programs in Brockton and Lawrence, the next "Open Dialogue on Court Practices" will be held at the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse in Boston on Sept. 17.

The Massachusetts Bar Association has teamed up with the Trial Court and local bar associations on the series of forums to spark conversations among the legal community about improving court procedures. The Brockton forum was held May 29 and the Lawrence program was June 17.

Thus far, each event has been attended by Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert A. Mulligan, as well as Trial Court Department chief justices and other judges. More than 100 clerks, registers, attorneys and personnel from across the Trial Court departments also attended each session in Brockton and Lawrence.

At each program, attendees participated in breakout groups according to court practice area. The District Court, Housing Court, Juvenile Court, Land Court, Probate and Family Court and Superior Court met separately with lawyers to engage in a dialogue on case management and practice in each of these court departments.

The Hon. Catherine Sabaitis, the first justice in the Plymouth Probate and Family Court and an attendee at the Brockton program, said attorneys voiced major concerns about waiting time for trials. "Attorneys did feel that there was some improvement in scheduling, and they liked receiving notice of their next court date so quickly," she said.

Francis J. Lynch III of Lynch & Lynch in South Easton, heard similar feedback about scheduling from attorneys in his Superior Court breakout session. "The firm, fair trial date is wonderful for big cases that are expert intensive," he explained. "But smaller cases don’t need it." He noted that because lawyers handle cases ranging from medical malpractice to small auto accidents, they are often in a better position than the court to decide when a case should be tried.

"The bottom line is, we want to spend more time with the judges," he continued. "Lawyers were very happy to see the judges actively participating and appreciated the input. It was an excellent dialogue."

Attorney moderator and solo practitioner Martha Rush O’Mara, who co-led a breakout session about the Juvenile Court in Lawrence, was pleased with the event. Some topics that arose in her discussion included: adapting to time standards; minimizing "rolling trials;" frustration with attorneys who double book unnecessarily; the possibility of reinstituting night court sessions in the Juvenile Court; and concerns about the lack of female security guards available to search female clients.

"Based on the openness and collegiality of the venue, progress was made," said O’Mara. "The overall tone was very positive. Everyone participated, and the judges were very straightforward and forthcoming."

MBA Secretary Robert L. Holloway Jr. of MacLean, Holloway, Doherty, Ardiff & Morse PC in Peabody served as an attorney moderator at the Superior Court breakout session in Lawrence, where participants also raised the issue of time standards, and disproportionate trial time being devoted to medical malpractice cases in relation to other civil cases. Other topics that surfaced included the possibility of a business session in Suffolk County; uniform handling of expert disclosure issues in civil cases; and use of interpreters in criminal cases.

"I view this program as a success. I hope these events are continued, because they offer an excellent opportunity for interaction between the courts and the bar on matters of common concern," Holloway said. "As an ancillary benefit, the informal interaction certainly serves to enhance relations between the courts and the bar."

Moderators for the Sept. 17 Open Dialogue forum in Boston will be announced in upcoming issues of Lawyers Journal and Lawyers e-Journal.