Chief Justice Carey delivers "State of the Probate and Family Court" address

Issue December 2009 By Tricia M. Oliver

Probate and Family Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey delivered the "State of the Probate and Family Court" at the MBA Family Law Section's 19th annual conference on Nov. 7 at the Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod.

"We cannot compromise due process because of budget constraints," Carey told the audience during her 30-minute address on the second day of the Nov. 6 and 7 conference.

She spoke to the newly implemented Uniform Probate Code in Massachusetts, resulting from key MBA-sponsored legislation signed into law in January by Gov. Deval Patrick. According to Carey, this measure simplifies and improves Massachusetts probate and trust law. Carey described the UPC as "preserving the liberty and interests of some of the most vulnerable citizens" and explained that great lengths have been made in planning for its implementation, including a designated subcommittee on the issue and tapping the expertise of other states with similar legislation.

She spoke to the court's efforts to expand upon pilot efforts of Limited Assistance Representation in Norfolk, Suffolk and Hampden counties.

"Good things happen in our court," said Carey as she spoke of the Probate and Family Court's outreach efforts with the community. She touched upon informational sessions held in area community colleges and high schools as a way to "demystify" the process of the court system. She also spoke to the work of Associate Justice Angela M. Ordoñez in getting off the ground a tiered mentor program, administered by the MBA and involving judges and attorneys, as well as law, undergraduate and high school students (see story, page 1) .

She also thanked the group of volunteers who worked on the task force to establish new child support guidelines. She specifically praised the efforts of attorneys Fern Frolin and Marilynne Ryan for their "extraordinary effort" in the process. She also commended Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert A. Mulligan for his involvement and input during this project.

In addition, Carey explained that a Scheduling Task Force has recently issued a report, which is currently out for comment from judges.

She then devoted a good portion of her remarks to the "white elephant in the room," or the budget crisis with which the Massachusetts court system is faced. Carey described the crisis as "very real" and added, "we all need to work together to deal with this."

Despite drastic budget cuts in the trial courts, Carey said "our caseload has increased," noting that 158,000 cases annually have grown to 165,000 cases in the last fiscal year. Carey is working to develop a plan to prioritize cases.

She called on the bar to help advocate for the courts amid the budget crisis. "If there ever was a time when we need you to help, the time is now," said Carey, urging the lawyers in attendance to call upon their legislators to thwart further cuts to the third branch of government.

Carey's remarks were followed by four panels:

  • Issues of Interstate Custody;
  • The Hague Convention and Issues of International Custody;
  • DOMA: What Hurdles Does DOMA Place in the Way of Same-Sex Married Couples and Those Who are Divorcing; and
  • Federal Tax Issues in Family Law.

The conference, attended by more than 140 attorneys from across the commonwealth, was chaired by Family Law Section Co-Chairs Thomas J. Barbar and Veronica J. Fenton.