Beginning in May 2008, a series of
five Open Dialogue sessions were held across the state. Each
session welcomed local judges, attorneys and court personnel to
engage in frank conversation on court operations.
"Any opportunity for the bench and
bar to openly share their perspectives can only be beneficial,"
said Massachusetts Bar Association President Edward W.
The MBA served as the statewide
sponsor for the series and was integral in its coordination and
promotion. The SJC's Court Management Advisory Board (CMAB) was the
driving force on the series, and additional local support was
provided by local and county bar associations.
Michael B. Keating, a partner at
Foley Hoag LLP in Boston, was appointed chair of CMAB by the
Supreme Judicial Court to advise on all matters of court
administration. He called the Open Dialogue series "a very
successful process" for bringing together judges and attorneys to
discuss matters of common interest.
"Many attorneys commented that the
Open Dialogue was the first occasion they have ever had to talk to
the judges before whom they appear about how things work - or don't
work- from the attorney's perspective," he said.
"Many very helpful ideas emerged to
improve our court system, and that is very much at the heart of
what the Court Management Advisory Board is all about," Keating
Sessions were held in Brockton,
Lawrence, Boston, Springfield and Worcester. Collectively, the
series drew feedback from more than 1,000 members of the
"This has been an im portant
management tool to find out how we're doing," said Francis S. Moran
Jr., legal counsel to the chief justice of the Supreme Judicial
Some of the suggestions have already
been implemented. Worcester District Court First Justice Paul F.
LoConto, who was co-facilitator of the Worcester session in October
2008, said a change made on a trial basis in civil cases has been
successful. District Court Chief Justice Lynda M. Connolly granted
Worcester District Court an exemption from a standing order that
requires lawyers to attend a case management conference. Lawyers
are able to bypass the conference if they can certify that they
have communicated and accomplished the same goals before the
conference takes place, freeing up schedules for both lawyers and
"It's working very well," LoConto
said. "I know it's successful in Worcester, and I think it has
applications in every court and could be useful statewide."
LoConto, who co-chairs the Worcester
Bar Association's District Court Committee, was enthusiastic about
the frank discussions that lawyers and judges had at Worcester's
Robert L. Holloway Jr., vice
president of the MBA, was involved in sessions that took place in
the Land Court and Superior Court and found those in which he
participated to be open and candid as well. Holloway explained that
given the court's continued struggle with insufficient resources,
now, more than ever, it is important for such dialogue to take
"Even modest suggestions offered by
the bar can streamline a portion of court operations," said
Holloway. "It is a win-win."
Martha Rush O'Mara, who tries most
of her cases in Boston Juvenile Court, participated in two of the
Open Dialogue sessions. Rush O'Mara found both sessions to be well
"This was an opportunity for
attorneys to ask questions that they often don't have a chance to
ask," said Rush O'Mara, much of the conversation at the Juvenile
Court session in Boston concentrated on time standards, but
questions on other topics were posed by attorneys, including the
possibility of hearings taking place in the evening to better serve
clients' schedules. Overall, she found the sessions to be
productive and the participating judges to be "attentive and
A summary of the Open Dialogue on
Court Practices series can be found on the court's Web site by
visiting www.mass.gov/courts/cmabreport.html and clicking on
"Report on Open Dialogues on Court Practices."
"This is only the beginning," said
McIntyre. "Because our system is forever evolving, these
conversations need to be continuous."
Holloway added, "I hope even more
attorneys participate should these programs continue, as I believe
they would find this exercise very useful."
Following a series of "Open Dialogue on Court Practices" sessions
conducted over the last year, Massachusetts courts have gained
important feedback regarding court operation improvements from the
perspective of trial attorneys.