Alimony reform, courtroom cameras votes headline HOD; Chief Justice Rapoza reports on Appeals Court progress

Issue March 2011 By Tricia M.Olivia

Massachusetts Appeals Court Chief Justice Phillip Rapoza addressed the members of the MBA House of Delegates on Jan. 20 in Worcester. His remarks set the tone for a productive meeting that included votes on key issues, including The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 and amendments to SJC Rule 1.19 involving cameras in the courtroom.

Rapoza provided an upbeat report on the state of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, peppered with encouraging statistics on case flow improvements. Rapoza reported that 2,283 appeals were filed last year, making it the third-highest caseload in the history of the Appeals Court, with the previous year being the second highest, with 2,355 appeals.

Despite the high volume, he offered statistics to showcase court efficiencies. Specifically, from 2001 to 2009, the time from full briefing of civil cases to oral argument decreased from 22 months to five months and from 14 months to four months for criminal cases. In addition, 41 days were shed from the duration between oral argument and decision rendered in criminal cases from 2001 to 2010, while 38 days were trimmed in civil cases from 2001 to 2010.

He also spoke to the significant budget and staff reductions experienced in the last few years, but also mentioned technological innovations undertaken despite the reduction in human resources.

"The Appeals Court is second to none in the quality of its jurisprudence," said Rapoza, who blended his report of the Appeals Court with timeless themes of justice. "Justice is not only a basic human right. Justice is also a basic human need."

Delegates then swiftly moved through the meeting agenda. The delegation's key votes included:

  • Vote to support The Alimony Reform Act of 201, which more clearly defines and sets limits of duration of alimony, provides opportunity to end alimony at retirement, alters alimony when ex-spouses cohabitate with new partners, adds factors to consider in an alimony order, and allows judicial discretion to deviate based upon particular case law.
  • Vote against the proposed amendments to Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:19, Cameras in the Courts, which would expand the definition of media and allow media to operate an electronic device in the courtroom and permit live blogging to take place from the courtroom. The House called for further review and input on the amendments set forth by the SJC's Judiciary-Media Committee.
  • Vote to support a resolution on medical-legal partnerships by encouraging lawyers, firms, legal services agencies, law schools and bar associations to develop medical-legal partnership with hospital, community-based health care providers and social service organizations to help resolve legal matters affecting patients' health and well being.
  • Vote in support of legislation to end life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders.