Landmark court reform legislation in 2011 left intact Massachusetts’ seven trial court departments. The Trial Court structure as we know it today reflects both the significant differences among specific types of cases, and maximizes the unique talents of our judges. Some departments handle high volume matters of relatively short duration and others handle lower volume but more complicated cases.
Thanks to that legislation — developed by House Speaker Robert DeLeo in collaboration with Chief Justice Roderick Ireland of the Supreme Judicial Court — Massachusetts now has a professional court administrator, Harry Spence, who is an expert in managing organizational change, and Paula Carey, Chief Justice of the Trial Court, who continues to emphasize efficiency and innovation in the administration of justice. After meeting with the department chiefs of the Massachusetts Trial Court, it’s clear that we’ve embarked on a new chapter for the Trial Court.
So what does our Trial Court look like in 2013? The talents and experience of judges and court staff in each department should not be underestimated. Facilitating efficient case resolution requires knowledge of the scheduling intricacies of specific types of litigation. For example, the Housing Court Department has some of the lowest costs per case. But if it were folded into a “one size fits all” department, those would increase significantly.
Imagine if you believed a member of your family had suffered a wrongful death involving a faulty product. You might have a lot of confidence in your tax lawyer, a senior partner at a respected law firm. Still, it would be in your best interests to retain the services of a seasoned personal injury lawyer with relevant experience. What comes with your seasoned trial attorney is a team of professionals who have worked on this type of case many times before. An attorney’s skills are no more fungible than those of our judges.
We now live in a world of increasing complexity, so the need for specialized trial court departments is more important than ever before. It is for this reason that judicial applicants are viewed through the lens of a particular trial court department. The judicial screening process takes into account the importance of training, specific practice experience, and skill sets required for the types of disputes the judicial candidate can expected to adjudicate.
Specialized judicial skills are not interchangeable. Adjudicating disputes involving family members and medical malpractice each takes a different type of expertise. The same goes for handling a Child Requiring Assistance case and suit alleging a toxic tort or insurance fraud.
At the same time, with any large organization it’s important to look at ways to preserve resources, consolidate back room operations, share knowledge, and save on overhead. In this regard, we are still reaping the benefits of having a professional court administrator working in partnership with the Chief Justice of the Trial Court.
As we envision what we want our courts to look like in the next decade, we applaud Speaker DeLeo’s court reform legislation, and the commitment of Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence and Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula Carey as Massachusetts becomes a national leader in delivering quality justice to all.