BOSTON, MA -- The Hon. Ralph D. Gants presented his second annual address on the state of the judiciary to the legal community at the Massachusetts Bar Association's Bench-Bar Symposium in the John Adams Courthouse on October 20th.
Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Gants updated the legal community on the progress made on the major initiatives he outlined in his 2014 address, when he set forth a vision of priorities for the judiciary, including a call to develop best practices in sentencing that will assist judges in carefully crafting sentences that will be individually tailored to the needs and circumstances of each defendant, and reduce the rate of recidivism.
"The Governor, Speaker, Senate President and I have invited the Council of State Governments to do a deep dive into our criminal justice system as part of its Justice Reinvestment Initiative, and to provide us with data and analysis that will assist us in shaping criminal justice policy and reducing the rate of recidivism," said Chief Justice Gants. He noted that "in 2012, 46 percent of those released from state prison in Massachusetts were released without parole or probation supervision, which is one of the highest rates of unsupervised release in the nation."
He also invited "a fresh look at the various fees we impose on criminal defendants that go to the state's general fund" noting that, "[f]or an indigent defendant convicted of one felony and sentenced to one year of supervised probation, the fees total $1,020."
For civil courts, Chief Justice Gants spoke of the progress made in creating a menu of litigation options appropriate to each case, and making civil cases more cost-effective, with the amount of discovery appropriate to the amount at issue in the case. He also spoke of access to justice initiatives focused on the large number of self-represented litigants who need assistance navigating the court system, and the implementation of attorney voir dire in the Superior Court.
He said, "with respect to voir dire, we are learning, training, improving, and adapting," and doing so "hand in glove with the bar."
Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey, Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence, and Massachusetts Bar Association President Robert W. Harnais also delivered remarks.
"As a society we face unprecedented challenges in the area of substance abuse, domestic violence and mental health. The challenge of opioid addiction presents a public health crisis we as a court system cannot ignore," said Trial Court Chief Justice Carey. "Addiction impacts all of our courts, not just those with jurisdiction over criminal or mental health cases, but also those that respond to matters of child welfare, custody, housing and foreclosures. But yet, this is not an issue the courts can face alone."
"The modernization of the Massachusetts Trial Court is well underway," Trial Court Administrator Spence said. "The results of that modernization will not only be streamlined, more efficient operations; the results of that modernization will be reduced crime across the Commonwealth. To accomplish that, we will need to make strategic investments in evidence-based practice in the treatment of criminality—investments that will not only reduce costs, but will actually increase safety for the residents of Massachusetts. The future is bright for the delivery of justice—effective justice, that promises a safer future for less cost."
“The people of Massachusetts are fortunate to have judges who are not only heard from at decision time, but also at events like our Bench-Bar Symposium, where lawyers and judges speak together as a united legal community and learn from each other,” said Massachusetts Bar Association President Harnais. “The Massachusetts Bar Association is proud to work with Chief Justice Gants and other members of the judiciary as we continue our joint efforts to advance our system of justice and improve access to justice for all.”
Chief Justice Gants was sworn-in as the 37th Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court on July 28, 2014. He was first appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court in January 2009 as an Associate Justice. Prior to that, he served as an Associate Justice of the Superior Court since 1997. Chief Justice Gants formerly served as co-chair of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission and as the Justice member of the Supreme Judicial Court's Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services. He chaired the Standing Committee that revised the Model Jury Instructions on Homicide in 2013.
Remarks by Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D.Gants
Remarks by Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M.Carey
Remarks by Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence