Tuesday, November 15, 2011

SJC Justice Cordy on state of judiciary

Associate Justice Robert Cordy of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Real Estate Bar Association of Massachusetts (REBA).  Justice Cordy first explained that he could not comment upon cases like Ibanez, because other cases with like issues were now pending before the court. 

His remarks instead were on the state of the judiciary in the Commonwealth which he called "a catastrophe in slow motion" due to the ever shrinking funding provided to the courts.  With the number of court employees down by 1200 since 2007, the courts face more business than ever.  Tough economic times give rise to more litigation and much of that litigation involves pro se litigants who take up much of the time of court officials.  He said that the negative consequences of this decrease in funding with an increase in volume of cases are unavoidable and likely to get much worse.  On top of that, we are now in an era of "unprecedented political attacks on the judiciary" at a time of "declining knowledge of civics" by the general public.  In all, it is a recipe for disaster.

While acknowledging the reality of declining revenues, Justice Cordy explained that the judiciary differs from many other government entities.  If a road needs repaving but the money is not available, the road usually can wait.  The administration of justice, on the other hand, cannot wait.  He quoted former Chief Justice Margaret Marshall who said that the judiciary is the oxygen of a democracy: you don't realize its value until you don't have it.

Justice Cordy urged a pardigm shift in how the judiciary is funded and in how that funding is spent.  Courts must be made more efficient and more accessible through the use of technology and a flexible workforce.  He closed by quoting former US Supreme Court Justice Learned Hand who said, in 1951, that the Eleventh Commandment in a democracy is "Thou shalt not ration justice."  

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