State Legislature Passes Court Reorganization Bill
BOSTON – The Massachusetts Legislature today passed landmark court reorganization legislation aimed at improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the state’s court system and restoring public trust at the Department of Probation.
The bill establishes a civilian court administrator to run the general administration of the Trial Court and brings transparency to hiring and promotion practices at the Department of Probation.
“This legislation is the culmination of a lot of hard work by legislators and experts in the fields of law, probation and court management who came together and developed the best ways to reform the Trial Court and ensure the integrity of its hiring process,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “With new rigorous procedures in place, we will create a more efficient and transparent court system where only the most qualified and well-suited candidates are hired.”
“This consensus bill reflects the best of what I learned from Justice Ireland, members of the Harshbarger Task Force on Hiring in the Judicial Branch, the Massachusetts and Boston Bar Associations, and Father Donald Monan, among others,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. “With this legislation, we can provide the Commonwealth with the most efficient and cost-effective infrastructure for the disposition of justice.”
“I am honored to have worked with my colleagues to pass this historic legislation aimed at reforming our state’s court system,” said Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “By giving the Judiciary the tools needed to increase efficiency and transparency in our courts, we will be working to renew the public’s confidence in the system.”
Following the recommendation of the Monan Commission Report, the bill establishes an Office of Court Management within the Trial Court to be headed by a civilian Court Administrator. The Court Administrator and Chief Justice of the Trial Court will divide the responsibilities currently held by the Chief Justice for Administration and Management.
The Chief Justice of the Trial Court will serve as the judicial head of the Trial Court, responsible for planning, policy, assigning judges, judicial discipline, and all other inherently judicial functions. Under the legislation, the civilian Court Administrator will be responsible for the general administration of the Trial Court, including reviewing and approving the hiring of non-judicial employees, administering appropriations and expenditures, negotiating contracts and leases, and any other inherently non-judicial administrative functions.
The Court Administrator will also be required to identify core administrative functions and create cost-savings and efficiencies by consolidating certain administrative activities of the various departments of the Trial Court.
The Chief Justices of the various departments of the Trial Court will continue their current appointments and will be responsible for core judicial functions. According to this legislation, a civilian deputy court administrator will serve alongside the Chief Justices of each Trial Court department. Each deputy court administrator will be responsible for the general administration of the department. The bill also reforms hiring and promotion practices in the Department of Probation which, under this legislation, will remain in the judicial branch.
An objective entrance exam will be established for the hiring and promotion of all probation and court officers. Candidates must pass the examination before advancing to the next stage which will include an investigative and interview process. The investigative and interview process will be based on best practices recommended by the Harshbarger Commission on Probation Department Hiring.
The bill removes unilateral hiring power from the Commissioner of Probation, making hiring within the Probation Department subject to the approval of the Court Administrator.
The bill also adds needed transparency to hiring and promotion practices across state agencies by requiring recommendations offered on behalf of any applicant to be shielded from hiring authorities until the final round of the interview process. Recommendations submitted in support of candidates who are hired will be considered public records.
In addition, applicants for employment within the executive, legislative, and judicial branches will have to disclose in writing the names of all immediate family members who are state employees. This information will be made public for successful applicants.
Finally, to continue the ongoing reform effort at the Probation Department, the bill establishes an Advisory Board to help craft additional improvements within the department. The 9-member board will be appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court.
The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.