BOSTON, MA – The Hon. Kimberly S. Budd presented her second annual address on the state of the judiciary to the legal community at the Massachusetts Bar Association's Bench-Bar Symposium today. The event was streamed live from the Seven Justice Courtroom of the John Adams Courthouse.
Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Budd opened her remarks acknowledging the challenges and changes the court system has faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“By necessity, we adopted a host of innovations: for example, we conduct court hearings via videoconference; we've expanded use of electronic signatures and email to file and serve court papers; and we've provided virtual access to court service centers and clerks' offices,” Chief Justice Budd said. “We could not have undertaken these and other changes as quickly as we did without the concerted efforts of everyone in our court system.”
From this experience, she said, “we have learned a great deal about how we can harness technology and other procedural improvements to create a system that is more efficient, and that meets the needs of court users more effectively.”
Chief Justice Budd said that the court system was reviewing emergency measures that were implemented during the pandemic “to determine which ones should be incorporated into our regular practice going forward,” and highlighted the importance of technological improvements to implement those changes.
That review includes input from advisory committees on whether various court and procedural rules should be amended to adopt changes permanently, some of which have already been published for public comment, and work by Trial Court departments to develop standing orders establishing presumptions about which court proceedings will be held remotely and which will be held in person.
“Our decisions on these topics will be informed by the thousands of responses that we received to the attorney survey last fall, and by input from other stakeholders, such as the Access to Justice Commission, which recently issued a report on lessons learned from the pandemic,” Chief Justice Budd said.
“To fully realize the potential of many of these changes we will also need to complete major upgrades in court technology,” Chief Justice Budd said. “And for that reason, I am so grateful to the Legislature for having enacted our IT bond bill this year.”
The IT bond bill will fund $164 million in improvements to the judiciary's IT infrastructure, including $94 million to create digital courthouses and courtrooms, $35 million for cybersecurity, and $35 million to modernize administrative operations.
The funding “will make it possible to dramatically improve the infrastructure, tools, and support needed to serve the public in a digital age,” Chief Justice Budd said.
Chief Justice Budd addressed the judiciary’s continued efforts to root out conscious and unconscious bias. “The SJC and the Trial Court have implemented several initiatives aimed at reviewing and improving the court system both as a workplace and as a public institution,” she said. “We are also mindful of the fact that further improvements in criminal justice reform are needed to address the racial and ethnic disparities identified in the 2020 Harvard Law School study. Access to justice in civil cases also involves issues of racial and ethnic fairness, since the data suggest that over half of the people who cannot afford counsel in these cases are people of color. We know that the commitment to furthering the courts' anti-racism efforts must continue to be a priority.”
In concluding her speech, Chief Justice Budd spoke of the important role the courts play. “In the midst of the challenges we have experienced over the last several years during the pandemic, our courts have helped to preserve social stability through the reasoned and impartial application of the rule of law. But that does not mean that courts should be static institutions. Like the law itself, courts must evolve and adapt to changing social conditions and the needs of court users.”
Following Chief Justice Budd’s remarks, she, together with Trial Court Chief Justice Jeffrey Locke and Trial Court Administrator John A. Bello participated in a Q&A session and responded to questions posed by the bar, moderated by Massachusetts Bar Association President Grace V.B. Garcia.
The 2022 State of the Judiciary Address by SJC Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd is available on the court’s website.