Letter From Corporate Leaders Urging Massachusetts State Representatives To Provide Adequate Funding Of State Courts

2010-07-05 00:00

June 8, 2010

The Honorable Charles A. Murphy

Chairman House Committee on Ways and Means

State House, Room 243

Boston, MA 02133

RE: Level FY2011 Funding for the Trial Court at $559.5 Million

Dear Representative Murphy:

As general counsel to Massachusetts' leading corporations, we write to urge the members of the Conference Committee to appropriate adequate funds for the Massachusetts Trial Court. At a time of falling revenues and rising need for access to the courts, the demands on the Trial Court have never been greater and adequate funding more imperative. It is critical that we maintain the core functions of this branch of our government, which must deliver justice to the approximately 42,000 citizens who use our courts daily and whose lives and livelihoods depend on them. More than any other constitutional branch of government, it is the role of the Judiciary to protect the rule of law, which is the cornerstone of our system of government.

Significant reductions in the judicial budget began in October 2008 when Governor Patrick requested that all areas of government reduce expenses by 7 percent. The Trial Court voluntarily made $22 million in spending reductions, an amount far more than any other area of government. The Trial Court accounts for only 2 percent of the total state budget. While the effect of this reduction was minimal on the Commonwealth's overall budget, it had a dramatic effect on the courts' ability to administer justice in an efficient and cost-effective way. The budget for FY2010 was reduced another $24.2 million, further affecting the efficiency of court proceedings.

Adequate funding for the state's court system is an access to justice issue that concerns every business and every individual in our Commonwealth. As more and more people appear in court pro se , judicial staff plays an even bigger role in helping to explain the complicated system that provides every citizen with access to justice. Pro se litigants lengthen proceedings because judges and staff must take more time to explain procedures.

As you know, the House Ways and Means budget passed last month allocates $76 million less than the Trial Court's initial appropriation in FY2009, and is $30.1 million below level-funding from last year. The Senate's budget recommendation for the Trial Court is $544.3 million or $15.1 million below its funding for FY2010. This will undoubtedly mean job losses and even slower-functioning courts, despite the significant efforts of existing staff to provide timely service.

Massachusetts is home to a vibrant business and technology community, which relies on an effective and efficient court system. As representatives of the intersection of business and law, our role is to help businesses function within the framework of the law. Any further cuts in the Trial Court's budget will strain the operations of Massachusetts' businesses.

The Massachusetts courts have made advances in business litigation in the last 10 years, most notably with the efficient and predictable Business Litigation Session ("BLS") in Suffolk Superior Court, which would be undermined by a decrease in funding. Companies use the BLS for a full range of disputes including commercial, corporate governance, employment, high-tech, real estate, construction and other legal matters. The BLS is essential to large businesses and provides access to justice in complex business litigation cases needing preliminary injunctive relief.

With thousands of cases filed and disposed of in a timely fashion, the BLS has reduced company expenses and the amount of time spent on litigation. Budget cuts that would result in staff layoffs would set back this successful process. The Superior Court, because of a hiring freeze, already has a severe shortage of law clerks to assist the judges in researching and drafting their opinions for litigants and for appellate review.

The effects of judicial funding cuts are being felt beyond the courtroom and in our companies, creating very real productivity issues. Due to the strains on the Trial Court, our employees are increasingly encountering long waits in custody hearings, divorce proceedings, small-claims disputes, housing, adoption proceedings, and civil and criminal trials. When these issues do not get addressed promptly, employees are forced to spend more time away from their jobs.

Companies invest in research and development and in their employees. But our companies have also invested in Massachusetts. Without adequate funding, the Trial Court's budget problems will continue to impede civil cases, adding layers of costs to companies and diminishing the appeal of the business environment in the Commonwealth. Businesses prefer to spend their financial resources on new ideas, not dealing with the consequences of court extensions in legal proceedings that need a timely resolution.

The reality is that if delays in the administration of justice continue, businesses seeking relief in the Massachusetts Trial Court may be forced to take their matters into other forums. The Massachusetts Judiciary and staff have always done their part to deliver justice in a fair, timely and financially responsible and sustainable manner. It is critical that the Trial Court be allowed to remain open and accessible on such a basis.

We understand the tough economic circumstances the Commonwealth faces and that everyone needs to do more with less. However, the proposed House and Senate budgets would prevent the Trial Court from achieving its central mission - the delivery of justice to thousands of citizens of the Commonwealth whose lives and businesses depend on it. We respectfully request that the Conference Committee fund the Trial Court at least at its level funding of $559.5 million.

Thank you for your continued leadership in these difficult times.

Yours truly,

Paul T. Dacier, EMC Corporation

Susan H. Alexander, Biogen Idec Inc.

Mark T. Beaudouin, Waters Corporation

Brian Berube, Cabot Corporation

Kristin Campbell, Staples Inc.

Jonathan Chiel, John Hancock Financial Services

Ernest W. Cloutier, Iron Mountain, Inc.

Marc Gary, FMR Corp. / Fidelity Investments

Melanie Haratunian, Akamai Technologies

Brent L. Henry, Partners HealthCare System, Inc.

Thomas A. Hippler, The Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. LLC

Christine Hughes, Emerson College

Sandra Jesse, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts

Lisa R. Lopez, Haemonetics Corporation

Christopher D. Moore, General Electric Company

Jane E. Owens, Sapient Corporation

Colin Owyang, National Grid

Laura S. Peabody, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Inc

Timothy A. Pratt, Boston Scientific Corporation

Lon F. Povich, BJ's Wholesale Club, Inc.

Erik Skramstad, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP

Richard A. Toomey, Jr., Sovereign Bank

Jason A. Tucker, Putnam Investments

Ann McCauley, TJX Companies, Inc.