BOSTON — Citing years of budget cuts and unsustainable staff shortages, court officials announced yesterday that 38 Massachusetts courthouses — including Newburyport — will implement reduced hours for clerks and registers beginning Sept. 19, a plan that prompted an outcry from the legal community.
"Our severe staffing reductions require an adjustment in some public office hours so that employees can more effectively serve those who depend on the courts," said Robert Mulligan, chief justice for administration and management of the Trial Court. "Court staff have made remarkable efforts to deliver timely justice during three years of significant budget and staff cuts. However, almost one-third of courts now need some uninterrupted time to address backlogs and reduce delays, as already done by courts in other states."
Lawyers called the proposed reductions "unacceptable" and urged members of the bar to contact state lawmakers to restore funding to the courts.
"The budget cuts to our state courts over the last three years have resulted in staff reductions of historic proportions, already causing unacceptable delays in many of the court divisions," said Lisa Goodheart, president of the Boston Bar Association, in a statement. "Despite the unwavering commitment of our judges and remaining staff to soldier on — making diligent efforts to do more with less — we can no longer pretend that it's business as usual. The access to justice that we have taken for granted under our state constitution will be seriously compromised, inflicting real pain on our most vulnerable citizens."
Gov. Deval Patrick has sparred with court leaders over the severity of their funding shortfall, questioning their plea for additional funds and a moratorium on judicial appointments while some judiciary leaders were quietly lobbying to fill vacant judgeships.
In a $400 million supplemental budget that Patrick filed in August, he opted against providing any of the $32 million that Mulligan and other court officials have sought to stave off a series of court closures, layoffs and other reductions they said would be necessary at current funding levels.