BBA Task Force RecommendsEnd To Judicial 'Circuit Riding'

Thursday, January 1, 2004 - 00:00

The Boston Bar Association (BBA) has recommended an end to the practice in Massachusetts of reassigning judges to a different courthouse every two months.

The practice, which originated more than 200 years ago when "circuit riding" judges rode to work on a horse, has been described by a BBA task force as outdated, costly and inefficient.

The BBA task force has suggested that eliminating the practice gradually with pilot programs could improve efficiency by reducing court backlogs and cutting the cost of the administration of justice.

According to published reports, the BBA task force found that as many as nine judges could hear parts of the same case because cases don't follow judges to a new courthouse.

"It costs the public money; it costs you money if you file a civil case," Boston lawyer Barbara S. Birnbach recently told the Boston Globe. Ms. Birnbach is co-chair of the BBA task force that has examined the practice of shifting judges. "The current system rotates judges around in a very inefficient manner," she added.

Massachusetts Superior Court Chief Judge Suzanne V. DelVecchio, who last month reportedly had not yet seen the final BBA task force report, told the Globe that in some cases she has already extended the courthouse stays of judges and has assigned judges to a fixed schedule so they always follow each other.

Judge DelVecchio told the Globe that the BBA proposal also should be studied by the Massachusetts Bar Association, prosecutors and public defenders.

Budget cuts, Judge DelVecchio also told the Globe, will likely delay any attempts to alter the practice of judicial assignment. Due to staffing shortages that have resulted from budget tightening, Judge DelVecchio needs the flexibility to move judges around, rather than have them locked into a specific courthouse for a fixed period of time.