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Downing Part of 39-0 Vote to Pass Court Reform
May 20, 2011

Installs professional manager; ensures transparent, merit-based hiring process
 
BOSTON – State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield) voted with a unanimous Senate on Thursday to pass legislation reorganizing the state judicial system with a focus on finding efficiencies and cost-savings in the Trial Court and establishing performance measures and a transparent hiring process in the courts and the probation department.
 
“This legislation is an important step towards establishing a more efficient and streamlined judicial system in the Commonwealth,” noted Downing. “Its implementation will ensure that only the most qualified candidates are considered for employment. I'm pleased to support these common sense reforms.”
 
The bill separates administrative and judicial functions in the courts, currently overseen by the Chief Justice for Administration and Management, by installing a professional civilian administrator to manage finances, contracts and hiring, while keeping a chief justice of the Trial Court to handle judicial issues, such as assigning judges, education and discipline.
 
“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 to develop the best ways to reform the Trial Court and ensure the quality and integrity of its hiring process,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “By putting rigorous procedures in place, we will create a more efficient and transparent court system where only the most qualified and well-suited candidates will be hired.”
 
The new court administrator is required to identify redundant and wasteful administrative functions within all departments of the Trial Court and implement a transparent, merit-based hiring model.
 
The Senate bill keeps the probation department under the Judiciary, but all hiring, firing and promotions within the department are subject to the approval of the court administrator.
 
The hiring and promotion of all court and probation officers will be contingent upon an applicant’s performance on a new objective entrance exam. The court administrator then reviews the applications of those who pass the exam at a certain cut-off score and makes sure those candidates have the proper qualifications for the job.
 
Those applicants are then forwarded to the Commissioner of Probation, where they go through a complete background review and a thorough interview process. Only those candidates who advance through the exam, background check and interview are placed on an eligibility list for consideration by the court administrator, and only at that time are letters of recommendation from any source available to the hiring authority.
 
Additionally, all applicants for employment must disclose the names of all immediate family members who are state employees, and all letters of recommendation are considered public record for successful candidates.
 
The Senate bill also requires the Commissioner of Probation to be hired by the court administrator and chief justice. And, with performance management as a key component of the Senate bill, it requires the Commissioner of Probation to track performance measures in the department, including recidivism rates, overall compliance with court orders, and how effectively the department is sharing information with the courts.
 
This data will be presented in annual reports by the Commissioner for scrutiny by the Legislature and the public.
 
The Senate bill establishes an advisory board consisting of experts on criminal justice, public policy, management and human resources to develop ongoing reforms within the probation department.
 
It also sets up a special task force to study the best ways to improve information-sharing between all departments. The task force will be made up of the secretary of public safety, the commissioner of probation, chairman of the parole board, president of the sheriffs’ association, and the commissioners of the corrections department and the youth services department.
 
The bill also calls for a special commission to study the evaluation of judicial candidates, both prior to and after their nomination by the governor, and examine the nominating and confirming practices of other states.
 
The Senate bill and the House bill, which passed May 11th, will go to a conference committee to produce a compromise bill for final passage and consideration of the Governor.
 
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