Does the public have a right to records about the inner workings of the state’s judicial system?
The Supreme Judicial Court had a chance to decide that question, but took a pass, ruling Monday that the issue had been rendered moot in a lawsuit over administrative documents kept by the Massachusetts Trial Court.
At issue was a request from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice for records about the race and gender of security department employees, and hiring and promotion practices for those workers.
In a 3-page opinion, justices said they didn’t have to take action in the case because the trial court voluntarily provided the records to the group. But Oren Sellstrom, litigation director for the committee, said state judicial system administrators only produced the documents after his organization sued.
“The troubling part about the decision is that kind of access should be available to all members of the public,” Sellstrom said Tuesday. “It should not take a lawsuit for the public to have access to this kind of basic demographic information.”
The group requested the documents under the state’s public records law in June 2016 as it began investigating reports of inequitable employment practices, Sellstrom said.
The trial court balked, saying the state’s judiciary isn’t subject to the public records law, but would consider the request, the SJC opinion said.
Six months later, the committee sued for the documents, Sellstrom said. The day after the lawsuit was filed, the judiciary began releasing records, but insisted that it was doing so voluntarily and not because it was required under the public records law, the committee said.
Those documents revealed a lack of diversity among court officers, according to Sellstrom. In particular, the group found that less than 7 percent of court officers are women of color. At the management level, about 4 percent are women of color, the committee said.
The US attorney’s office in Boston has launched an investigation into potential civil rights violations in the register’s office at Suffolk Probate and Family Court, which is part of the trial court. A spokeswoman for the trial court said the inquiry is limited to that office and does not extend to the agency as a whole.
Despite receiving the documents, the committee pressed ahead with its lawsuit. The justices concluded, however, that the trial court had ended the dispute by providing the records.
“The fact that the Lawyers’ Committee has also sought a declaratory judgment concerning the applicability of the public records law to the respondents does not alter the outcome as there is no longer any actual controversy,” the court wrote.
The spokeswoman said the SJC decision speaks for itself.
Massachusetts is the only state in the nation where the judiciary, executive, and legislative branches of government claim to be exempt from the public records law. As part of an overhaul of the law signed last year by Governor Charlie Baker, a legislative commission has been tasked with examining whether that should change.
The unthinkable has been an all-too-common companion in two small neighboring towns, where six young people took their lives in the short span of 30 months. The questions keep coming: What is happening? Why? When will it stop?Continue reading »
The outside consultants’ report warned that if the agency fails to address its issues, it could experience “a repeat of the spate of incidents that instigated this study, or worse.”Continue reading »
A Tufts graduate had always brushed off her father’s tales of hanging out with Charles Barkley — until the basketball legend arrived at her father’s funeral to deliver a heartfelt eulogy.Continue reading »
Massachusetts is one of a small number of states that allow private citizens to go before clerk magistrates to lodge serious criminal complaints that are vetted, and sometimes settled, in secretive hearings.Continue reading »
Boston has discussed issues of race with a candor not seen before. Progressive candidates had a big year in politics. But has the city really begun to address inequality?Continue reading »
Roache, 82, was police commissioner from 1985 until 1993 and on the City Council from 1996 to 2002. He also ran for mayor in 1993.Continue reading »
Campus police are going the extra mile to nab those Christmas thieves.Continue reading »
The home, known as the Peter and Sarah Clayes House, hit the market Thursday with an asking price of $975,000.Continue reading »
The victims suffered “very serious” injuries after they were repeatedly stabbed by Andrew Soto, who was staying at their home, police said.Continue reading »