O'Coin's, Inc. v. Treasurer of Worcester County

Citation362 Mass. 507,287 N.E.2d 608
Decision Date19 September 1972
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

Milton H. Raphaelson, Worcester, for petitioner.

Joseph F. Sawyer, Jr., Worcester, for respondents.


TAURO, Chief Justice.

The petitioner seeks a writ of mandamus under G.L. c. 249, § 5, directing the respondent treasurer and respondent commissioners of Worcester County to pay it the amount of $86 for a tape recorder and three tapes purchased by a judge of the Superior Court for use during criminal sittings in the county. See G.L. c. 35, § 35. The case is reported to us without decision upon the petition, the respondents' answer, and a statement of agreed facts. G.L. c. 213, § 1B; c. 231, § 111.

The petitioner is a retail appliance store doing business in Worcester County. On March 25, 1971, a judge of the Superior Court sitting in Worcester forwarded to the respondent treasurer an invoice from the petitioner, dated March 24, 1971, in the amount of $86 for the tape recorder ($80) and the tapes ($6). Upon the invoice was written the following: '3/25/1971. Approved for payment. John H. Meagher, J(udge) S(uperior) C(ourt).' In a letter accompanying the invoice, the judge certified that the tape recorder was a 'necessary expense' of the court made '(t)o obviate a temporary closing of a (criminal) session' when no stenographer was available. Since its purchase, the tape recorder has been used in the Worcester Superior Court in criminal matters and, upon agreement of counsel, also in civil matters. The respondent treasurer has refused to make payment for the machine and the tapes.

In support of his refusal, the respondents argue that the Superior Court has no authority to bind a county for the payment of goods and services except under G.L (Ter.Ed.) c. 213, § 8, 1 and that the statute does not apply here where a purchase by the court is involved. We reject these contentions.

1. Even apart from statutory provisions, we are of opinion that a judge may bind a county 2 contractually for expenses reasonably necessary for the operation of his court, and that he may issue an ex parte order for the payment of any obligation so incurred.

Under our Constitution, the courts of the Commonwealth constitute a separate and independent department of government entrusted with the exclusive power of interpreting the laws. Massachusetts Constitution: Preamble, Declaration of Rights, art. 30; Frame of Government, c. 3. In erecting this tripartite form of government, our first citizens meant ot secure to themselves, and their successors, every natural right of free men. Id., Preamble. The intimate relationship between these rights and the judicial power is made clear in art. 29 of the Declaration of Rights: 'It is essential to the preservation of the rights of every individual, his life liberty, property, and character, that there be an impartial interpretation of the laws, and administration of justice.' Also it is provided in art. 11: 'Every subject of the commonwealth . . . ought to obtain right and justice freely, and without being obliged to purchase it; completely, and without any denial; promptly, and without dealy; conformably to the laws.'

From these provisions, it necessarily follows that 'courts of general jurisdiction . . . have the inherent power to do whatever may be done under the general principles of jurisprudence to insure to the citizen a fair trial, whenever his life, liberty, property or character is at stake.' Justice, later Chief Justice, Rugg in Crocker v. Justices of Superior Court, 208 Mass. 162, 179, 94 N.E. 369, 377. Simply stated, implicit in the constitutional grant of judicial power is 'authority necessary to the exercise of . . . (that) power' (emphasis supplied). Opinion of the Justices, 279 Mass. 607, 609, 180 N.E. 725, 727. Such authority is not limited to adjudication, but includes certain ancillary functions, such as rule-making and judicial administration, which are essential if the courts are to carry out their constitutional mandate. See Collins v. Godfrey, 324 Mass. 574, 578--579, 87 N.E.2d 838; MATTER OF DESAULNIER, MASS., 279 N.E.2D 296.A See also LaChapelle v. United Shoe Mach. Corp., 318 Mass. 166, 170--171, 61 N.E.2d 8. Cf. Attorney Gen. v. Brissenden, 271 Mass. 172, 177--178, 171 N.E. 82 (concerning inherent powers of the Legislature).

It is axiomatic that, as an independent department of government, the judiciary must have adequate and sufficient resources to ensure the proper operation of the courts. It would be illogical to interpret the Constitution as creating a judicial department with awesome powers over the life, liberty, and property of every citizen while, at the same time, denying to the judges authority to determine the basic needs of their courts as to equipment, facilities and supporting personnel. Such authority must be vested in the judiciary if the courts are to provide justice, and the people are to be secure in their rights, under the Constitution.

We hold, therefore, that among the inherent powers possessed by every judge is the power to protect his court from impairment resulting from inadequate facilities or a lack of supplies or supporting personnel. To correct such an impairment, a judge may, even in the absence of a clearly applicable statute, obtain the required goods or services by appropriate means, including arranging himself for their purchase and ordering the responsible executive official to make payment.

It is not essential that there have been a prior appropriation to cover the expenditure. Where an obligation is thus legally incurred, it is the duty of the State, or one of its political subdivisions, to make payment. Massachusetts Constitution Declaration of Rights, art. 10, as amended. Cf. Opinion of the Justices, 323 Mass. 764, 767--768, 79 N.E.2d 881. The view that there must be checks and balances between the departments of government is not contrary. It was certainly never intended that any one department, through the exercise of its acknowledged powers, should be able to prevent another department from fulfilling its responsibilities to the people under the Constitution.

2. The principles expressed today are recognized not only in Massachusetts but throughout the nation.

In a recent case, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed, with minor modifications, an order compelling the mayor and city council of Philadelphia to provide funds necessary for the operation of a municipal court. The Supreme Court said: 'Because of the basic functions and inherent powers of the three co-equal Branches of Government, the co-equal independent Judiciary must possess rights and powers co-equal with its functions and duties, including the right and power to protect itself against any impairment thereof. . . . Expressed in other words the Judiciary must possess the inherent power to determine and compel payment of those sums of money which are reasonable and necessary to carry out its mandated responsibilities, and its powers and duties to administer Justice, if it is to be in reality a co-equal, independent Branch of our Government.' Commonwealth ex rel. Carroll v. Tate, 442 Pa., 45, 52, 274 A.2d 193, 197 (citations omitted). 3

There have been similar decisions by the highest courts of several States as well as Pennsylvania within the last decade. In Smith v. Miller, 153 Colo. 35, 40--41, 384 P.2d 738, 741, the Supreme Court of Colorado adopted the following statement from the rulings of the trial judge: '(I)t is the genius of our government that the courts must be independent, unfettered, and free from directives, influence, or interference from any extraneous source. It is abhorrent to the principles of our legal system and to our form of government that courts, being a coordinate department of government, should be compelled to depend upon the vagaries of an extrinsic will. Such would interfere with the operation of the courts, impinge upon their power and thwart the effective administration of justice . . . (I)t is the plain ministerial duty of those who control the purse to pay such expenses except only where the amounts are so unreasonable as to affirmatively indicate arbitrary and capricious acts.'

Likewise, it was said in Carlson v. State ex rel. Stodola, 247 Ind. 631, 633--634, 220 N.E.2d 532, 533: 'The security of human rights and the safety of free institutions require freedom of action on the part of . . . court(s). . . . Our sense of justice tells us that a court is not free if it is under financial pressure, whether it be from a city council or other legislative body.' 4 On the basis of such considerations, the Supreme Court of Michigan held as follows in Wayne Circuit Judges v. Wayne County, 383 Mich. 10, 22, 172 N.W.2d 436, 440: '(T)he inherent power of courts is not exhausted when the needs of administration of justice have been declared and urged upon the legislative councils. There remains a narrower area in which the courts have inherent power to courts have inherent power to bind the of a need. It is an area in which the colurts have inherent power to bind the State or the county contractually.' See Stowell v. Board of Supervisors for Jackson County, 57 Mich. 31, 33--35, 23 N.W. 557.

An earlier statement of the inherent power of the judiciary is found in In re Court Room & Offices of Fifth Branch of Circuit Court, Milwaukee County, 148 Wis. 109, 121, 134 N.W. 490, 495: 'The authorities . . . (indicate) that a constitutional court of general jurisdiction has inherent power to protect itself against any action that would unreasonably curtail its powers or materially impair its efficiency. A county board has no power to even attempt to impede the functions of such a court, and no such power could be conferred upon it. . . . (Courts of general jurisdiction under the...

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