First Justice of the Bristol Juvenile Court v. CLERK-MAGISTRATE OF THE …

Decision Date07 January 2003
Citation438 Mass. 387,780 NE 2d 908
PartiesFIRST JUSTICE OF THE BRISTOL DIVISION OF THE JUVENILE COURT DEPARTMENT & another v. CLERK-MAGISTRATE OF THE BRISTOL DIVISION OF THE JUVENILE COURT DEPARTMENT & others.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Present: MARSHALL, C.J., GREANEY, SPINA, COWIN, SOSMAN, & CORDY, JJ.

William L. Patton (Martin J. Newhouse & Emily C. Shanahan with him) for the plaintiffs.

Richard S. Weitzel, Assistant Attorney General (Stephanie S. Lovell, Assistant Attorney General, with him) for the defendants.

Carl Valvo, for Association of Magistrates and Assistant Clerks of the Trial Court, amicus curiae, filed a brief.

GREANEY, J.

We are concerned here with a claim that certain statutes enacted by the Legislature to modify other statutes governing clerk-magistrates (clerks), assistant clerks of court, and probation officers in aspects of their relationship with various administrative Trial Court justices should be declared unconstitutional because they infringe on inherent powers of the judiciary in contravention of art. 30 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. There is a further claim that the challenged laws are independently unconstitutional because they were enacted by means of so-called "outside sections" in a general appropriation bill in violation of art. 63 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution. The case was reported by a single justice on the record created by the parties in the county court. We conclude that the modifying statutes (statutes), as construed in this opinion, are constitutional against the facial challenges made. We decline to hold that art. 63 was violated by the manner in which the statutes were enacted.

The background of the case is as follows. On November 21, 2001, the Legislature approved the Commonwealth's budget for fiscal year 2002. See St. 2001, c. 177. Amendments to existing legislation relating to the organization of the court system were included as part of the budget enactment. Challenged here are those "outside sections" that appear to call into question the authority of the Chief Justice for Administration and Management (CJAM), and Chief Justices and First Justices of various departments of the Trial Court, over clerks and assistant clerks of court; the role of the CJAM in the selection and appointment of assistant clerks; and the authority of the CJAM and First Justices over probation officers serving in the Trial Court. See St. 2001, c. 177, §§ 34-36, 39-41, 45-47, 52-54 (the challenged statutes).

On December 10, 2001, the First Justice of the Bristol Division of the Juvenile Court Department (First Justice of the Bristol Division) filed a pro se petition in the county court, alleging that the challenged statutes impermissibly undermine the ability of the trial court judiciary to control and supervise clerks, assistant clerks, and probation officers. The pro se complaint alleged instances of ongoing strife in the Bristol Juvenile Court between the First Justice of the Bristol Division and the clerkmagistrate, in order to demonstrate that the effective administration of justice requires, among other considerations, a judge's ability to ensure that clerks and assistant clerks in his or her court perform their duties in a professional manner. The pro se complaint also alleged that the statutes act to insulate appointments in the clerk's office and in the probation department from meaningful judicial oversight to the end that impermissible political patronage appointments seriously undermine "the ability of the court to do its real work." The pro se complaint sought a declaration that the statutes are unconstitutional on their face because they impermissibly infringe on authority inherent in the judicial branch in violation of art. 30.

The First Justice of the Bristol Division, joined by the First Justice of the Springfield Division of the District Court Department as an additional plaintiff, thereafter filed an amended complaint, asserting that the statutes (1) establish an "independent and unaccountable" clerk and clerk's office that is removed from the superintendence and administrative authority of the judiciary in the trial court; and (2) eliminate the authority of the CJAM to appoint, dismiss, and assign probation officers in the trial court, as well as the authority of First Justices to promote, suspend, discipline, or recommend the discharge of probation officers serving in their respective court rooms. In addition, the amended complaint alleged that the manner in which the statutes were enacted, by way of their inclusion as "outside sections" in a general appropriation bill, was in violation of art. 63. The amended complaint sought relief from this court, acting under its general superintendence power. See G. L. c. 211, § 3.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that this court lacked any basis to assume jurisdiction. The defendants claimed that, in the absence of an actual controversy or any particularized injury, the plaintiffs raised non-justiciable issues. According to the defendants, the amended complaint is "nothing more than a unilateral request for an advisory opinion." The defendants asserted that this court's general superintendence powers under G. L. c. 211, § 3, are not so broad as to permit this court to strike down a statute as unconstitutional in the absence of an actual dispute. Moreover, the defendants argued that, as State officials, the plaintiffs lack standing to raise their constitutional claims. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment and the single justice reserved and reported the case on the record.

We shall first deal with the procedural issues raised by the defendants' motion to dismiss, concluding that the case should be decided on its merits. We shall then decide the merits by analyzing the statutes under the standards applicable to facial constitutional challenges and recognized principles of statutory construction, after identifying what they actually do; the nature and scope of art. 30 and the inherent powers of the judiciary; the role of clerks, assistant clerks, and probation officers in the judicial process; and the views of the parties as to the effect of the statutes, concluding, on the construction we give to the statutes, that they are constitutional. Finally, we shall discuss the plaintiffs' art. 63 challenge, concluding that the statutes' enactment did not expressly violate that constitutional provision.

1. There is no question that the case poses a serious dispute concerning the administration of justice. The original pro se complaint contains allegations that, if true, present an immediate conflict between the First Justice of the Bristol Division and the clerk-magistrate of that court. Additionally, an amicus brief filed on behalf of the Association of Magistrates and Assistant Clerks of the Trial Court makes extensive reference to the merits of a case pending in the county court in which relief is sought to resolve a concrete controversy involving the First Justice of the Malden Division of the District Court Department, the clerk-magistrate of that court, the Chief Justice of the District Court Department, and the CJAM. We take judicial notice of the papers in this county court case, and, after examining them, ascertain that the case presents an actual dispute that, in one form or another, implicates some of the challenged statutes and that has generated collateral litigation in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Further, the Legislature undoubtedly presumed the constitutionality of the statutes. Without derogating in any respect from the principles relied on by the defendants in their motion to dismiss concerning general procedural requirements to obtain relief, we conclude that this case concerns an internal dispute between members of the judicial department, see County Comm'rs of Bristol v. Judges of Probate of Bristol County, 338 Mass. 738, 741-742 (1959); raises important issues with implications for the effective administration of justice, see Messing, Rudavsky & Weliky, P.C. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, 436 Mass. 347, 351 (2002); and states an important matter of public interest that may cause further uncertainty within the courts, see Wellesley College v. Attorney Gen., 313 Mass. 722, 731 (1943). Accordingly, we exercise our broad "inherent common law and constitutional powers to supervise the administration of justice" to decide the case. Foley v. Lowell Div. of the Dist. Court Dep't, 398 Mass. 800, 804 (1986).3

2. (a) The challenged statutes, set forth in full as an Appendix to this opinion, make the following changes to existing statutes. Sections 34-35, 40, and 45-47 of c. 177 address the authority of First Justices and clerks in the various departments of the Trial Court over the internal administration of the clerk's office. Prior to the enactment of c. 177, the statute defining the powers of First Justices generally, see G. L. c. 211B, § 10A, inserted by St. 1992, c. 379, § 80, as well as statutes specific to the First Justices in the various divisions of Trial Court departments, see G. L. c. 185C, § 8, as amended through St. 2000, c. 159, §§ 248, 249 (Housing Court); G. L. c. 218, § 6, as amended through St. 2000, c. 159, §§ 265-267 (District Court); and G. L. c. 218, § 58, as amended through St. 2000, c. 159, §§ 271-275 (Juvenile Court), contained identical language which read, "provided, however, that clerks shall have responsibility for the internal administration of his office, including personnel, staff services and record keeping."

The challenged legislation inserts identical language into each of the above statutes, so that they now read "provided, however, that clerks shall have responsibility for the internal administration of his office, including the selection, appointment, and management of personnel, staff services and record...

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