Back in 2002, the budget for the judicial branch was cut by 20% – and the judiciary was told to make up the money by squeezing the poor. The euphemism used was “retained revenue.” That is a sanitized way of saying “just squeeze the poor” or “don’t protect justice, be bill collectors” to judges.
The way this scheme set up by then-Governor Romney worked, if the courts collected more fees from the indigent [say, indigent counsel fees, probation fees, etc] in 2002 then in 2001, most of the money would go into the general fund, but the courts could “retain” a percentage of what they squeezed from the poor.
A good friend, when he was made a judge, looked forward to his judicial training. After wards, his lament was that the so-called training was not about court management, or maintaining judicial demeanor, or even the laws – but on how to collect more money! He was really depressed.
Folks – the judiciary is not an agency. It is a separate branch of government, and our sole protection against government gone out of control.
There is a reason that John Adams drafted the Open Court Clause, which is part of the Declaration of Rights of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts:
Article XI. Every subject of the commonwealth ought to find a certain remedy, by having recourse to the laws, for all injuries or wrongs which he may receive in his person, property, or character. He ought to obtain right and justice freely, and without being obliged to purchase it; completely, and without any denial; promptly, and without delay; conformably to the laws.
To what extent does the so-called “retained revenue” scheme actually violate Article XI of the declaration of rights by requiring citizens to purchase justice? Would this survive constitutional challenge, actually?
Chief Justice Marshall’s State of the Judiciary Address this year decries this retained revenue trap.
As a practical matter, each year the vise on the courts closes tighter and tighter. It is the vulnerable citizen who suffers most – the child who no longer has an Educational Guardian Ad Litem…the pro se litigant who cannot get to see a judge…the client who pays more because he or she and their attorneys are trapped in the hallways of the Probate and Family Courts waiting and waiting because there are not enough clerks to staff sessions.
Where is Article XI’s promise of justice?
What the courts are called on to do is constitutional in magnitude. Courts neither create cases, nor can they turn them away.
That all being said, courts take up 2% of the state’s budget and have borne more than their share of cuts.
Who will stand up for access to justice?