Judiciary of Massachusetts

The judiciary of Massachusetts is the branch of the government of Massachusetts that interprets and applies the law of Massachusetts, ensures equal justice under law, and provides a mechanism for dispute resolution. The judicial power in Massachusetts is reposed in the Supreme Judicial Court, which superintends the entire system of courts.


The Massachusetts court system consists of the Supreme Judicial Court, the Appeals Court, and the seven Trial Court departments.

Supreme Judicial CourtEdit

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is the court of last resort. An appeal from a conviction of first degree murder goes directly to the Supreme Judicial Court. The Supreme Judicial Court can also elect to bypass review by the Appeals Court and hear a case on "direct appellate review."

Appeals CourtEdit

The Massachusetts Appeals Court is the intermediate appellate court. The court hears most appeals from the departments of the Trial Courts of Massachusetts and administrative tribunals.

Trial CourtEdit

The seven Trial Court departments are the:

In the District Court Department, appeals in certain civil cases are made first to the Appellate Division of the District Court before being eligible for appeal to the Appeals Court. After a decision by the Appeals Court, parties may seek "further appellate review" by requesting review by the Supreme Judicial Court.

Other tribunalsEdit

Other administrative tribunals include the:


In addition to appellate functions, the Supreme Judicial Court is responsible for the general superintendence of the judiciary and of the bar, makes or approves rules for the operations of all the courts, and in certain instances, provides advisory opinions, upon request, to the Governor and Legislature on various legal issues. The Supreme Judicial Court also oversees several affiliated agencies of the judicial branch, including the Board of Bar Overseers, the Board of Bar Examiners, the Clients' Security Board, the Massachusetts Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee, and Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services. The Massachusetts Court Administrator, subject to the superintendence power of the Supreme Judicial Court and in consultation with the Massachusetts Chief Justice of the Trial Court, has general superintendence of the administration of the Trial Court.

The Massachusetts Executive Office of the Trial Court was established to facilitate communication and enable joint leadership of the Trial Court and comprises an Office of Court Management and an Office of the Chief Justice of the Trial Court. The Massachusetts Office of the Commissioner of Probation supervises the Massachusetts Probation Service. The Massachusetts Office of Jury Commissioner oversees the selection and management of all jurors in the Commonwealth until they appear at the courthouse.

MassCourts is the case management system used by the courts.[1] The decisions of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the Massachusetts Appeals Court, and the Appellate Divisions of the Massachusetts District Court and the Boston Municipal Court departments, which are published in the Massachusetts Reports, Massachusetts Appeals Court Reports, and Massachusetts Appellate Division Reports, respectively.[2][3] The Massachusetts Law Reporter publishes decisions from the Massachusetts Superior Court.[3][4]

Selection and retirement of judgesEdit

Under the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, which remains in effect today, the governor of Massachusetts appoints all state court judges with the consent of the elected Massachusetts Governor's Council (Executive Council).[5] The Governor's Counsel very rarely rejects judicial nominees: between 1993 and 2011, the council did not reject any governor's judicial appointment.[6] In 2012 and 2013, three nominees of Governor Deval Patrick were rejected by the council.[7]

Every governor since 1975 has issued an executive order that sets forth the list of criteria for judicial nominees and creates a Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) to screen potential nominees; the members of the JNC are appointed and dismissed by the governor and serve as volunteers for one-year terms.[5] The establishment of a JNC in Massachusetts was first adopted by Governor Michael Dukakis, as a measure to better insulate the judicial from political or partisan considerations.[8][9] The JNC takes applications from candidates for judicial vacancies, reviews the applications, conducts interviews, and forwards a name or names to the governor for nomination.[9] Governor Mitt Romney introduced a "blind" vetting procedure in 2003, under which the JNC conducts its initial review of applications without knowing the name of the applicants.[10] That process has been adopted by all of Romney's successors.[9]

Initially, there was no mandatory retirement age for judges in Massachusetts. A constitutional amendment adopted in 1972 set a mandatory retirement age of 70 years.[5] The Court Reform Act of 1978 allows judges who reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 to serve part-time on the bench upon being appointed by the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (Massachusetts SJC) for 90-day "recall" assignments. The "recalled judges" are compensated on a per diem basis.[11] The system also applies to the Massachusetts Trial Court.[11] The first retired judge to be recalled to the Massachusetts Appeals Court was David A. Rose.[12]

The state Commission on Judicial Conduct investigates ethics complaints about state judges, and makes recommendations to the Massachusetts SJC, which has the ultimate power to suspend, censure, or remove a judge for misconduct.[13][14][15]


Before 1978, all trial courts except the Land Court were county or local courts funded through the counties. The Massachusetts Trial Court was created by Chapter 478 of the Acts of 1978 that reorganized the courts into seven Trial Court Departments. Administrative Justices became responsible for the administration of each court department and as part of the overhaul, all judges became state judges with the same salary and benefits.

A second court reorganization in 1992 greatly expanded the Juvenile Court Department and ended trial de novo in the District Court Department. It also replaced Administrative Justices with Chief Justices and created a central office headed by the Chief Justice for Administration and Management. [16]

As of December 2010, there are 9 Chief Justices and 401 Associate Justices positions authorized by statute in the system with trial judges sitting in more than one 130 locations across the state.[17]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Wallack, Todd (12 April 2015). "Massachusetts courts' long-delayed computer system may leave public out". The Boston Globe.
  2. ^ "Civil Procedure Research Guide". Northeastern University School of Law. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  3. ^ a b "Massachusetts Law". Massachusetts. Retrieved 12 June 2014.
  4. ^ "The Massachusetts Law Reporter". Connecticut Law Book Company. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  5. ^ a b c How a judge is selected in Massachusetts, Massachusetts Law Updates, Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries (August 21, 2018).
  6. ^ David Boeri, [Newly Feisty Governor's Council Has A Shaky History], WBUR (April 27, 2011).
  7. ^ Colleen Quinn & Michael Norton, Governor's Council rejects another Patrick nominee for judge, Patriot-Ledger (August 1, 2013).
  8. ^ Alva C. Goldberg, Men who Lost the Presidency: Profiles of the 29 Men who Lost Elections to be President of the United States (J.M. Press: 1992), p. 361.
  9. ^ a b c Wheeler Cowperthwaite, Sunshine Week: Nominating state’s judges starts in the dark, Cape Code Times (March 15, 2019).
  10. ^ Jeffrey Rosen, Boston Legal, New Republic (October 26, 2011).
  11. ^ a b Gary V. Murray, Staying on the bench, Telegram & Gazette (July 12, 2010).
  12. ^ "Associate Justice David A. Rose | Mass.gov". www.mass.gov. Retrieved 2021-01-01.
  13. ^ Shira Schoenberg, Judge Thomas Estes 'can never command the moral authority' to be a judge, lawyer tells Massachusetts SJC, The Republican (April 24, 2018).
  14. ^ Jim Russell, Massachusetts Judge Thomas Estes resigns after admitting to having sex in his chambers with drug court clinician, The Republican (May 25, 2018).
  15. ^ Katie Lannan, Mass. Judicial Conduct Commission Weighs Possible Removal of Judge, State House News Service (October 5, 2020).
  16. ^ "The Massachusetts Court System Intro". mass.gov. Archived from the original on August 8, 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-16.
  17. ^ "The Massachusetts Court System Structure" (PDF). mass.gov. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-10. Retrieved 2010-12-16.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit