By Hon. John C. Cratsley
This spring semester, students in the Judicial Process in Community Courts Clinic and class provided almost 800 hours of volunteer legal research and writing time for their assigned judges. The 22 students in this year’s clinic and class exceed the contribution of last year’s students by almost 300 hours.
Students were placed with judges in six different trial courts – the Boston Municipal Court, District Court, Juvenile and Superior Court departments of the Massachusetts Trial Court and the U.S. District and Immigration Courts in the federal system. In addition, their weekly classes included discussions of highly relevant topics like mandatory sentences for drug crimes, alternative approaches to traditional sentencing, including treatment courts and restorative justice, as well as the unmet need for civil legal assistance in court proceedings and the work of the Center for Court Innovation in promoting model community courts.
The variety of student research and drafting for their judges is extensive ranging from motions to suppress in criminal cases to motions seeking judicial review of final decisions of state administrative agencies. Specific student work included memos on the application of a forum selection clause, the right of a criminal defendant to a new trial, and the role of the confrontation clause in deposition practice. This was also the first year our clinic was able to place a student in the Immigration Court, where her responsibilities included work on both asylum and citizenship issues.
Additionally, students assisted their state court judges with the implementation of two important changes, the first, a new statute authorizing for the first time in Massachusetts the use in jury selection of attorney conducted voire dire, and the second, a new rule from the Supreme Judicial Court regarding plea bargaining practices including judicial participation.
The students’ day to day work for their judges often finds its way into their final papers for their class. For example, several students chose to write about the new SJC Rule 12 and its likely impact of increased judicial involvement in plea bargaining.
“As a practical matter, Massachusetts judges retain significant discretion in plea negotiations,” said Jonathan Hiles, J.D. ’15, who examined the ways in which judges can exercise this power, both generally and in the context of likely sentencing guidelines. “The new constraints highlight how much flexibility remains, in spite of the publicized split within the Supreme Judicial Court. The revised Rule 12 explicitly licenses judicial management of plea negotiations and increases confidence in them by setting basic rules of the road.”
Another student is analyzing the early results of attorney run voire dire as the law changes to permit it. With an emphasis in the class on writing papers relevant to those courts seeking to be responsive to community needs, three students are writing about the expansion of mental health courts; two evaluating a one year old mental health court and one writing a very practical paper to help her judge start a mental health court.
Clinic student Kristen Molloy, J.D. ’15 commented that the “clinic was one of the most valuable and practical experiences” of her time at Harvard Law School. “The clinic offered a wonderful opportunity to observe the typically private juvenile court proceedings and get a better understanding of the types of cases that juvenile judges handle,” she said. “I enjoyed learning more about the juvenile court’s history and current reform initiatives.”