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Bar News - December 16, 2011

Morning Mail: Master Phase-Out Would Reduce Judicial Effectiveness

I am writing with respect to the article by House Speaker William O‘Brien in the November 18, 2011 Bar News regarding changes to the court system. I am not a trial lawyer, but I have followed Rep. O’Brien’s career as Speaker, and it is safe to say that he is less interested in efficiency than he is in undermining the strength and independence of the judicial branch of government.

One of his first actions as Speaker was to establish a Committee on Redress of Grievances. As stated in a Nashua Telegraph editorial, the committee "was created essentially to harass the judiciary...It’s nothing more than a venue for Republican lawmakers to take issue with court decisions and judges they don’t agree with..."

Now, O’Brien wants to eliminate marital masters. Just a few weeks ago, he held up a piece of legislation that had nothing to do with the judiciary, attempting to force the state senate back into session to approve an amendment to get rid of the masters. In doing so, he ensured defeat of a bill that would have saved the state hundreds of thousands of dollars. O’Brien claims that the legislation eliminating masters will convert the master positions to circuit court judges as each master’s term expires. But those new judicial positions will depend on the availability of funds to pay for the new judges, and with a legislature intent on cutting budgets, the likelihood of available funds is lower than low.

The result will be longer waits, and a system in which the wealthy will be able to obtain swift results through privately paid mediation or arbitration while the rest of those in need of a judicial remedy will be left waiting in an ever growing long line. Justice delayed is justice denied.

In his article, O’Brien says that a significant area of concern expressed by constituents was with the marital master system, and that the time has come to end it. That logic is deeply flawed, as unhappy litigants will be unhappy whether their cases are heard by masters or judges. Will his next step be the elimination of judges?

O’Brien’s assault on the court system is an attack on the three independent, co-equal branches of government. I am afraid that he is using the excuses of revenue shortfalls and efficiency as cover for an anti-judiciary agenda that will cause harm to both our state and our citizens.

Kathleen N. Sullivan

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