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Judges huddle in High Style on Your Dime
By Scott Van Voorhis
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Bay State judges enjoy a year-round, rotating festival of posh golf-resort educational seminars in the Berkshires, on Cape Cod and elsewhere largely at taxpayer expense, despite a court system jammed with a case backlog stretching back years.

Conferences for most of the seven divisions of the state's trial courts empty various courthouses across the state at different points throughout the year, leaving skeleton crews to keep the wheels of justice turning during busy work weeks.

For example, dozens of Superior Court judges met at the Cranwell Resort, Spa & Golf Club in Lenox in late April, where a lodging and golf package goes for $370 a night. Despite a ?government rate? of $129 a night for the judges? conference, the event cost about $34,000, based on estimates provided by Judge Robert Mulligan, chief justice for administration for the trial courts.

Every year, the state court system shells out well over $100,000 for annual and biannual conferences at luxury resorts like Cranwell and Chatham's Wequassett Inn Resort and Golf Course.


Conferences aren't just for superior court judges. District, municipal, juvenile, probate and family court judges have them, too.

These same judges are facing pressure to dispense justice more swiftly and efficiently in the wake of a 2003 blue ribbon report that blasted Massachusetts courts as ?mired in managerial confusion.?
These same judges are facing pressure to dispense justice more swiftly and efficiently in the wake of a 2003 blue ribbon report that blasted Massachusetts courts as “mired in managerial confusion.”
    For some, conferences aren’t the answer. The golf resort seminars raised the hackles of Alan Jay Rom, head of the nonprofit Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.

    “Certainly you don’t go off to lavish country clubs when people are suffering and people don’t have access,” Rom said. “That should be clear as a bell.”

    Meanwhile, the state judges are pushing lawmakers on Beacon Hill for a 12 percent boost to their $112,777 annual pay.
    “If you wanted to be kind, you would compare them to the state lawmakers who take their conferences on the coast of Spain,” quipped Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “At least they are staying in the state.”
    Mulligan defended the Cape and Berkshire educational jaunts, calling the biannual meetings a tradition that stretches back more than a century.
    State courts spokeswoman Joan Kenney also noted that superior court judges pay a $30 out-of-pocket fee at their conferences.
     Mulligan says the conferences are intense legal education forums. A recent Cranwell stay featured seminars entitled “sentencing scenarios with videos” and “post verdict issues.”
    Mulligan said he has also used the forums to roll out his agenda for increasing courthouse efficiency.
    “We go to these places off season,” Mulligan said. “I am not sure people really want to stay at the Wequassett Inn on Dec. 1. It may sound hollow to some people, but it’s a sacrifice to go to these.”
     “These are not events where people are doing anything but working hard,” Mulligan said.