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Mass. Courts Decide Against Sponsored Law Clerks

Robert mulligan Earlier this summer, we told you about an unusual proposal out of Massachusetts for making productive use of all those deferred law firm associates sitting around wondering what to do with themselves. The chief administrative justice of the state's trial courts, Robert A. Mulligan (pictured), suggested they be put to work as "volunteer" judicial law clerks while remaining on the payrolls of the firms that hired them.

At the time, the Judicial Ethics Committee of the Supreme Judicial Court, the state's highest court, had just given the proposal its OK. The committee concluded that trial court judges could maintain their judicial independence and impartiality by using a "double blind" program to select and manage the clerks. As for the clerks, they would be forbidden from telling anyone, even their Facebook friends, about their connections to the law firms that paid them.

Now, the state judiciary has decided not to go forward with the controversial plan. Joan Kenney, the spokeswoman for the judiciary, tells Jonathan Saltzman of The Boston Globe today that Mulligan dropped the proposal after receiving a written opinion from the state Ethics Commission. The commission did not provide a "definitive ruling," Kenney said, but after Mulligan reviewed the letter and discussed it with the chief justices who head the various trial court departments, he decided to shelve the plan.

As a result of recent budget cuts, the number of full-time law clerks working for the trial court dropped from 105 in June to 75 now. The lack of a full contingent of clerks will make it harder for judges to do their jobs, one judge told the Globe.

Mulligan deserves credit for thinking outside the box as the court system looks for ways to tackle an ever-growing caseload in tough economic times. But dropping this plan was the right decision. It was simply too fraught with the potential for conflicts of interest.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on September 1, 2009 at 11:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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