This I beheld or dreamed it in a dream. I happened to be in the John Adams Courthouse the home of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC). I spent some time at the Social Law Library (there is nothing social about it) which was once aptly described by an Appeals Court Judge who said “someone could die in that library and they would not be discovered for weeks.” It occupies the fourth and fifth floors of that courthouse and caters to a very few people. I find it a nice place to do some legal research or to escape the hubbub of the Hub.
When I finished my work there I got on the elevator and pushed the button to take me down to the exit leading out behind Central Plaza. Being occupied in my thoughts, when the elevator doors opened I got off. I discovered I was on the same floor as the SJC. As I was poking around figuring whether to wait for the elevator or walk down the remaining stairs I heard some singing coming from the courtroom where the judges hear the cases.
At first I could only hear the tune. It was that of a song we sang a long time ago in St. William’s minstrel shows called “Side by Side.” Only the words were different. Curious, I pushed open the door just a bit. I saw there were five or six of the judges standing in front of the bench who dressed in their long black cassock-like garments were standing and moving side by side holding hands like the dancers in the danse des petits cygnes. They were also singing .
I realized I was an officious intermeddler intruding where I was not wanted. I let the door silently close and fled from the area down the stairs.
The only words that I was able to hear during that brief interlude were: “Oh we ain’t got a barrel of money; our courts are ragged and crumbling, but we’ll muddle along, ‘though everything’s wrong, hide and hide.”
They know, I thought. They are aware that the Massachusetts Court System is decrepit, barely functioning and out of date. They understand they have just been muddling along hiding the problems. Why were they singing about it in a lighthearted manner as if it were some sort of a joke; or had they become so frustrated by it that the only way they could accept their failure to do anything about it was to get over it by singing that song?
You who have been with me a long time know I have talked about this before. You may recall my story of the two young professional women from Beacon Hill in their late twenties. In the late 1800s they went on an expedition to the North Pole. They never returned. A couple of years ago they were found encased in ice. They were brought to experimental research laboratory in Sweden where through modern technologies they were brought back to life. (Some say they never died.) They returned to Boston when well enough to travel.
One was a doctor. She was stunned by the advancement in medicine during her 120 year absence. She recognized to work at her profession she would have to start all over. The other woman was a lawyer. The first day she was able to pick up her brief case she was back in court. She was not even surprised nothing had changed.
That story as the one about the song may be apocryphal but they point to undeniable truths. The Massachusetts Court System has not changed in hundreds of years; and the judges who should have done something about it are doing no more than singing. or, better put, they are whistling past the grave yard.
The problem with giving people life time jobs is whether they do something or not they have the job. There is no incentive to do anything; nor is there any competition to spur the people on. The ones who work hard get the same pay as those who are sluggards or scags. Trapped inside their robes and surrounded by obsequious helpers whose jobs depend on assuring them of their brilliance they have no need to see other than their own little worlds.
Were doctors appointed for life without incentives or competition and all paid the same we would be taking bourbon as an anesthetic and a major operation would be a blood-letting. The people deserve better than what the courts have been handing out over the years. I’ve written how they blew 75 million on a computer system that does not work. There were no consequences felt by anyone in the system. We are not being served well. It is time to demand a change
Next time I get to the subject I’ll explain more. (I know I said that the last time but don’t forget I’m a product of this malfunctioning system.)