Marshall and Cordy: Monan guided Mass. court reforms
The death of the Rev. Donald Monan, Boston College’s longtime president and chancellor, has evoked many tributes to his extraordinary contributions to Boston College, to its rise as a world-renowned institution, and to his deep commitment to Jesuit values.
But his contributions to our community extended far beyond the boundaries of the college. His leadership helped change the path of the Massachusetts judiciary at a critical time in its 300-year history.
It began in the late fall of 2001 when the Rev. Monan agreed to met with several of us on the state Supreme Judicial Court, including Justice Francis Spina, then the only Boston College graduate on the court. Our discussion centered on the very essence of our legal system — the right of every citizen under the Massachusetts Constitution to an “impartial interpretation of the laws” and an “administration of justice .... promptly, and without delay.”
While the quality of justice in Massachusetts had long been heralded as, and remained excellent, its administration had long struggled — often mired in confusion, structurally dysfunctional and lacking in accountability.
The meeting with Monan centered on the creation of a blue-ribbon committee of management experts, business leaders and lawyers, which he was asked to chair. The commission would be charged with assessing the management practices and policies of our courts and recommend to the Supreme Judicial Court improvements in the administration of justice.
Monan agreed to take on the project, and offered to provide what proved to be invaluable resources to the mission of what became known as the “Monan Commission,” officially named the Visiting Committee on Management in the Courts. He recruited the global management consulting firm McKinsey and Co. to work with the committee on a pro bono basis.
The members of the committee, recruited by the court, included former state Sen. Patricia McGovern and Blue Cross and Blue Shield President William Van Faasen who served as vice chairs, Wesley Marple and former District Attorney Ralph Martin, longtime state and federal judge David Mazzone, and technology expert Dorothy Terrell. The president and CEO of Harvard Pilgrim, one Charlie Baker, also agreed to serve.
The committee began its work in August 2002. It visited dozens of courthouses and interviewed in depth more than a hundred judges, clerks, probation officers and court staff, as well as members of the bar, community leaders and experts from around the nation.
The Monan Commission produced its report six months later, laying out a devastating critique of the management system’s weaknesses, and a sweeping plan to repair the chronic organizational and managerial issues that too often led to its dysfunction.
The Monan Commission identified as issues that needed to be addressed: “a convoluted organizational structure; a lack of accountability and performance measurements and management; and an inability to manage costs and resources.”
It also developed three initiatives to address these systematic problems:
• committing to new structures of leadership;
• creating a culture of high performance and accountability;
• and establishing discipline in resource allocation and use, and many recommendations for carrying out these initiatives.
The Supreme Judicial Court readily adopted the commission’s recommendations, and the executive branch and Legislature largely followed suit. Its report and recommendations became the court’s blue print for the future. It both laid out the path and empowered the court to move forward.
Fourteen years later, those administrative reforms are still making a difference in our court system. The promise of the Massachusetts Constitution has come so much closer to fulfillment. The people of this commonwealth were blessed by Monan’s leadership on this issue. Today we mourn the passing of this great and humble public servant.
Margaret Marshall is a former chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court and Robert J. Cordy a retired associate justice of the court. Both are now in private practice in Boston.