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Deputy Chief Counsel for Public Defender Division of Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Acting First Justice of Lowell Division of District Court Department

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

May 24, 2017


          Heard: November 9, 2016.

         Committee for Public Counsel Services. District Court, Drug court session. Civil action commenced in the Supreme Judicial Court for the county of Suffolk on February 23, 2016.

         The case was reported by Duffly, J.

          Paul R. Rudof, Committee for Public Counsel Services (Ryan M. Schiff, Committee for Public Counsel Services, also present) for the plaintiffs.

          Bethany L. Stevens for the defendant.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd, JJ.

          HINES, J.

         This matter is before us on a reservation and report, by a single justice of this court, of a petition for relief under G. L. c. 211, § 3. The petition, brought by the Deputy Chief Counsel for the Public Defender Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the Deputy Chief Counsel for the Private Counsel Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services (collectively CPCS), sought an order affirming CPCS's independent authority under G. L. c. 211D to select and supervise attorneys for indigent defendants in the pilot program it had launched in the drug court session of the Lowell Division of the District Court Department (drug court). The issue arose after the Acting First Justice of the Lowell District Court (Justice), citing the need for a "team" approach to cases in the drug Court, removed CPCS attorneys from drug court cases to which they had been assigned and excluded CPCS attorneys from assignment to any new case in the drug court.

         The single justice, in her reservation and report, observed that "the matter raises some important legal questions that ought to be decided by the full court, concerning specialty courts in general and adult drug courts in particular, and the respective roles and responsibilities of judges, [CPCS], and individual defense attorneys." The issue highlights the tension that may arise between an attorney's duty to zealously advocate for the rights of the drug court defendant and a drug court model that favors a collaborative and nonadversarial approach to supervision of the drug court defendant. We recognize that the success of drug court outcomes depends in large part on an unconditional commitment to the goal of treatment from all members of the drug court team, including the drug court defendant. Nonetheless, we conclude that CPCS has the sole authority under G. L. c. 211D for the assignment of counsel to indigent criminal defendants and that a judge may not override that authority to accommodate a preference for attorneys willing to assume a collaborative and nonadversarial role in drug court proceedings.


         1. The drug court model.

         Drug courts have been developed to provide the option of treatment as an alternative to incarceration in cases where the underlying criminal behavior is thought to be motivated by a defendant's substance abuse. Executive Office of the Trial Court, Adult Drug Court Manual, A Guide to Starting and Operating Adult Drug Courts in Massachusetts at 2-3 (2015) (drug court manual). Drug courts are defined as "problem-solving courts that operate under a specialized model in which the judiciary, prosecution, defense bar, probation, law enforcement, substance use, mental health, and social service communities work together to provide treatment to people with substance use challenges" with the ultimate goal of public safety and reduction of recidivism. Id. at 3.

         To accomplish these purposes, drug courts necessarily are different from regular criminal sessions during which a judge may impose probation to accommodate a need for treatment rather than a sentence of incarceration. A defendant's success with substance abuse treatment in such circumstances more often than not depends on his or her self-motivation and the availability of resources to support the treatment alternatives. Drug courts, by contrast, are premised on the truism that successful treatment, though achievable, is difficult for a defendant with little more than sincere motivation and good intentions at his disposal. Thus, drug courts are distinguished from regular criminal sessions by the "integration of treatment and services with judicial case oversight and intensive court supervision." Id. at 39. In accordance with this formula for success, the drug court model incorporates features, described infra, not common in regular criminal sessions.

         The structure of the drug court is informed by "evidence-based best practices" emphasizing the necessity of a team approach to the development and oversight of the defendant's prescribed course of substance abuse treatment. Id. at 3. A judge is the leader of the drug court team and, in that capacity, assembles the team which typically includes the "program coordinator, assistant district attorney, defense attorney, probation officer(s), clerk, case manager, specialty court clinician, treatment providers, local law enforcement, and representatives from local organizations that provide services to drug court participants." Id. at 8. In keeping with the treatment purpose, team members must have expertise in substance use disorders and therapeutic options, and be sensitive to issues of gender, age, race, language, and cultural issues that may bear on the drug court defender's likelihood of success. Id. Collectively, the team members have the knowledge ...

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