TAKIYAH D. WHITE
CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE BOSTON MUNICIPAL COURT.
Takiyah D. White, pro se.
L. Quinan, Jr., Assistant Attorney General, for the
petitioner, Takiyah D. White, raises allegations of
misconduct by an assistant clerk-magistrate of the Boston
Municipal Court, who presided over a small claims proceeding
to which White was a party. She further alleges that her
efforts to lodge a complaint about the alleged misconduct
were flatly refused by court staff. White subsequently raised
her concerns with the respondent, the Chief Justice of the
Boston Municipal Court, in a document entitled,
"Petition for Removal: Clerk-Magistrate." The Chief
Justice responded with a letter in which he "decline[d]
to exercise [his] authority to pursue th[e] matter further or
to grant the relief [sought]."
then sought relief in the county court, by filing a document
entitled, "Abuse of Authority: Judicial
Misconduct," which she later amended in two documents
she referred to as "amended complaints." The single
justice denied relief, treating the filings as a petition for
extraordinary relief pursuant to G. L. c. 211, § 3, and
later denied a motion for reconsideration. Although we affirm
the single justice's judgment denying relief under G. L.
c. 211, § 3, we take this opportunity to clarify the
process for lodging complaints against clerks and assistant
clerks pursuant to S.J.C. Rule 3:13, as appearing in 471
Mass. 1301 (2015).
The responsibilities of a clerk-magistrate in the Boston
Matter of Powers, 465 Mass. 63, 66-69 (2013), this
court discussed in detail the responsibilities of a
clerk-magistrate of the District Court, who has been
appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the
Governor's Council, pursuant to G. L. c. 218, § 8.
Generally speaking, the same duties apply to a
clerk-magistrate of the Boston Municipal Court. As pertinent
here, these duties include "substantial adjudicative
responsibilities," one of which is to decide small
claims cases "commenced under G. L. c. 218, §§
21 and 22, where $7, 000 or less is at issue."
Matter of Powers, supra at 66. See G. L. c.
218, § 21, fifth par. Also relevant here,
clerk-magistrates have the power to appoint staff, including
assistant clerk-magistrates, to assist them in their duties.
See Matter of Powers, supra at 67; G. L. c.
211B, § 10B (a.) . In this case, the small claims matter
to which White was a party was adjudicated in the first
instance by an assistant clerk-magistrate .
generally, because of their many interactions with the
public, we have referred to clerk-magistrates as "the
face of the District Court." Matter of Powers,
465 Mass. at 68. In this capacity, they (and their staff) are
often called upon to provide "information (as opposed to
legal advice) to persons seeking . . . relief from the court
as to how the court system works, what they need to file, and
how to complete court forms." Id., citing
Supreme Judicial Court Steering Committee on Self-Represented
Litigants, Serving the Self-Represented Litigant: A Guide by
and for Massachusetts Court Staff 3-4 (2010).
recognition of the vital function played by clerk-magistrates
in promoting public trust in the judicial system, this court
promulgated the [Code of Professional Responsibility for
Clerks of the Courts, S.J.C. Rule 3:12, as amended, 427 Mass.
1322 (1998) (code)], to establish the 'high
standards' governing the 'norms of conduct and
practice' associated with the clerk's office."
Matter of Powers, 465 Mass. at 68-69, quoting
State Bd. of Retirement v. Bulger, 446 Mass. 169,
177-178 (2006). This code also governs the conduct of
assistant clerk-magistrates. See S.J.C. Rule 3:12, Canon 1
The process for complaints involving clerks and assistant
against clerks and assistant clerks are governed by S.J.C.
Rule 3:13, as appearing in 471 Mass. 1301 (2015). Subsection
(1) of the rule contemplates that individuals, presumably
including members of the public served by the courts, may
lodge "[c]omplaints against a court Clerk, Clerk
Magistrate, Register or Recorder (hereinafter Clerk), and
against an Assistant Clerk, Assistant Clerk-Magistrate,
Assistant Register, Deputy Recorder, Judicial Case Manager,
and Assistant Judicial Case Manager (hereinafter Assistant
Clerk)." The rule then lists the broad categories of
complaints that are covered by the rule, including, among
other things, "any conduct that constitutes a violation
of [the code appearing at] S.J.C. Rule 3:12."
complaint is lodged, the process differs for clerks and
assistant clerks. Under S.J.C. Rule 3:13 (2), complaints
involving Trial Court clerks "shall be referred to their
respective Chief Justice who shall investigate and impose
discipline as appropriate," subject to subsection (4) of
the rule, which describes the role of the Trial Court
Committee on Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the
Courts in adjudicating appeals by a clerk from discipline
imposed by a Trial Court chief justice, or in adjudicating in
the first instance complaints referred to the committee by a
Trial Court chief justice.
respect to assistant clerks, such as the assistant
clerk-magistrate who presided over White's small claims
matter, S.J.C. Rule 3:13 (3) provides that "[c]omplaints
shall be governed by the provisions of the Trial Court
Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual [(Jan. 7, 2013)
(manual)]." To date, the manual does not contain
any process specific to complaints by a member of the public
against a clerk or assistant clerk for violations of the code
of professional responsibility. Instead, by default, such
matters appear to be governed by the general provisions on
"rules and discipline" contained in section 16.000
of the manual. As pertinent here, section 16.200 of the
"Before instituting disciplinary action, an appointing
authority (or designee)  should appropriately investigate whether
such discipline is warranted. Depending upon the
circumstances, such investigation may include reviewing
documents, speaking with witnesses, or seeking specialized
assistance (such as a financial audit for missing funds). . .
. Based upon this investigation, the appointing authority may
conclude that no discipline is warranted, that ...