Morse v. Ortiz-Vazquez: Preserving “the Opportunity to Meaningfully Present Claims and Defenses” in a Summary Process Action When the Tenant Does Not File a Timely Answer

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  by Ilana B. Gelfman

   Legal Analysis

In Morse v. Ortiz-Vazquez, 99 Mass. App. Ct. 474 (2021), the Massachusetts Appeals Court considered a case in which a tenant appeared for a summary process trial after failing to file a timely answer. Uniform Summary Process Rule 3 requires a tenant to file his or her answer “no later than the first Monday after the Monday entry day.” Yet the tenant, Jorge Ortiz-Vazquez, was pro se at the time his answer was due and did not meet the deadline.

The Appeals Court determined that the trial court should have permitted Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez to file a late answer and to raise affirmative defenses against eviction. The Appeals Court explained that to “correctly balance the legitimate interests of both parties,” a trial court must consider the “substantial prejudice to the tenant arising from the denial of his statutory right to present an affirmative defense.” Ortiz-Vazquez, 99 Mass. App. at 485. If the trial court had properly balanced the parties’ interests, it would have permitted Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez to raise all applicable defenses against eviction.

A Common Circumstance

Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez’s situation was far from exceptional. In summary process cases decided by the Housing Court in Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020, respectively, 91.3% and 91.5% of defendants appeared pro se. Housing Court Department, Fiscal Year 2019 Statistics, Commonwealth of Mass., https://www.mass.gov/doc/2019-housing-court-self-represented-represented-litigants-by-court-location/download; Housing Court Department, Fiscal Year 2020 Statistics, Commonwealth of Mass., https://www.mass.gov/doc/2020-housing-court-self-represented-represented-litigants-by-court-location/download. In general, “the vast majority of tenants in the Housing Court proceed without the benefit of counsel.” Adjartey v. Cent. Div. of Hous. Ct. Dep’t, 481 Mass. 830, 838 (2019).

This poses a serious challenge for the average tenant. Litigating pro se is extremely difficult—and especially so in summary process cases. Summary process cases move quickly. “[F]ewer than seven weeks might elapse between the time that the defendant is served with a notice to quit and the time that he or she is removed from his or her residence.” Id. at 837. Further, summary process cases are “complex.” Id. They are governed by a “web of applicable statutes and rules,” including the Uniform Summary Process Rules, the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure, the summary process statute (G.L. c. 239), and other procedural and substantive laws. Id. at 836-37. “Deciding when to apply which of these rules—and how to resolve inconsistencies among them—is . . . a formidable challenge for an unrepresented litigant seeking to comply with fast-moving deadlines, especially when that litigant is also facing the stress of a potential eviction.” Id. at 837.

Under Uniform Summary Process Rule 3, a tenant’s answer is due before the first court date, when the tenant is least likely to have received any assistance (even limited advice) from an attorney. It is no surprise, then, that the vast majority of summary process defendants do not manage to file a timely answer. For instance, in March 2019 (the month Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez’s case was filed), there were 1,804 cases filed in the Housing Court Department in which the defendant did not default, and in 1,499 of those cases (83%), the defendant appeared without having filed a timely answer. Brief of Amicus Curiae City Life/Vida Urbana in Support of Defendant Appellant Jorge Ortiz-Vazquez and Requesting Reversal at 33-34, Morse v. Ortiz-Vazquez, 99 Mass. App. Ct. 474 (2021). Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez, then, was not at all unusual in missing the deadline. Tenants do so more often than not.   

Litigation at the Housing Court

When Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez appeared in court—only three days after the deadline for filing his answer had passed—he filed a motion requesting permission to file a late answer. Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez, a native Spanish speaker, explained that he had not filed a timely answer because he “did not have any help due to [his] langu[a]ge problems,” but that he wished to raise an eviction defense based on ongoing mold and mildew issues in his apartment. Ortiz-Vazquez, 99 Mass. App. Ct. at 476. The Housing Court denied the motion. Id. at 476-77.

The Housing Court’s reasoning was rooted in an earlier eviction action brought against Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez by his landlord. In that earlier case, Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez had failed to file a timely answer, and the Housing Court had granted him leave to file his answer late. Id. at 475. He had then prevailed after raising a defense based on the mold and mildew in his apartment. Id.

Based on that prior case, the Housing Court believed that Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez should have known to file his answer by the deadline when his landlord brought a second summary process action. Id. at 476-77. The Housing Court denied Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez’s motion to file a late answer. Id. at 476. And the Housing Court went further, ruling at trial that the absence of an answer meant that Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez “was precluded from asserting affirmative defenses.” Id. at 478. The Housing Court “said that the tenant was free to pursue his conditions-based claims in an independent action,” but that he could not pursue them as a defense to the pending summary process action. Id. at 477.

In so ruling, the Housing Court denied Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez an important defense to eviction—and precluded him from utilizing a crucial tool for ensuring compliance with the State Sanitary Code. In 1965 the Legislature enacted G.L. c. 239, § 8A, which “grants the tenant the right to withhold rent in order to aid effective enforcement of State Sanitary Code regulations.” Boston Hous. Auth. v. Hemingway, 363 Mass. 184, 191-93 (1973). After early efforts to vest enforcement of the State Sanitary Code solely in public agencies proved ineffective due to lack of resources, “[t]he statute’s authorization of rent withholding ‘was [intended] to provide a tenant with [a] means of enforcing the state sanitary code or local health regulations, but without the necessity for a timid tenant to initiate court proceedings.’” Id. at 193-94 (quoting 52 Mass. L.Q. 205, 228). Under the statute, a tenant like Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez can withhold rent due to bad conditions and then raise a conditions-based counterclaim and defense to any resulting eviction for nonpayment of rent. The counterclaim and defense reflect “the public policy of Massachusetts,” which “strongly favors the safety and habitability of homes.” Trustees of Cambridge Point Condo. Trust v. Cambridge Point, LLC, 478 Mass. 697, 707 (2018). 

By preventing Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez from raising affirmative defenses, the Housing Court effectively denied him the right to withhold rent and defend himself based on bad conditions, as he had done in the prior eviction action (based on the same mold and mildew that he stated still plagued his apartment). The Housing Court also precluded him from raising any other applicable affirmative defenses, from retaliation to breach of the warranty of habitability to unlawful discrimination. Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez was unable to defend himself at trial, and the Housing Court entered judgment in favor of the landlord. Ortiz-Vazquez, 99 Mass. App. Ct. at 478.

 Vacatur by the Appeals Court

The Massachusetts Appeals Court vacated the judgment against Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez. Id. at 486. In doing so, the Appeals Court provided guidance to tenants, landlords, and trial courts alike.

The Appeals Court rejected the test that the Housing Court applied to deny Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez’s motion: “that the tenant knew or should have known about the need to file a timely answer.” Id. at 484. The Appeals Court agreed that this was “an appropriate consideration,” but nonetheless held that the Housing Court had abused its discretion because it had failed to “balance[] the procedural unfairness to the landlord against the substantial prejudice to the tenant arising from the denial of his statutory right to present an affirmative defense.” Id. at 484-85. Properly balanced, “the prejudice to the tenant far outweighed any inconvenience to the landlord.” Id. at 485. The prejudice to the landlord if the Housing Court had granted the tenant’s motion would have been minimal. Id. By contrast, the denial significantly prejudiced the tenant, and “[p]rohibiting the tenant from asserting affirmative defenses to eviction and to the landlord’s claim for back rent . . . [wa]s inconsistent with the legislative intent behind the statutory scheme and public policy.” Id. at 482.

The Appeals Court also considered and rejected the landlord’s contention that “defenses [that] are not properly raised pretrial” in an answer “must be waived at the trial if objected to by landlords.” Id. at 485 n.25. The Appeals Court explained that Uniform Summary Process Rule 5, which governs counterclaims, “states that the consequence of failing to file a counterclaim with the answer constitutes waiver ‘unless the court shall otherwise order on motion for cause shown.’” Id. at 481 (quoting Uniform Summary Process Rule 5). By contrast, “Rule 3, which governs answers, is silent as to the consequence of the failure to file a timely answer.” Id. at 480-81. The Appeals Court reasoned that “[b]ecause the drafters set forth in the rules a consequence for the failure to assert a counterclaim, but not a consequence for the failure to file an answer, it follows that the right to assert affirmative defenses is not waived when an answer is not filed.” Id. at 481.

The logic of the Uniform Summary Process Rules reflects the reality of litigation in Housing Court. “Residential tenants facing eviction are rarely sophisticated, knowledgeable, or prepared to navigate the legal system. They view an eviction, where they are unrepresented, as an opportunity to show up in court and simply tell the judge their story.” Id. at 485 n.25 (quoting G. Warshaw, Massachusetts Landlord-Tenant Law § 8:10 (Supp. 2020)). Thus, “the doctrine of waiver is disfavored in the Housing Court.” Id. at 485 n.25.

Open Questions

The reasoning in Ortiz-Vazquez will apply in most summary process cases where a tenant fails to file a timely answer. The prejudice to the tenant arising from the preclusion of his or her defenses will almost always outweigh any inconvenience to the landlord.

That said, the Appeals Court did not decide if “[t]here may be circumstances where a judge may justifiably deny the tenant’s motion to file a late answer and bar the tenant from raising affirmative defenses to eviction (such as when the judge permits the tenant to file a late answer and he fails to do so, when there is an egregious delay in filing an answer, or when the affirmative defenses raised by the tenant amount to unfair surprise).” Id. at 482. Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez’s case was ordinary, and the Appeals Court did not reach whether the result might be different in extraordinary circumstances.

In such circumstances, one possible rule that might control is Uniform Summary Process Rule 10, which provides: “If the defendant appears but has failed to file a timely answer, no default shall enter.” Mr. Ortiz-Vazquez argued that barring affirmative defenses amounts to a prohibited “default,” and the Appeals Court gave some credence to the argument by acknowledging that “[t]he prohibition on defaults in the rule and the concomitant right to trial on the merits—without any qualifying language—demonstrates an intent to allow tenants to defend evictions on any available basis.” Ortiz-Vazquez, 99 Mass. App. Ct. at 481. Ultimately, however, the Appeals Court declined to “address the tenant’s claim that the [Housing Court] defaulted him in violation of Rule 10(a) of the Uniform Rules of Summary Process.” Id. at 486 n.27. In the future, a court might consider whether barring affirmative defenses amounts to a default—and whether Rule 10 prohibits such a bar even in an extraordinary case.

In an extraordinary case, a court might also reconsider the landlord’s argument regarding waiver. Although “waiver is disfavored in the Housing Court,” id. at 485 n.25, the doctrine might apply where a tenant has done something more than failing to file a timely answer when he or she had reason to know of the deadline. A court might also consider whether, in an exceptional case, striking an affirmative defense would be appropriate as a sanction. In addition, if it is ever appropriate to bar an affirmative defense, then courts might examine whether all defenses are treated equally or whether certain defenses—such as a domestic violence defense under the Violence Against Women Act or a reasonable accommodation claim under anti-discrimination statutes—might be raised as a matter of right, regardless of whether the circumstances would warrant barring other defenses. 

Conclusion

“[P]residing over cases involving pro se litigants can be challenging, not least because ‘[w]hile judges must apply the law without regard to a litigant’s status as a self-represented party, our courts have recognized that self-represented litigants must be provided the opportunity to meaningfully present claims and defenses.’” Id. at 479 (quoting I.S.H. v. M.D.B., 83 Mass App. Ct. 553, 560-61 (2013)). This challenge arises again and again in summary process actions, where the rules are complex, the litigation is fast-paced, and the majority of defendants proceed pro se. In Ortiz-Vazquez, the Appeals Court determined that by missing the deadline for filing an answer, a tenant does not thereby relinquish the right to raise his or her defenses. Practitioners will be watching carefully to see if this decision is a harbinger of a broader trend of case law ensuring that tenants have the “opportunity to show up in court and simply tell the judge their story.” Id. at 485 n.25 (quoting G. Warshaw, Massachusetts Landlord-Tenant Law § 8:10 (Supp. 2020)).

Ilana B. Gelfman is a Senior Attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, where she focuses on housing issues and appellate litigation. Prior to working at GBLS, Ilana was a law firm partner, a federal judicial clerk, and a legal services attorney.


Commonwealth v. Rosa: The Appeals Court Elaborates the Massachusetts Law on the Parental Privilege to Use Reasonable Force in Disciplining a Child

by David Deakin

Case Focus

In Commonwealth v. Rosa, 94 Mass. App. Ct. 458 (2018), further app. rev. denied, 481 Mass. 1104 (Jan. 24, 2019), a case about the parental privilege to use corporal punishment, the Massachusetts Appeals Court grappled with the extent to which a fact finder should consider a defendant’s approach to parenting.  The Appeals Court unanimously upheld the conviction of a father who kicked his five-year-old daughter in the chest hard enough to knock her down and cause her to cry.  The Court, however, was divided about the basis for the holding that the Commonwealth had overcome the defense.  As each of the three justices on the panel authored an opinion, the criminal bar should expect continuing litigation not only about the scope of the privilege but also about the type and quantum of evidence necessary for the prosecution to overcome the defense.

Legal Standard

The Supreme Judicial Court established in Commonwealth v. Dorvil, 472 Mass. 1, 12 (2015) that a parent can use reasonable force in disciplining a child.  The SJC explained that “no criminal liability will attach to a parent’s use of force against his or her child as long as ‘(1) the force used against the minor child is reasonable; (2) the force is reasonably related to the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the welfare of the minor, including the prevention or punishment of the minor’s misconduct; and (3) the force used neither causes, nor creates a substantial risk of causing physical harm (beyond fleeting pain or minor, transient marks), gross degradation, or severe mental distress.’”  Rosa, 94 Mass. App. Ct. at 461 (parentheses in original), quoting Dorvil, 472 Mass. at 12.  Because the parental privilege described above is an affirmative defense, once it is raised by the defendant, the prosecution bears the burden of disproving at least one of the requirements of the defense beyond a reasonable doubt.  See Dorvil, 472 Mass. at 13.  Each requirement is a question of fact.  See id.

Facts

After a bench trial, the defendant in Rosa was convicted of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon (shod foot) for kicking his five-year-old daughter in her chest, knocking her to the ground, and causing both her and her two-year-old brother to cry.  The defendant, who had brought his children with him to a drug store, became angry when his daughter ran and hid from him in the store.  The defendant yelled and cursed at the girl.  After a few minutes, the defendant went into the line to check out of the store.  As he did, his daughter approached him and “grabbed his legs.”  He “shoved” her away.  The scene repeated itself, and the defendant spoke angrily to his daughter.  When she approached him a third time, the defendant kicked her in the chest.  As a result, she fell to the ground and cried briefly.  In response to a question from a responding police officer about why he had kicked his daughter, the defendant replied, “I don’t raise pussies.”  At trial, the defendant testified, claiming that he had “nudged,” rather than kicked, his daughter.  The defendant first maintained that he had been concerned that his daughter would be kidnapped and thus used “reverse psychology,” pushing her away so she would stay near him.  At another point in his testimony, however, he acknowledged that, by the time he kicked her, he was no longer concerned about kidnapping, and he did not want her close to him.  Finally, he claimed his comment that “I don’t raise pussies” was meant to convey that he did not want to raise his children to be victims of bullies.

Holding

Justice Wendlandt authored the Court’s opinion affirming the conviction.  Justices Englander and Rubin each wrote a concurring opinion.  Justice Englander’s concurrence primarily emphasized his dissatisfaction with the second prong of the Dorvil standard.  Justice Rubin wrote to express his view that kicking a child could never constitute reasonable force in disciplining a child.

Writing for the Court, Justice Wendlandt explained that “[p]arenting is essential to the reason underlying the privilege, and that aspect of the privilege is embodied in prong two [force used must be “reasonably related to . . . safeguarding and promoting the welfare of the minor”].”  Rosa, 94 Mass. App. Ct. at 463.  In determining whether the force used by the defendant was reasonable (under both the first and second prongs of the standard), therefore, “the trier of fact should take into account a variety of factors, including ‘the child’s age, the physical and mental condition of the child, and the nature of the child’s offense.”  Id. at 461.  The Court seemed to conclude unanimously that evidence of a defendant’s “subjective” “emotional state” cannot, by itself, satisfy the Commonwealth’s burden of disproving the defense. Id. at 462 n.2.  In his concurrence, however, Justice Englander faulted the prosecution for focusing “unduly on what the defendant said to his child, rather than what he did.”  Id. at 470 (Englander, J., concurring) (emphasis in original).  Left for another case to resolve is the extent to which the prosecution can rely on the defendant’s subjective emotional state.  Justices Wendlandt and Rubin – and possibly also Justice Englander – agreed that the prosecution can introduce evidence “that the defendant’s supposedly legitimate parenting purpose is false . . . .”  Id., 94 Mass. App. Ct. at 463.  Justices Wendlandt and Rubin viewed such evidence as relevant to disproving reasonableness under both the first and second prongs of the defense.  It seems that Justice Englander, who would abandon the second prong entirely, see below, would nonetheless agree that the falsity of an asserted parenting purpose is relevant to reasonableness under the first prong, although this is less clear.

Justice Englander concurred because he agreed that the Commonwealth met its burden to disprove the first prong of the defense, the reasonableness of the force used.  He noted, however, that, in his view, “the evidence of unreasonable force here was thin.”  Id. at 468.  The defendant’s abuse in this case, Justice Englander concluded, was more serious than the “spank” that was held in Dorvil, 472 Mass. at 3, to be justified by the parental privilege, and less serious than “the striking of a child in the face with a belt . .  . [leaving] a mark” that was held to be outside the privilege’s scope in Commonwealth v. Dobson, 92 Mass. App. Ct. 355, 357-359 (2017).  He thus concurred that the Commonwealth had satisfied its burden of disproving the reasonableness of the force under the first prong, albeit in a close case.

Justice Englander wrote separately also because of his concern that the second prong of the defense “can be understood as an invitation to pass judgment on how a parent has chosen to parent.”  Rosa, 94 Mass. App. Ct. at 469 (Englander, J., concurring).  Thus, Justice Englander envisioned a “troubl[ing]” scenario in which “a parent will have shown that the force used was reasonable under prong one, but nevertheless is convicted of assault because (in the fact finder’s judgment) the parent’s reasonable force was not reasonably related to disciplining the child.”  Id. (parentheses in original). Justice Englander would omit the second prong from the defense to prevent courts from “becom[ing] involved . . . in evaluating the parent’s judgment about how to discipline their child.”  Id. at 470.  Ultimately, Justice Englander concluded that the reasonableness requirement in the first prong fully captures the requirement that the discipline not be abusive.  Encouraging finders of fact to focus on the reasonableness of parental discipline, rather than on the force used to implement it, Justice Englander concluded, creates “the risk . . . that less articulate parents will have more difficulty justifying their actions,” id. at 470 n. 3, and thus be convicted in cases in which more sophisticated parents might be acquitted (or not charged at all).

Justice Rubin also concurred with Justice Wendlandt’s opinion for the Court.  He agreed with the Court’s opinion that the Commonwealth had satisfied its burden of proof as to all three prongs. As to the third prong, however, he would have gone even further than the Court.  He wrote separately to note that, in his view, kicking a child can never be justified by the parental privilege “because kicking a child always ‘creates a substantial risk of . . . physical harm . . . , gross degradation or severe mental distress.’” Id. at 466 (first ellipses in original; second ellipses added), quoting Dorvil, 472 Mass. at 12.

Conclusion

Although the requirements of the parental privilege are now settled, their limits are anything but.  Not only is the case law still in an early stage of development, see Rosa at 468  n.2 (“[o]ur case law is not yet very developed as to what force can qualify as reasonable . . . .”), but also there is still disagreement about whether and/or to what extent the defendant’s subjective intent and purpose in disciplining the child is relevant to the fact finder’s assessment of the reasonableness of the force used.  In future cases, therefore, defense counsel will likely rely on language from Justice Englander’s concurrence and, indeed, from footnote 2 of the Court’s opinion, to argue that the prosecution should be prohibited from introducing evidence of the defendant’s emotional state and/or intent or, at least, limited in its ability to do so.  Prosecutors will respond that even Justice Englander’s concurrence leaves room for introduction of evidence of the defendant’s animus toward the child and that, at a minimum, the sincerity of the defendant’s stated reason for disciplining the child is always relevant in applying the defense’s second prong.

 

David Deakin is an assistant attorney general and deputy chief of the Criminal Bureau. Before that, he was a prosecutor in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, where he was chief of the Family Protection & Sexual Assault Bureau. This article represents the opinions and legal conclusions of its author and not necessarily those of the Office of the Attorney General.  Opinions of the Attorney General are formal documents rendered pursuant to specific statutory authority.


Some Thoughts About the Appeals Court

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by Mark V. Green

Voice of the Judiciary

A few months past my first anniversary as Chief Justice of the Appeals Court, I am pleased to have been invited to offer a few reflections about the Court, and my initial experience as Chief.

I am fortunate to have taken on my new duties at a time of great transition at the Court. A number of long term senior managers and other employees have recently retired. In addition, half of the Justices on the Court have been appointed within the last 3 1/2 years. With those changes in personnel, along with the adoption of new technology, have come both the need and the opportunity to reexamine many of our operations, and in many ways to reimagine the Court itself. More directly and immediately, the changes have provided me with the opportunity to assemble a terrific senior management team with the hiring of our new Court Administrator Gina DeRossi and the promotion of Mary Bowe to the position of Chief Staff Attorney, who join our Clerk Joe Stanton, our Law Clerk Manager Maggi Farrell and my incomparable assistant Monique Duarte.

We are very pleased with the success of our movement to a digital platform. By rule, all nonimpounded and non pro se briefs and other materials are now filed electronically, and we take in no paper at all in those cases (which comprise well over 90% of our filings). The Justices have for several years – even before e-filing began – worked with case materials largely without resort to hard copy, preparing for, and participating at, oral argument with iPads. Justices circulate draft opinions to the other members of the panel – and in the case of published opinions, to the entire court – for review by email, and the entire editorial process thereafter is fully electronic. Besides saving trees, the digital platform offers more convenient access to the information, and saves time as the content is transferred from the Clerk’s Office to the Justices, and then among panel members and support staff as opinions are processed toward release; by contrast, when I arrived as part of the Court’s expansion in 2001 all opinions were circulated in hard copy by interoffice mail, and all comments returned in the same matter, often taking days or week for communication of comments that now are often completed in an afternoon.

The increase in convenience and efficiency has translated to an acceleration of our speed. We are reaching cases for argument, and deciding them after argument, as quickly as ever in the Court’s history. Most cases are argued between four and four and a half months after they are briefed and ready; by way of comparison, when I joined the Court, it took fourteen months to reach criminal cases after they were briefed and ready, and twenty-two months to reach civil cases. And over the past twelve months, the median time for release of a decision after argument was fifty-four days. On a somewhat related note, I am also pleased to report that we are hearing argument in an increasing share of our cases – more than 75% now, compared to around 60% just eight or nine years ago, and around 50% in the more distant past. Breaking with tradition, we held panel hearing sessions in July 2018, to positive response, and hope to repeat that pilot program this coming summer.

We are also able to make more information easily available to our stakeholders. Except for impounded cases, our hearing lists and docket sheets are available on our website, as are briefs in cases scheduled for argument. Since January, audio recordings of oral arguments are also now made available on the website within a few days. We recently compiled a manual of our internal operating procedures, and expect to make it available on our website in the near future.

We are expanding our outreach in other ways as well. We regularly conduct panel hearings away from the John Adams Courthouse, at various law schools and other venues in all corners of the Commonwealth. Thanks to the sponsorship of the Flaschner Judicial Institute, and jointly with the Supreme Judicial Court, we held a terrific bench-bar conference in December, and we are currently assessing what we learned from our bar colleagues, and how best to respond to their suggestions. And we are working to improve the frequency and content of our communication with the bar and the public, through the Listserv maintained by Clerk Stanton and the quarterly Review produced by Court Administrator DeRossi.

I previously mentioned the significant number of newly appointed Justices on the Court. They have brought energy, intellect and fresh perspective to an already strong Court. I consider among my most important responsibilities as Chief the duty to instill in our new arrivals a sense of the culture and traditions of the Court. And in that regard, it is a particular priority to preserve and enhance the Court’s culture of collegiality, mutual respect and effective communication, while pursuing the highest level of excellence in our decisional work that we can attain. So far, at least, and with the assistance of my other more seasoned colleagues (and, of course, the talent and dedication of the new recruits), it seems to be working. I am also indebted to many of those who welcomed me when I arrived on the Court, and in particular former Chief Justice Armstrong and Justices Brown, Dreben and Kass, who each came back last spring for a series of “Lunches with the Legends.”

In a little more than three years, on October 6, 2022, the Appeals Court will mark its 50th anniversary. Compared to the Supreme Judicial Court (which celebrated its 325th last year), the Superior Court (which celebrated its 150th a few years before that), or even the Land Court (which is coming up on its 125th in a few years), we are still young. And, as I have mentioned, we are in an exciting time of transition and opportunity. I consider it a unique privilege to be entrusted with stewardship of the Court at this exciting time.

The Honorable Mark V. Green was appointed Chief Justice of the Appeals Court by Governor Charles D. Baker on December 6, 2017, having served on the Court as an Associate Justice since his appointment by Governor Jane M. Swift on November 1, 2001. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from Cornell University, with distinction in all subjects, and is a 1982 cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School.