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New head of state Family Court outlines goals Tuesday on rare visit to Northampton

  • Angela Ordonez, the newly appointed chief justice at the Mass, probate and family court, greets attorney Linda Moye, Tuesday afternoon.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Angela Ordonez, the newly appointed chief justice at the Mass, probate and family court, greets attorney Linda Moye, Tuesday afternoon.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Angela Ordonez, the newly appointed chief justice at the Mass, probate and family court, Tuesday afternoon.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS


    Angela Ordonez, the newly appointed chief justice at the Mass, probate and family court, Tuesday afternoon.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Angela Ordonez, the newly appointed chief justice at the Mass, probate and family court, Tuesday afternoon.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS


    Angela Ordonez, the newly appointed chief justice at the Mass, probate and family court, Tuesday afternoon.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Angela Ordonez, the newly appointed chief justice at the Mass, probate and family court, greets attorney Linda Moye, Tuesday afternoon.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • <br/>Angela Ordonez, the newly appointed chief justice at the Mass, probate and family court, Tuesday afternoon.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • <br/>Angela Ordonez, the newly appointed chief justice at the Mass, probate and family court, Tuesday afternoon.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

“One is to minimize the burdens on court personnel,” said Ordoñez, 50, in an interview before meeting with local court officials and members of the Hampshire County Bar Association at the family court on King Street.

“The second is to enhance the court customer’s experience when using the courts,” she said. “I realize sometimes those two objectives may clash. My job is to find the balance, a happy medium I can put across.”

Ordoñez was appointed last month to a five-year term as head of the state court system that handles family issues such as divorce and child support, as well as wills and other probate matters. The daughter of a single mother who emigrated from Columbia, she is the state’s first Hispanic chief justice and one its few openly gay judges.

A 13-year veteran of the state courts, Ordoñez has been a family court judge since 2000. She was appointed first justice of Norfolk County in 2011 and previously served as first justice of Nantucket County.

Although the state has lifted a hiring freeze imposed on family court nearly four years ago, Ordoñez said the system is still struggling to find resources needed to move cases through in a timely manner.

“One of my big concerns is delays and lack of access to the court,” said Ordoñez, who earned a law degree from Northeastern University in 1989. “We need to have enough resources to help the public, otherwise the lines are out the door.”

Ordoñez said she supports a new strategic plan aimed at improving efficiency in the state’s Trial Court system through better use of technology. “We’re going to see some major changes in the next five years,” she noted.

Ordoñez also plans to launch initiatives specific to family court. Among them is a “limited issue settlement conference” program to enlist retired judges to help settle cases that are “80 percent to 90 percent resolved,” she said, and a pilot legal clinic in collaboration with Boston-area universities to better inform parents about family court procedures.

Asked how she felt about being appointed head of the family court, Ordoñez’ eyes teared for an instant. “I know my mother is very proud,” she said. “It was a big moment. My mother made many sacrifices for me and I’ve always wanted to make her proud.”

In her meeting with local court officials and attorneys, Ordoñez stressed the need to reduce the level of “intimidation” many people experience when dealing with the courts.

In answer to a question about the growing number of people who are choosing to represent themselves in family court, Ordoñez said “there is no substitute for being represented by a good attorney.”

She added that more should be done to publicize the existence of the state’s Limited Assistance Representation program, which offers people a chance to hire an attorney for a portion of their court proceedings.

“I’d like to see public service announcements and ads on the T,” Boston’s public transit system, Ordoñez said.

Northampton attorney Bernadette Stark asked what can be done about the limited number of court interpreters for clients whose first language is not English.

“There is a growing language need,” Ordoñez replied. “On the plus side, we still have a very vibrant court interpretation program. That’s an incredible resource that’s been built up over the years.”

“What do you think of our court?” asked another attorney.

“I love it,” said Ordoñez, adding that she plans to convene regular regional meetings of family court officials.

Several participants at Tuesday’s gathering pointed out that a visit from the head of the court has been a rarity over the years. In addition to visiting Northampton court, Ordoñez also made stops in Berkshire and Hampden counties.

“I’m happy she came out to western Massachusetts first,” said Cindy Turnbull, a partner in the Northampton firm Sasson Turnbull Ryan & Hoose. “And I like the idea she mentioned of having regional meetings.”

“We’ve never had an informal meeting like this,” said Northampton attorney Leslie Brown, who is past president of the Hampshire County Bar Association. “We feel like we have a connection to the chief justice.”

Legacy Comments1

It's disappointing that the new head of the Probate and Family Court did not address the biggest problem with that court. The open bias and discrimination practiced in the courts. 90% of the cases result in sole physical custody, this it not our law, this is not right, but the courts ignore the needs of the people. By treating the civil litigants as winners and losers rather than as equal citizens, the Family Courts fail providing the service they are required to give. Judge Ordonez like Judge Carey before her make it clear that they simply don't care. Both judges have openly opposed programs that would simply measure this issue, to solve a problem you measure the problem. For five years are children will have to deal with a system that simply does not care about them.

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