Skip to main content

Our secret courts

The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team this year delved into the darkest corner of the Massachusetts criminal justice system, where the quality of justice can depend on where you live and who you know. No other state has anything like it.

Defenders of the system portray it as a compassionate “village elder” form of justice. But that defies what it truly is — a secret court system in which presiding clerk magistrates, many without law degrees, can do what they wish with little public oversight.

Through painstaking work, reporters found uneven outcomes and apparent favoritism to the privileged and powerful. The Globe also found thousands of cases tossed out by these clerks, even where there was substantial incriminating evidence.

The first major story this fall, “Inside our secret courts,” was followed up by more than a half-dozen others, some based on new tips from the public.

The powerful package of stories by reporters Todd Wallack, Nicole Dungca, and Jenn Abelson has also prompted numerous calls for reforms.