Monthly Archives: April 2012

Justice System Budget Update

After just three days the House of Representatives concluded its work on a $32.4 budget that provided $12 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) and $560 million for the Massachusetts Trial Courts.   This was a victory of sorts for MLAC and the Trial Court since the original House budget appropriation was less.  Issue Spot reported on the House’s initial budget only a couple of weeks ago.

Thanks to our BBA members who made phone calls and sent emails to their state representatives.  It made a difference.  One member of the House who was present in the budget caucus room when these amendments were being discussed said there was a huge showing of support for the MLAC amendment when it was under consideration.  It was also reassuring to hear that members of the House recognized the unmet needs of our justice system when the focus turned to the Trial Court. In the end, both MLAC and the Trial Court received a bump in their funding.

Among the amendments that did not pass and were therefore not included in the final House budget was an amendment that would have provided the new Court Administrator with broader authority to transfer funds within the Trial Court.  Currently, transferability is authorized across the Trial Court departments, but restricted relative to Probation and Community Corrections accounts.  Transferability from the latter two line items from another court line item cannot exceed 5%.  The amendment would have removed the restriction and allowed transfers between any line item within the trial court to any other item of appropriation within the trial court as deemed necessary and appropriate for FY 2013.

Our work is not done.
(1) We urge you to thank the representatives that we reached out to this week.  A special mention to Representatives Ruth Balser and John Keenan, both of whom were the lead sponsors on the amendments calling for increases to MLAC and the Trial Court.

(2) Please contact your senators as the Senate starts to build their version of the budget.  Just as we did in the House, we need to reach out to our senators and share our personal stories of how underfunding the justice system has adversely affected us, our practice and our clients’ lives.

– Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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Second Wave of CORI Reforms Takes Effect May 4

The second phase of the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reform is set to go into effect on May 4th – the first phase took effect on November 4, 2010.  In advance of the second phase’s implementation, Issue Spot is providing a quick backgrounder on the new law and an overview of the changes you should expect.

As you may know, CORI records are any record or data compiled by a Massachusetts criminal justice agency about an individual relating to a criminal charge, arrest, pre-trial hearing, other judicial proceeding, sentencing, incarceration, rehabilitation or release (it does not include juvenile criminal history, except for youthful offender charges).  CORI records are managed by the Department of Criminal Justice Information Systems (DCJIS) which provides a system for sharing information between the Massachusetts criminal justice and law enforcement community.

In 2007, the Boston Bar Association released a Statement of Principles on CORI (alluded to in our 2009 testimony) identifying four areas needing immediate reforms: the accuracy of CORI records; clarification as to who has access to CORI records; sealing of CORI records; and CORI matters unique to juveniles.  The BBA worked closely with lawmakers and other advocates to pass legislation that would improve the accuracy, access and sealing of CORI records.  Our collective efforts were rewarded in August 2010 when Governor Patrick signed the CORI reform bill into law.

Phase 1

Since November 2010, employers have not been able to ask prospective applicants to check off boxes on employment applications that reveal information about their criminal history.  Known as the “ban the box” provision, it forces employers to judge employment applications on the merits on initial application forms.  There are important exceptions to this, including employment where federal or state law disqualifies applicants with a conviction of certain types of criminal offenses.

Employers can only consider criminal history later in the hiring process.  This gives all applicants an opportunity to make it through a preliminary screening process and increases the odds of being hired.  Ex-offenders who have steady, gainful employment are less likely to recidivate, which lowers dependence on valuable state resources and increases public safety.

Phase 2

On May 4th several other reforms will take effect.  A few key terms to understand with regard to the CORI reforms include:

  • Standard Access – access to information on any criminal charges pending as of the date of the request; felony or misdemeanor convictions; convictions that have not been sealed; and any murder, manslaughter, and sex offenses.
  • Required Access – employers who must comply with statutory, regulatory, or accreditation requirements regarding employees’ criminal records; and employers under federal or state law authorizing or requiring them to conduct CORI checks such as schools, camps, day care centers, and nursing homes.
  • Open CORI – information including misdemeanor conviction with one year of conviction or release from incarceration; felony convictions within two years of conviction or release from incarceration; all felony convictions punishable by five or more years of incarceration; and all murder, manslaughter and sex offense convictions.

The major reforms set to take effect on May 4thinclude:

  • All employers and landlords will have Standard Access to CORI
  • The public will have Limited Access to Open CORI
  • Certain employers will have Required CORI Access
    • Hospitals and banks
    • Schools and day care centers
    • Nursing homes and assisted living facilities
  • iCori
    • A pay-for, secure, web-based system from the DCJIS.
    • To receive CORI access, landlords and employers will be required to register annually for an iCORI account.
    • Individuals will be able to use iCORI to request their own personal CORI’s from DCJIS.
    • The public will be able to use iCORI to request Open CORI from DCJIS.
  • Sealing Conviction changes
    • Misdemeanors will be sealed 5 years after conclusion of sentence and/or supervision.
    • Felonies will be sealed 10 years after conclusion of sentence and/or supervision.
    • Sealing is administrative – no court appearance necessary.
    • Restraining order violation convictions treated as felonies.
    • Sex offenses fall into their own category.

For more detailed information, check out DCJIS’ website or fact sheet.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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The House Budget in Brief

Yesterday, the House Ways and Means Committee released its $32.3 billion budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2013, marking the second phase of the annual state budget process.  Debate on the budget will begin the week of April 23rd and then the focus will move to the Senate.  The final budget will be presented to Governor Patrick in time for the beginning of the new fiscal year beginning July 1st.

The BBA likes to view the budget through the lens of the entire justice system – focusing on the impact that the state budget has on our state courts, our civil legal aid providers, the Committee for Public Counsel Services, and the District Attorneys’ Offices – rather than seeing the budget appropriations as unrelated pieces.   Adequate funding of the entire justice system in Massachusetts is essential to ensure the equal and timely access to justice.

Before comparing the House budget to the Governor’s budget, it is important to know that the two budgets begin with different revenue figures.  The House budget does not rely on any new taxes or new fees while the Governor’s budget that was released in January did.  The Governor’s budget – which Issue Spot commented on when it was released too – included new revenue from a higher cigarette tax, an expansion of the bottle bill, and a sales tax for soda and candy.

Some takeaway’s from the House budget:

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation – MLAC’s request for FY 13 was $14.5 million

  • House Ways and Means budget: $11 million
  • Governor’s budget: $12 million

*Read last week’s Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly Op-Ed for more (log-in required)

The Massachusetts Trial Court – The Trial Court’s request for FY 13 was $593.9 million.  This “critical need” funding would have provided for some limited hiring to restore services.

  • House Ways and Means budget: $554 million – includes the Probation Department in the Judiciary
  • Governor’s budget: $429.7 million – moves the Probation Department to the Executive Branch

*Check out the Trial Court’s graph to see the dramatic decline in personnel and helpful information on their case filings and funding.      

Committee for Public Counsel Service – CPCS’s request for FY 13 was $186.4 million.

  • House Ways and Means budget: $162.6 million – includes a $23.7 million cut to the private counsel line item.  The House Ways and Means budget does not include a mandated staff expansion that the Governor’s budget proposed.
  • Governor’s budget: $164. 5 million – proposes a CPCS expansion increasing the 25% staff model to a 50% staff model to handle indigent criminal cases.

 

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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Dispelling 4 Myths About Court Funding

Recent coverage in the Boston Herald of the BBA and MBA’s Court Advocacy Day at the State House evoked a compendium of misinformed commentary on how to solve the problem of an underfunded Massachusetts Trial Court.  Issue Spot felt compelled to present the facts and dispel the myths.

Myth #1 – The judiciary and court staff received an across the board 9% pay increase

Not true! Salary schedules for management employees have been unchanged since 2004 and salaries for judges and clerks have remained unchanged since 2006.  Also, most managers and judges took a five-day furlough in 2010 to ensure that budget cuts would not force layoffs.

As for the 9% pay increase…Because of the fiscal crisis, no union employees of the Trial Court received the increases to which they were legally entitled under collective bargaining agreements. In 2010, Trial Court union employees were being paid on the same salary schedule as in 2007. In 2011, increases negotiated for court officers and probation officers went into effect. They received an increase which was consistent with the increases negotiated for employees in other state agencies. In addition, the Trial Court retroactively paid salary increases negotiated several years prior for clerical employees.

Myth #2 – Massachusetts judges work minimal hours

Issue Spot will leave the issue of salaries for another time but, for the record, Massachusetts judges’ rank 47th among judicial salaries. The notion that our judges work less than forty hours a week is just plain false.  Not to mention that, in recent years, filings in Massachusetts have increased – especially in cases of bankruptcy, eviction, domestic abuse, etc. – while judiciary staff has been decreased.  Judges have fewer law clerks to assist with research and to help prepare decisions which directly impacts their ability to deliver decisions in a timely manner. The extended backlogs in approximately forty of the state’s courthouses have forced clerks and registers to reduce public hours of operation in order to get caught up on paperwork.

Myth #3 – State workers are being cut, so should the number of judges

Some background about our state court judges and their staff…The number of authorized judicial positions is set by statute and those appointments are made by the Governor.  At any given time there are unfilled judgeships. Currently there are 25 judicial vacancies.

The judiciary is not immune from a shrinking staff.  Since 2008, the Massachusetts Trial Court has had a strict hiring freeze that has not only prevented the expansion in the number of positions, but has also kept positions vacant when staff leave. Today, there are 1,316 fewer court employees than in July 2007.

Myth #4 – Gas Prices Are Correlated with Funding for the Courts

Taxachusetts01 lamented taxes and the rising cost of gas, implying that gas taxes are used to fund the courts.

Connecting the budgets of other state agencies, departments or branches to funding for the judiciary defies all logic. For the most part, state revenue from gas taxes is earmarked for transportation funding. While Issue Spot can empathize with frustration over gas prices, it has no bearing on the judiciary’s budget (or almost any other state entity).

As we wait for the House of Representatives to file their budget next week, we urge the Legislature to appropriate $593.9 million for the Trial Court.  The reality is that our state courts need this money in order to function properly.

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