Tag Archives: CPCS

Justice System FY15 Budget Update

Last week the House Ways and Means Committee released its FY2015 budget proposal, which made a number of significant investments targeted to support local aid, substance abuse, behavioral and mental health, and higher education, while reducing reliance on one-time resources.  For our chief areas of interest in the justice system — judiciary funding in the form of: the trial court, legal services, and state attorneys — a number of challenges remain.  Here is the breakdown:

Trial Court funding

The Trial Court requested maintenance funding of $615 million for FY15.  This is the amount of money it would take for the Court to continue running at current capacity.  In addition, it proposed 10 “modules,” essentially packages of ideas and their costs that it could implement if funded, to update and innovate the courts.  These included plans for court service centers, specialty courts, electronic signage and information kiosks, and telecommunication enhancements.  The price for each module ranged from around $400,000 to $6.5 million.

  • UPDATE – Senate Ways and Means – $617 million
  • House Budget – $609 million
  • House Ways and Means Budget – $609 million – this amount is roughly $6 million less than the maintenance request, but still includes $2.7 million to fund the specialty courts module.
  • Governor’s Budget – $617.5 million – this amount represents maintenance funding and an additional $2.7 million to fund the specialty courts module.

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) Funding

MLAC requested $17 million for FY15.  This amount would cover current costs and allow for the hiring of 40 more attorneys in addition to offering some future stability.  This funding level would expand the amount of services its programs could provide to vulnerable residents across the state and also help boost the state economy.  As funding for civil legal aid has declined, mostly through a large drop in IOLTA revenue, the economic benefits resulting from civil legal aid have also dropped.  At the same time, the need for civil legal aid has grown — close to 1 million people in Massachusetts qualify for this aid, and programs currently turn away 50 to 70 percent of eligible residents.

  • UPDATE – Senate Ways & Means Budget – $13 million – Senator William Brownsberger and Senator Creem will file an amendment which would increase the MLAC budget line item to the requested $17 million.
  • House Budget – $15 million
  • House Ways and Means Budget – $13 million – Representative Ruth Balser has filed an amendment (#157) which would increase the MLAC budget line item to the requested $17 million.  We sent out an action alert to our members last week and received a number of positive responses.  Thank you to everyone who reached out to their representatives.  Fifty Representatives signed on to the amendment, and they can continue to sign-on in the coming weeks, so if you don’t see your representative’s name (don’t know their name?  Look them up here) on the amendment, please reach out.
  • Governor’s Budget – $14 million – only $1 million more than last year’s funding level and $3 million below MLAC’s request.

Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) Funding

CPCS requested a total budget of $219,399,885 for FY15.  Its maintenance request was $206,629,539.  The $12.7 million difference was to increase staff compensation and private bar hourly rates.  It is important to note when understanding CPCS’s line item that while the Governor’s budget attempts to account for the entire budget, the House Ways and Means recommendation underfunds the private counsel account because CPCS is considered a case-driven account for budgeting purposes.  This means that since CPCS cannot predict with exact certainty how many cases it will have to serve, it is provided with an initial appropriation with the understanding that, similar to other case-driven accounts, CPCS will submit supplemental increase requests as the fiscal year progresses.  The Legislature and Governor have consistently honored and funded these requests.  Neither the Governor nor the House Ways and Means budget propose any changes to the current CPCS service delivery system.

  • UPDATE – Senate Ways & Means – $180 million
  • House Budget$168 million
  • House Ways and Means Budget – $168 million appropriation.  This is an increase of approximately $5.6 million over the FY14 appropriation but is not enough to fund CPCS’s requested changes.  Representative Angelo M. Scaccia has filed two amendments that would achieve the CPCS salary and hourly rate increases.
  • Governor’s Budget – $191 million total appropriation.  This is a $29 million increase from the FY14 general appropriation, but is not sufficient to fund the requested increases for staff compensation or increases in hourly rates for assigned private counsel.

The House budget debate will take place during the week of April 28 to May 2.  The Senate will release its budget a couple weeks later, around May 14.  As always, we will keep you posted on the latest developments.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Justice System Salaries: Public Defenders and State Prosecutors

When we talk about funding our justice system, we include our state courts, prosecutors, public defenders, and also civil legal aid attorneys.  On Tuesday, February 11th, the Joint House and Senate Committees on Ways & Means held a budget hearing. Representatives from every piece of the justice system were on hand to testify.

The CPCS budget request for Fiscal Year 2015 is a maintenance request of $206.6 million, plus an additional $12 million to fund a pay increase for both CPCS staff attorneys and private bar advocates.  The CPCS budget request would increase the starting salary for staff attorneys from $40,000 to $50,000 and would also effectuate an hourly rate increase for bar advocates.  Here’s the breakdown: a $5/hour increase for murder cases, superior court cases — including sexually dangerous persons cases — and care and protection/termination of parental rights cases.  The hourly rate for all other cases would be increased by $2/hour.

CPCS does not look like it did in 2011 when the Legislature mandated that 25% of all indigent assigned cases be handled by staff attorneys.  It has grown significantly and staff attorneys are handling close to that 25% caseload target.  In 2011, there were 282 staff attorneys; today there are 482.

It’s no secret that public defenders working for CPCS and our assistant district attorneys are paid woefully low salaries.  A public defender’s salary starts at $40,000 and an assistant district attorney’s salary starts even lower at $37,500.  This compensation ranks Massachusetts 41st nationally for entry level salaries for public defenders.  When adjusted by the cost-of-living index, Massachusetts is dead last.

An attorney doesn’t accept a position with CPCS or a District Attorney’s office because it pays well.  Both of these jobs require sacrifice and commitment to an ideal. Public defenders have made a commitment to uphold the constitutional right to counsel ensured by our federal and state constitutions.  Assistant District Attorneys have made a commitment to serving the interests of the Commonwealth by prosecuting alleged criminal behavior.

But the low starting pay is only part of the problem.  The ability to retain experienced prosecutors and public defenders has become a challenge.    Significant time and resources are spent training lawyers who then leave for jobs paying much more.

These facts beg the question: what impact do these low salaries have on attrition? How do they affect the overall system’s ability to deliver justice efficiently and effectively?  We are pleased that CPCS has decided it’s time to revisit raising salaries.  Both our public defenders and our state prosecutors deserve adequate compensation.

– Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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Innocence Programs Poised for New DNA Law

As we reported last week, the new DNA law – now known as M.G.L.C. 278A – will provide post-conviction access to DNA and testing for those who assert factual innocence.  The new law not only provides access to DNA and testing but it also provides a roadmap for the preservation of evidence in cases.  We wanted to know how case screenings and assignment of counsel will be handled with respect to the new law.  We reached out to Lisa Kavanaugh, Program Director for the Committee for Public Counsel Services Innocence Program, and Gretchen Bennett, Executive Director at the New England Innocence Project, to learn more.

The CPCS Innocence Program and the New England Innocence Project (NEIP) are both supported by a grant from the Wrongful Conviction Review Program at the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a component of the Office of Justice Programs.  The Office of Justice Programs works in partnership with the justice community on the federal, state, local and tribal level to identify the most pressing crime-related challenges confronting the justice system and providing information, training and innovative strategies for addressing these challenges.  NEIP is also supported by generous private donations.

Under the new law, CPCS will receive requests from the courts and directly from inmates.  Initial requests of this nature go to the CPCS Private Counsel Appellate Division, and if the request is found to be premised on a claim of innocence, the request is referred to the CPCS Innocence Program.  Applicants are asked to complete a referral questionnaire before the case is then screened to determine whether it meets the criteria for the Innocence Program, and if so, counsel is assigned.  There are over 700 attorneys who are certified to handle appeals or post-conviction matters at CPCS.  Roughly 300 attorneys are considered “active” – attorneys that take at least one case assignment per year.  In order to be certified to handle these appeals, the attorney must complete an application process, a certification process and specific training coordinated through CPCS.

NEIP is an independent, nonprofit organization that was founded in 2000 to assist persons convicted of crimes who claim factual innocence.  Individuals seeking NEIP’s help must fill out a 26 page questionnaire to apply for assistance.  Screenings of these cases are handled by professor-led law clinics at local law schools where students sift through the requests and make recommendations as to whether NEIP should move forward on a case.  These recommendations are presented to the case review committee at NEIP, a group composed of law professors and expert attorneys with experience in prosecution or defense.   If the case review committee decides that NEIP should accept the recommendation for representation, NEIP draws on its network of private law firms who take these cases on a pro bono basis.  The most experienced appellate attorneys at these firms handle innocence issues for NEIP.  Included in the network of firms that are getting ready now to move forward with innocence cases under the new law are BBA Sponsor Firms Goodwin Procter LLP and Skadden, Arps, Meagher & Flom LLP.

Thanks in part to the new law, NEIP has 10 cases ready to go forward.

 

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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State House Happenings

Today, May 17th, marks the day that Massachusetts joins the 48 other states that provide post-conviction access to DNA and testing.  Getting to this point has been a long time coming as bills providing for such testing have been filed for years in the legislature.  The BBA’s involvement began in 2008 with the formation of the Task Force to Improve the Accuracy and Reliability of the Criminal Justice System.  Since then, the BBA and our partners have been working on this issue and we’re pleased that the standard now in Massachusetts will be a statutory right for a defendant to obtain access to forensic and scientific evidence in their case.  To read more about the new law check out this article by Professor David Siegel of New England Law | Boston and Gregory Massing, Executive Director of the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy.

Come on Oklahoma, make it 50 for 50!

*    *     *

Yesterday, May 16th, the Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Committee released its proposed budget.  Senators have until Friday, May 18th to file any amendments either on behalf of themselves or their constituencies.  The full Senate will debate the budget beginning the week of May 23rd.

The BBA views funding for the justice system as more than just the sum of its parts.  From our vantage point, adequate funding is a fundamental challenge facing the entire justice system – Committee for Public Counsel Services, District Attorneys, civil legal services providers and our state courts.  As we continue to look at the needs of the entire system and exactly what is needed to serve the people of the Commonwealth who rely on the justice system every day, we will keep a watchful eye on what happens in the Senate next week.

While the salaries for assistant district attorneys are still abysmally low, D.A.’s fared marginally better in the Senate budget proposal than they did in the House.  Below is a closer look at the other pieces of the justice system’s budget – the Trial Court, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation and CPCS:

The Massachusetts Trial Court – The Trial Court’s request for FY13 was $593.9 million

  • Senate budget proposal – $561.9 million
  • House budget – $560.9 million
  • Governor’s budget – $429.7 million (moved the Probation Department to the Executive Branch)

* The Trial Court estimates that the Governor’s budget for the Trial Court with the Probation Department included would be $568 million

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation – MLAC’s request for FY13 was $14.5 million

  • Senate budget proposal – $11 million
  • House budget – $12 million
  • Governor’s budget – $12 million

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

  • Senate budget proposal – $162.4 million.  Neither the Senate Ways and Means budget proposal nor the House budget includes a mandated staff expansion that the Governor’s budget proposed.
  • House budget: $162.6 million
  • 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.

We urge you to call or email your state senator (if you don’t know who your state senator is, look it up here).  Ask your state senator to co-sponsor and support Senator Creem’s amendment to increase the MLAC line item to $14.5 million.  Also, ask your state senator to urge Senate President Murray and Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee Brewer to support Senator Creem’s amendment.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
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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Inadequate Funding Threatens Delivery of Justice in MA

When the BBA speaks publicly about the state budget, we are generally talking about funding that impacts the Massachusetts legal system.  Specifically, that means advocating for funding for: the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), District Attorneys’ offices, legal services and the Judiciary.  It is incumbent on us – the private bar – to ensure that these four groups receive the resources necessary to function properly.  The BBA advocates annually for these groups and, lately, our advocacy efforts have continued year-round.

The demand on the legal system has never been greater.  At a time when governments are forced to slash budgets, more people who depend on public services are being turned away.  The legal system is often a place of last resort where people exercise their constitutional rights to seek relief in areas of housing, children’s services, employment matters, etc.  All across the board – from public defenders to prosecutors, from legal service attorneys to the courts – the legal system has suffered heavy losses in resources while trying to stay on top of rising caseloads.

Here’s why we need these four areas of the state budget adequately funded:

The right to appointed counsel for indigent persons is fundamental under our federal and state constitutions.  Massachusetts is obligated to provide competent legal counsel to every indigent person charged with a crime punishable by imprisonment, and CPCS is the state agency that manages these responsibilities.  The size of the budget needed to fulfill this obligation is dictated by the number of cases that are assigned to the public and private divisions of CPCS by Massachusetts courts.

In line with our commitment to the right to counsel is our commitment to ample funding for the prosecutors’ offices that seek justice in every case.  Without adequate funding for the state’s eleven district attorneys’ offices the effective prosecution of crime in Massachusetts would surely be compromised.

State funding for civil legal services is, in part, appropriated through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) line item.  MLAC is the largest funding source for civil legal aid programs in the Commonwealth, funding 17 legal aid programs that provide information, advice and representation to low-income people with critical, non-criminal legal problems.  Though MLAC also receives money from IOLTA revenue, the decline in real estate transactions – the largest contributors to IOLTA accounts – has caused this source of revenue to fall dramatically.

At the core of our legal system is the Judiciary, without which justice simply could not prevail.  As a separate branch of the government, the Judiciary is fully dependent on tax dollars for its operation.  The Massachusetts state courts are funded through state budget appropriations.  Today, the Governor signed a supplemental budget that provides some additional money to our woefully underfunded courts. But it’s still not enough.  The additional funding gives the courts some relief from the mounting pressure to do more with less.  It is welcome news to those who have become accustomed to budgetary disappointment.

-Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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When Budget Cuts Fly in Face of Constitutional Requirements

The Senate released its budget recommendations earlier this week.  Amendments are due today and the budget will be considered by the full Senate starting on Wednesday May 26th.  Like the House version of the budget, the Senate did not rely on any new revenue or withdrawals from the Rainy Day Fund.  That means budget cuts are going to be felt everywhere.

While Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (“MLAC”) made it through 3 big hurdles– the Governor’s budget, the House budget and the Senate budget – with level funding in place, it’s still not over.  Senator Panagiotakos has emphasized that revenues can still be reduced — making more cuts necessary if tax revenues for April don’t hold up.  The other source of MLAC’s revenue is from the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (“IOLTA”) which has continued to feel the devastating effects of the recession with income from this source falling 66% from FY08.  This means that grants to legal aid programs will be cut.

The Senate’s budget was more favorable to the Trial Court than the House budget, but the Senate’s appropriation of $544.3, is $15.1million, or 2.7% less than FY10.  This is not enough for the courts to meet the rising need for access to the courts.  This will undoubtedly mean even slower-functioning courts and delays in administering justice to the 42,000 citizens who use our state courts each day.

The Committee for Public Counsel Services (“CPCS”) did not fair as well in the Senate as they did in the House.  CPCS was funded at $166 million which is about $26 million less than what they got in the House budget.  The line item that was most underfunded for CPCS was the private counsel compensation line item which was funded at $28 million less than what the House provided.  We are talking about the attorneys who represent the majority of indigent criminal defendants, children and families, and people with mental illness.

Massachusetts is obligated to provide competent legal counsel to every indigent person charged with a crime punishable by imprisonment, and CPCS is the state agency that manages these responsibilities.  The size of the budget needed to fulfill this obligation is dictated by forces outside CPCS’s control, namely the number of cases that are assigned to the public and private divisions of CPCS by Massachusetts courts.

In order to ensure that private attorneys can continue to provide critical representation in our courts, the Senate needs to restore funding in the private counsel compensation line item to the amount that the House funded them.  Without adequate funding for private bar advocates, we will likely face a crisis of the sort which occurred in 2005, when hundreds of people were jailed without counsel because of inadequate funding for CPCS.

We know, the Commonwealth is facing tough economic circumstances and these are difficult funding decisions but fulfilling Constitutional requirements is not a discretionary item.

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