Tag Archives: funding

House Budget Comes Up Short for Judicial System

There’s not a lot of good news in the $33.8 billion House Ways and Means budget released last Wednesday…..the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), the Judiciary, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) are all woefully underfunded.  The House Ways and Means recommended level funding for the District Attorney’s Offices in its budget.  However, given the magnitude of resources that will be needed to respond to the drug lab crisis — which is certainly going to be a long term issue — level funding will not nearly be enough.

In addition to being underfunded, CPCS is also deeply troubled by two outside sections of the budget, Section 81 and Section 82, which would dramatically change how cases are handled at CPCS.  If adopted, these outside sections would create an indigent defense committee charged with awarding 25% of District Court cases in Middlesex County to attorneys affiliated with private or non-profit entities on a capped flat fee basis.  Private bar advocates currently handle these cases.  Representative Angelo Scaccia filed Amendment 334 to strike the two outside sections.

Here’s a closer look at the proposed budget…..

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation – MLAC’s requested $15.5 million for its FY 14 budget.

  • House Ways & Means proposed budget:  $11 million
  • Governor’s proposed budget: $15.5 million

Representative Ruth Balser filed Budget Amendment #536 which, if adopted, would restore the MLAC line item to $15.5 million.  For the latest information on MLAC, check out their fact sheet.

The Massachusetts Trial Court – The Trial Court’s maintenance request for FY 14 was $589.5 million, which included funding for a judicial pay raise.

  • House Ways & Means proposed budget:  $567.8 million
  • Governor’s proposed budget: $577.7 million

Representative Eugene O’Flaherty filed Budget Amendment #232, which would restore the Trial Court’s funding to their maintenance request of $589.5 million.  The Trial Court’s graph demonstrates the dramatic decline in personnel and helpful information on their case filings and funding.

Additionally, Representative O’Flaherty has also filed Budget Amendment #226 to restore the Appeals Court line item and Budget Amendment #228 to restore the Supreme Judicial Court line item.

When debate on the House budget is over at the end of next week, the Senate will have an opportunity to debate its version of the budget in May. Stay tuned.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
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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Why Walk to the Hill?

February 2nd will be the 12th annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid.   Walk to the Hill is a powerful and symbolic statement from the Massachusetts legal community that demonstrates the profession’s dedication to the principle of “justice for all.” 

But after 11 years it’s natural to ask if this event is even necessary.  Do legislators pay attention?  Has it gone stale?  Do we make a difference in the outcome for funding for legal services? 

Your state legislators absolutely do pay attention.  How can they not when last year nearly 700 lawyers flooded the hallways and stopped by their offices?   In fact, Governor Patrick was paying attention too.  He made a cameo appearance and announced in front of the crowd that he had level-funded the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) line item in his budget which was released earlier in the day. 

Walk to the Hill has improved year after year making it easier for lawyers to participate.    Just as the Boston Bar Foundation’s John and Abigail Adams Benefit (January 29th) switched its format to a free-flowing event at the Museum of Fine Arts after decades of formal sit-down dinners, the Equal Justice Coalition’s Walk to the Hill has evolved as well.  Now there are projection screens and audio to stream the speeches outside of the Great Hall because of the overflow crowd.  Staff is on hand to help lawyers find their legislators’ offices.  Comment cards are available for participants to fill out and leave with the legislators or staff they visit.

Today, Walk to the Hill is more important than ever before. The need for civil legal aid has skyrocketed as the funding for it has plummeted.  The number of those eligible for legal aid grew by 91,000 between 2007 and 2009.  At the same time, since FY 2008 MLAC has been forced to cut grants to the legal aid programs it funds by 55% because of the precipitous decline in revenues from IOLTA accounts.

The symbolism of 700 attorneys congregating on Beacon Hill is profound, the speeches offered by the bar presidents are important, and the story shared by a client of legal services is heartfelt.  But at the end of the day legislators want to know what their constituents want.  They will look at phone logs and sign-in sheets to see who in their district participated.

So you need to do your part.  The event is not about meeting friends or having your picture taken with your firm; it’s about making the case for why legal aid is important and beneficial for Massachusetts.  All of the pageantry is wasted if participants do not take the time and stop by their legislators’ office. 

Walk to the Hill asks the legal community to personally deliver one simple message: Funding for legal services is more important now than ever before. Make sure you visit your state representatives and senators to ask them to support level funding for legal aid.  This year (FY 2012), level funding is $9.5 million.  Even if legislators are not available to meet with you, it is critical to stop by and leave your name and contact information. 

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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