Tag Archives: Governor Patrick

Public Hearing on Forensic Sciences Comes on the Heels of BBA Drug Lab Report

On Monday, the Boston Bar Association released its Drug Lab Task Force Report making three recommendations including a call for enhanced auditing and oversight of our state drug labs.  The next day, the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security held a public hearing and 4 bills dealing directly with forensic sciences were on the agenda. 

All 4 bills would address some of the concerns raised in our Drug Lab Report.  S 1112, filed by Senator Brownsberger, requires all forensic sciences laboratories to be independent; establishes an oversight board; requires that all forensic sciences laboratories be accredited by an accrediting body; and establishes a forensic sciences laboratory ombudsman within the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.  S 1122, filed by Senator Creem, is modeled off one of the recommendations in the BBA’s Getting it Right Report and establishes a forensic sciences advisory board.   S 1153 filed by Senator Moore, requires forensic service providers to be accredited.  The final bill, S 1175, filed by Senator Tarr, requires more oversight of crime labs and seeks to establish a forensic services drug laboratory oversight board within the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. 

A lot of positive actions have been taken in the wake of mishandling of evidence at our state drug labs.  For example, the Courts worked closely with defense attorneys and prosecutors to come up with policies and procedures for dealing with these cases.  In addition, Governor Patrick appointed David Meier to oversee the central office charged with assessing the criminal cases potentially jeopardized by the mishandling of evidence.  Meier then conducted a case by case review of individuals potentially affected.  Ultimately, Control of the state drug labs was moved from the Department of Public Health to the State Police Forensic Services Group. 

We have an opportunity to really get it right within our criminal justice system.  The Executive Branch, the Courts, and all involved have taken steps in the right direction but there’s more to be done.  It’s good to see the Legislature is also thinking of solutions and we hope that these collective actions will help prevent another drug lab incident.

– Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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Statehouse Update

This week both Governor Patrick and Speaker DeLeo outlined their priorities for the upcoming year.  In his final State of the Commonwealth on Tuesday night, Governor Patrick emphasized investments in education, innovation, and infrastructure. 

The next day, Speaker DeLeo addressed the entire House of Representatives, listing an increase in minimum wage coupled with business-friendly reforms, stricter gun control laws, and a domestic violence bill as three of his top issues. 

As we focus on legislative and budget activities at the Statehouse it’s important to realize that although this legislative term may appear uneventful from the outside, it has been full of activity.  Even without high-profile debates on big-issue bills there’s a lot going on. 

Take for instance, the fact that there has been an unprecedented amount of turnover in elected officials and leadership positions.  Recently, long time House Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, Representative Eugene O’Flaherty, announced his resignation to become corporation counsel to Boston Mayor Martin Walsh.  This leaves the House chairmanship open.  Meanwhile, Senator William Brownsberger has only held the Senate chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee for a matter of weeks. 

Other leadership positions currently vacant include the House second assistant majority leader and the chairmanship of the House Ethics Committee.  These positions will all be filled in the coming weeks.

Legislatively, the statehouse is poised to take action on a number of laws.  Significant bills addressing welfare reform, compounding pharmacies, and veterans services remain in conference committees.  Just last week, a group of lawmakers held a press conference in support of a juvenile justice bill comply with the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling in Diatchenko.  The bill requires that juveniles convicted of first degree murder serve 35 years before parole eligibility. 

From a budget perspective – the Governor’s budget has been released and we now turn our attention to the House and Senate as they develop their budget numbers.  The House Ways & Means Budget will come first in early April, followed by House and Senate budgets in the following months.  A final budget will be ready by July 1st

All in all, every indication points to a very eventful next few months as staffing and leadership positions are filled and legislation and budget discussions come to the fore.     

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Gun Law Reform Back in the News Again

Ironically the tragic navy yard shootings in Washington, D.C. came just 48 hours after the long-awaited State House hearing on proposed changes to Massachusetts gun laws. While no single piece of legislation is going to be able to prevent such tragedies from happening again, there is room for improvement in our current laws, especially when it comes to background checks. What, if any, impact the D.C. rampage will have on changes to our own gun laws is not really known. 

Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that does not require courts and state agencies to share mental health information through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  The NICS registry checks available records in three databases to determine if prospective gun buyers are disqualified.  Massachusetts has no statutory authority to transfer mental health records to NICS.  That means this information is not available during background checks when an individual goes to buy a gun from a licensed gun dealer.  While this might sound alarming, there is a lot of apprehension about delivering personal information like mental health records to a federal database.  There are legitimate concerns about accurate information gathering and questions about privacy surrounding the use of that information.

At the hearing, Governor Patrick advocated for the state to contribute information to the NICS database, limit and monitor gun purchases, and increase penalties for illegal firearm possession.  Mayor Menino pushed for stricter gun penalties.  Parents of victims from the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting asked for the state to build on its already strong gun control laws.  Second Amendment advocates spoke out against laws they felt would infringe on their rights.

The BBA’s gun study group was convened in March, 2013 and includes a diverse group of attorneys including gun owners, gun law experts, civil libertarians, a prosecutor, criminal defense attorneys, a law professor, and health law experts.  The group reviewed many of the proposals now under consideration and sought comments, feedback and input from the Health Law, Criminal Law, and Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Sections of the BBA.   We will sit down with the Chairs of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security soon to discuss some of the principles that the BBA feels can inform policy-makers about the legal implications of their legislative decisions. 

In the few days since the hearing and the Navy yard shootings, the dialogue about examining gun control laws has been amplified.  As to what gets accomplished, we will need to wait and see.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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Good News from the Governor

It’s been a busy week for Governor Patrick.  First, the Governor delivered his annual State of the Commonwealth address on Monday.   He praised the House and Senate for the great work they did last year on some difficult issues including state pension reform, municipal health benefits, schools and transportation.  More importantly, the Governor outlined his top three priorities for this year –health care containment reform, a streamlined community college system and sentencing reform.

Talking about his ambitious agenda for the year, the Governor asked the Legislature to send him a balanced sentencing bill that includes real reforms for both the Habitual Offender law and mandatory minimum sentencing reforms.  Referencing overcrowded prisons and the high cost of housing inmates, he insisted that the Legislature send him a bill that is tough on violent criminals while providing greater opportunities for rehabilitation of non-violent drug offenders.  The Governor emphasized that a strong and smart crime bill is good for public safety and good for Massachusetts.  The BBA couldn’t agree more.

In November, the Senate passed a more comprehensive crime bill that didn’t repeal but reduced mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenders.  At the time the House of Representatives only advanced the Habitual Offender law.  But now the House is reviewing those sentencing reforms and is expected to advance their own version this session.

The BBA continues to advocate for improvements to the criminal justice system in Massachusetts, particularly with regard to sentencing and prisoner re-entry.  Ahead of the Senate’s vote on their crime bill, BBA President Lisa Goodheart issued a statement arguing that sentencing reforms are fiscally responsible and enhance public safety.  While encouraged by Governor Patrick’s recent statements on these issues, we are eager to see what the House will include in its sentencing reform bill.

On Wednesday, Governor Patrick continued to lay out his administration’s agenda when he filed his budget with the House of Representatives.  An efficient system for the delivery of justice is always a top priority for the BBA and it is clear from his budget recommendations that Governor Patrick understands these issues.   But still, any funding cuts that affect the Court’s operations should be a matter of great concern to any lawyer who practices in Massachusetts.  The resources made available to our courts, and the constraints on those resources, have significant and direct impacts on those who turn to our courts for justice.

Here is a quick look at what the Governor recommends for MLAC and the Trial Court.

  • Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation: increased by $2.5 million to $12 million.  This is still $2.5 million short of the $14.5 million request from MLAC.
  • Trial Court: level-funded at the amount the Trial Court spent in FY12 without the appropriation for the Probation Department$429.7 million.  The Governor also proposed moving the Probation Department into the Executive Branch.

The true meaning of these numbers will come to light as we move through the budget process and the House and Senate have an opportunity to consider these recommendations.  This is only the beginning and the BBA will be closely monitoring how these line items are treated through the process.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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The Jury’s Still Out on the Governor’s Council

Governor Patrick has an opportunity to leave a huge mark on the Massachusetts Judiciary due to the large number of recently announced judicial openings.  The recent announcement of Associate Justice Judith Cowin’s retirement adds to the list of appointments for the governor, a list that includes positions on the Supreme Judicial Court, Superior Court, and the district courts.

With the prospect of all these new appointments, the role of the Governor’s Council has become the topic of much debate.  The Boston Globe and Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (subscription necessary) both ran opinion pieces focusing on recent contentious judicial nominating hearings and questioning the need for the Governor’s Council.

Senator Brian Joyce has even introduced legislation to abolish the Governor’s Council all together.  Abolishing the Council isn’t as straightforward as getting the Legislature to support the bill, it would actually require an amendment to the state Constitution.  Here’s a little background on the judicial nominating process.

The current judicial nominating system begins with a confidential application process reviewed by the 21 member Judicial Nominating Committee (“JNC”).  The JNC recommends several candidates for judicial vacancies to the governor.  The governor will then forward his one nomination on to the Governor’s Council.  The Governor’s Council is a constitutionally required body established in 1624.  However, the question posed by the aforementioned op-ed pieces is this:  Is the extra layer of scrutiny even necessary?

The BBA is fortunate enough to have had several volunteer leaders go on to be nominated for judicial posts throughout Massachusetts.  The BBA is interested in having competent and qualified judicial candidates serve as judges and we hope that good candidates will not be scared off by the negative overtones of recent hearings.

The BBA is thrilled that former BBA President Ned Leibensperger has been confirmed to the position of Associate Justice of the Superior Court.  Despite the criticism of the process, it is still encouraging to see such worthy candidates promoted to the bench.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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