Tag Archives: Governor

13 for ’13

As 2013 draws to a close, here’s a timeline of 13 things we’re thankful for this year.

1) Diversity.  We tried to live up to our illustrious history of diversity and inclusion this year at the BBA.  From amicus briefs defending marriage equality and affirmative action to the Beacon Award, we reasserted our commitment to expanding fairness for all.  This year we released our Diversity and Inclusion Timeline highlighting key events in our history that helped shape our community. 

2) Taking it to the Top.  We started the year off right by advocating for trial court funding with the head of the executive branch, Governor Deval Patrick.  For the first time we sat down and spoke directly to Governor Patrick and his legal staff about this important issue. 

3) Walk to the Hill.  In late January, we proudly participated in the 14th annual Walk to the Hill with 650 lawyers.  Our members used their advocacy skills by speaking to legislators and staffers on the impact civil legal aid funding has in Massachusetts.  We  helped secure $13 million in civil legal aid funding for Fiscal Year 2014.  Please join us for Walk to the Hill 2014, scheduled for Thursday, January 30th.  We hope you’ll join us.  (More information here and here)

4) Protecting Attorney Ethics Consultations.  We were pleased that the SJC ruling reflected a lot of the same thinking as our amicus brief in RFF Family Partnership v. Burns & Levinson, by applying attorney-client privilege to a lawyer’s consultation with in-house ethics counsel.  This issue was an important one for all of our members who practice in law firms, large or small, and for their clients.  The ruling gives lawyers the requisite peace of mind to consult in-house ethics counsel to make sure they act in accordance with the state’s ethics and professional conduct guidelines.

5) Some Clarity on Decanting.  We sought guidance through an amicus brief in Richard Morse, Trustee v. Jonathan A. Kraft et al. This case addressed, for the first time in Massachusetts, a trustee’s power to transfer the assets of one irrevocable trust to another for the same class of beneficiaries. The brief argued in favor of this power, called “decanting,” and urged the court to recognize that it is inherently held by trustees.  The SJC ruled favorably with respect to Morse’s petition, but declined to recognize decanting as an inherent trustee power.

6) BBA Statewide Task Force.  In April, we created the Boston Bar Association Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts.  Chaired by past-president J.D. Smeallie, the Task Force features 27 diverse leaders in the state’s legal community from law firms, in-house counsels, academia, the judiciary, legislative, and executive branches, and legal services organizations.  The Task Force is making significant progress in quantifying and assessing both the civil legal aid services currently provided in the state and the needs not being met.

7) Legal Services Discussion.  Jim Sandman, President of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) joined us at the BBA over the summer to talk about the current state of LSC funding, reinforcing the need for bi-partisan support and the importance of connecting with the business community. President Sandman emphasized that legal services is not a social safety net or a poverty relief program.  Legal services are necessary to ensure access to justice for all 

8) Defense of Marriage Equality.  This summer, we celebrated the Supreme Court’s rulings upholding marriage equality in the cases of U.S. v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry.  Reaffirming our longstanding advocacy efforts for marriage equality, we joined a coalition of other bar associations, civil and human rights groups, and public interest and legal services organizations that signed onto the briefs.  (Read the briefs here and here)

9) Amending the UCC.  On July 1st, Governor Patrick signed into law “An Act making amendments to the uniform commercial code covering general provisions, documents of title and secured transactions.”  We collaborated with the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Massachusetts Bankers Association to get this bill before the House and Senate for their final approval.  While this law didn’t make big news, it will remove needless obstacles that small businesses run into when trying to secure credit.

10) Paula Carey named Chief Justice of the Trial Court.  We cheered when Paula Carey, former Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court began her post as Chief Justice of the Trial Court this summer.  We look forward to working with her and Court Administrator Harry Spence as the trial court implements its strategic plan.   

11) Judicial Pay Raise.  At long last, the legislature passed a judicial pay raise – an essential step to continuing providing the high quality justice residents of Massachusetts expect and deserve.  Before this legislation, Massachusetts ranked 48th in the nation in judicial compensation. 

The $30,000 raise will take effect in two equal installments; the first increase will be effective January 1, 2014 and the second increase will be effective July 1, 2014. 

12) A Step in the Right Direction for Mandatory Minimum Sentences.  In August, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled a Justice Department proposal to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, something that the BBA continues to work on at the state level.  Repealing mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses is sensible, fiscally responsible, and more protective of public safety.  Repealing mandatory minimum sentences also returns to judges the discretion they need to dispense fair and effective justice.

13) Juvenile Justice.  This summer, the state enacted “An Act expanding juvenile jurisdiction.”  This law, raising the age of jurisdiction for juvenile courts from 17 to 18 years old, was unanimously supported by the BBA Council.  The change moved Massachusetts in line with the majority of other states and, according to researchers, will give minors a greater chance of becoming productive members of society.

2013 was a significant year.  Here’s looking ahead to a great 2014!  Happy holidays!

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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More Relief for Consumers

More good news! An update increasing the dollar amounts for bankruptcy exemptions in Massachusetts made its way to the Governor Patrick’s desk just before New Years Eve. Even though January 5th marked the end of the 2009-2010 session, the governor still has 10 full days to act on the bills on his desk.  Any bill that goes without action for more than 10 days will receive a so-called pocket veto.  Today is day 7.

As Issue Spot noted just weeks ago, personal property exemptions have long been in desperate need of modernization.  According to the Massachusetts statute, MGL Chapter 235, section 34 —last updated more than 30 years ago — the intent of the original law was to balance the legal rights of creditors against a debtor’s need for basic necessities in order to maintain a home and earn a living. 

The present law exempts from seizure things like 2 cows, 12 sheep, 2 swine and 4 tons of hay, and this is almost laughable in the context of how most people earn their livings or look for employment in 2011. Updating this law would increase the value of property, earnings and savings exempt from seizure during debt collection, and also permit debtors to keep computers. As families and communities continue to struggle with the impact of the economic downturn, the process of debt collection needs to change to one that is fair, at the same time facilitating the ability of debtors to fulfill their obligations.

The BBA had filed a bill several years ago that would update exemptions. Not surprisingly many bankruptcy attorneys eventually came to view the dollar amounts in that original bill as obsolete. During the summer of 2010 the BBA’s Bankruptcy Public Policy Committee identified key exemptions in our draft that could be revised to better reflect the needs of today’s household.  It was their work this summer which really brought this issue into focus for us and kept it on our radar in the final days of session. 

The BBA’s Bankruptcy Public Policy Committee had urged us to work with the National Consumer Law Center, and to adopt the exemption amounts that were in the NCLC’s bill.  As we revised our own bill we learned that the NCLC’s bill had already made enormous progress.  Working with NCLC on this issue proved to be successful. 

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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Homestead: From the Council to the Governor’s Desk

The BBA watched this week as one of its long-standing legislative priorities, homestead reform, was enacted by the Senate.   An Act Relative to the Estate of Homestead is now on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature.  This is good news to the many BBA members who have worked year after year and session after session to see the much needed changes in this area.  This is also good news to the attorneys whose clients have come to them in dire straits, overwhelmed with debt and seeking help to obtain a fresh start.  These reforms are substantial and will provide important consumer protections to homeowners in Massachusetts.  In addition to the consumer protection aspects, the bill will address many of the issues that have caused great difficulty to the courts in interpreting the current homestead statute.

In 2000, a detailed study of the Massachusetts homestead statute appeared in the Boston Bar Journal.  Author Mark W. McCarthy noted that homestead was so badly in need of change that only a complete rewrite would suffice. McCarthy even described the current homestead statute as, “ugly, clumsy, even embarrassing – and it just doesn’t work.”  That same year the BBA filed a homestead bill that was sponsored by then-Senator Robert S. Creedon, Jr. who was also chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.  The BBA’s bill at that time focused on certain aspects of the homestead law including an automatic provision, certain stacking concerns for the elderly or disabled and creditor issues with respect to a homestead. 

Despite our hard work, real progress was not made for years.  While the BBA pushed for its own version of homestead reform, other groups, most notably the Real Estate Bar Association (REBA), were also proposing their version of homestead reform.  It was Senator Creedon who asked the BBA and the REBA to work together on a single bill that would incorporate the reforms that both organizations sought.  The BBA’s dialogue with REBA on homestead yielded good input on ways to improve the bill and led to a multi-year drafting process that resulted in a revised and balanced bill that was filed jointly in the legislature.   Now, an even more improved version of the compromise bill that the BBA and REBA worked on sits on Governor Patrick’s desk. 

Here’s what the current homestead bill will do:

  • Clear up ambiguities and make rules for filing a homestead declaration more logical
  • Protect beneficiaries of trusts
  • A refinancing mortgage will not be able to terminate previously filed homesteads
  • Protect proceeds from insurance or a home sale
  • Protect spouses and co-owners who transfer property amongst themselves
  • Provide protection for manufactured homes

Our work continued as we rallied our members to testify at public hearings, meet with legislators, and contact their local Reps and Senators, and we got pretty close to the finish line at the end of the last legislative session in December 2008.  While we weren’t able to claim victory before the legislature recessed, we did refile the bill to build upon the momentum of the last session. 

Homestead reform will provide concrete and meaningful assistance to citizens in Massachusetts especially low income consumers and the elderly.  Now with homestead poised to pass some ten years after our efforts began, maybe we can get somewhere on updating the personal property exemption laws.

– Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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Musical Chairs on Beacon Hill

Now that the election cycle has passed, the BBA is looking forward to working with a comparatively large new class of legislators – nearly 50 new Reps and Senators – and a Governor’s Office that has just announced some staff changes as well.  Governor Patrick announced that he asked his staff to submit their resignations and reapply for their jobs and there has been some movement among top officials. 

In particular, the Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel William “Mo” Cowan has just been named as Governor Patrick’s new Chief of Staff.  Mo has been Chief Legal Counsel since last October.  Mo has been an active member of the BBA and the private bar by serving on the BBA Council, as a BBF Trustee, and was an integral in the formation of the BBA’s Diversity and Inclusion Section.  In the past year he has been a good advocate for the courts and legal services and has always made himself available to the BBA. 

The Chief Legal Counsel is responsible for advising the Governor on all legal and policy issues, judicial selection, and legislation.  With Mo’s departure from the Office of the Legal Counsel, Deputy Legal Counsel Mark Reilly will assume the position of Chief Legal Counsel.  Mr. Reilly has been working on the Governor’s legal staff since 2007 after practicing with Foley Hoag LLP and Sally & Fitch. 

– Click here to read the Governor’s press release on the changes to his Cabinet –

The BBA will continue to work with the Governor’s office and Mark Reilly in his new role on critical issues for the private bar, the courts, as well as on the BBA’s priorities for the new legislative year. 

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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In the Tradition of Our Founder

In August Governor Deval Patrick declared October 2010 to be Pro Bono Month, a proclamation that the BBA wholeheartedly endorsed.  The BBA has a long history of promoting pro bono participation in the tradition of the organization’s founder, John Adams.  Now more than ever, pro bono representation is critical to ensuring equal access to justice in the Commonwealth.  Today there is an overwhelming demand for legal representation as a record number of individuals are forced to appear in court pro se because they cannot afford a lawyer and the demand for legal services far outstrips supply.  We continue to hear from our members about how this affects not just access to justice but the administration of justice.  Here are some of the things we have learned in the last year:

  • Pro se litigants require more assistance from court staff to understand and navigate the judicial process.
  • On one day in the Housing Court last fall, 203 cases were on the docket: in those cases, 189 tenants appeared pro se, as did 43 landlords.
  • The courts are trying to keep pace with the demand with diminished resources and fewer and fewer staff.
  • Delayed hearings and rulings can have direct negative impacts on individuals seeking relief from the judiciary on issues ranging from eviction to domestic abuse.

Our 2009-10 Public Interest Leaders recognized this growing problem and decided to focus their efforts on finding a creative way to address it.  They sought to meet the needs of both indigent litigants and lawyers who wish to help, but may not have the time to devote to long-term projects.  The group surveyed created a resource guide that focused solely on opportunities that would require 10 hours or less to complete.

On September 22, 2010, they held Take a Bite: Snack-Size Pro Bono Opportunities That Fit Your Practice here at the BBA.  Over 15 organizations with more than 20 opportunities for pro bono work that require 10 or fewer hours participated.  The event served as a great prelude to Pro Bono Month.  October at the BBA has been buzzing with training programs and events that celebrate and promote the importance of pro bono representation.  This has served as a great jumping off point for the BBA to continue its pro bono projects throughout the year.

For ways that you can get involved, check out the BBA’s calendar and our Public Service Program page.  There is still time left to attend one of our events and to make a lasting impact on the lives of those in need.

Boston Bar Association

Government Relations Department

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CORI Reform Is Just a Start — Sentencing Reform Is a Must

The BBA retains a spirit of dogged optimism as we wait for sentencing reform.  With just three months left in this two year legislative session and the Senate preparing to release their budget in less than two weeks, the legislature is moving closer to meaningful sentencing reform.  There have been years of protests, legislative proposals and public hearings.  But the sad truth is that the current system makes it extremely difficult for former offenders to straighten out their lives. 

Publicly the Governor, Senate President and House Speaker have all expressed their support for some sort of Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reform.  The Senate did so most recently in December with the passage of a CORI bill that also included sentencing law changes for non-violent drug offenders.  The word is that the House will act within the next two weeks.  Let’s hope that their proposal doesn’t stop at CORI reform and includes meaningful sentencing reform.

For more than 20 years the BBA has been studying and advocating on these issues and strongly believes that it’s time to finally make these measured changes a reality.  We have sponsored and encouraged thoughtful study of our criminal justice system recommending changes — including repeal of most mandatory sentencing laws.   

In the present fiscal crisis, their adoption would have significantly positive economic and social impacts.  A combination of CORI and sentencing reform, plus post-release supervision, would accomplish cost-effective changes in our criminal justice system that enhance public safety, and facilitate offender re-entry and employment, while saving judicial and correctional resources for the most serious offenders. 

Employers often use CORI reports to help screen out prospective job applicants. On one side of the debate are supporters of the current CORI law who say access is needed to protect employers from hiring someone who might be a liability to their business. On the other side of the debate are the critics who contend that the widespread use of CORI reports often prevent ex-convicts from starting over and that an individual who has already paid his or her debt to society should be given a second chance and would be less likely to re-offend if they did not have to overcome barriers to employment, housing and other services.

The CORI law was created to control the release of information concerning an individual’s prior criminal history.  Initially limited to law enforcement officials, the law has been expanded to provide access to other organizations, particularly those that service children, the elderly and the disabled.  Maintaining accurate CORI information is important, as these reports can include not only an individual’s prior convictions, but also any pending charges as well as cases that ended without a conviction. This can include cases where the individual was found not guilty, or the charges were dismissed.  We need to find the balance between access and disclosure.

Ex-offenders, including those who have successfully completed a term of imprisonment, must be encouraged to obtain and retain productive employment.  Employed ex-offenders are able to support and house themselves, rather than remain an economic burden to the Commonwealth.  Right now, those with minor or long dormant criminal records confront complicated hurdles due to the way CORI records are handled when the ex-offenders seek employment or housing.  The current system is confusing and complicated and some employers have access to criminal information while others don’t. 

There seems to be support for some sort of CORI reform throughout the legislature. But CORI reform and sentencing reform must be viewed as interconnected parts of the solution.  CORI reform is not going to be as effective if inmates serve lengthy sentences that preclude access to re-entry opportunities.  Parole and work release eligibility for drug offenders would help transform appropriate candidates from expensive correctional burdens to contributing members of society. 

Sensible sentencing reform must include post-release supervision, and a system of presumptive post-release supervision for all offenders incarcerated in state prison. It’s intelligent and fiscally responsible and would avoid the current practice in which offenders often are released directly to the community after serving the maximum term of their sentence, without any transitional period.

The Commonwealth is now experiencing the most severe fiscal crisis in decades and this provides us with an opportunity to enact responsible sentencing and CORI reform.  Simply put, every offender who makes a successful return to the community as a result of these measures will be one less financial burden to the taxpayers of this state, and our communities will be made safer in the process.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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