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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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Judges’ Pay Raise Passes at Long Last

It was a long time coming, but on Tuesday both the Massachusetts House and Senate removed the last hurdle to giving Massachusetts’ state judges a well-deserved, and long awaited salary increase. To approve the judicial pay raise, the House and Senate rejected an amendment from Governor Patrick.

The $30,000 pay 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. 

In other State House news, the Senate unanimously passed the juvenile jurisdiction bill on Tuesday.  This bill will raise the age of jurisdiction for juvenile offenders to 18.  Research has shown that the brain of a 17-year-old is still in its developmental stages and segregating youthful offenders from adults in our criminal justice system will prevent juveniles who are sentenced from being put in the same environment as older and more serious offenders. 

This new legislation will make it possible for 17-year-old offenders to be processed in juvenile court rather than the adult court system.  Right now a 17 year old accused of a crime in Massachusetts is automatically treated as an adult regardless of the circumstances or severity of the offense.  However, 17-year olds who are charged with serious crimes like murder will still be tried as adults. 

The bill passed the House in May and is expected to be on Governor Patrick’s desk for his review soon.  Governor Patrick has already expressed his support for this legislation; when signed, Massachusetts will join 39 other states, as well as Washington D.C. and the federal government, that already consider 18 as the age of adult criminal jurisdiction. 

With work on the budget finished, it is not expected that the House or Senate will meet in formal session again until September. 

 – Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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Judiciary Budget Update: House Responds to Our Concerns

Last night, the Massachusetts House passed a $34 billion budget bill after three days of deliberations.  Thank you to everyone who took the time to make visits, send emails and make calls to your representatives- it made a difference. 

Here are the highlights. . .

The two outside sections of the budget that were of great concern to the Committee on Public Counsel Services were not adopted by the House.  These outside sections would have created 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. 

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation ended up with $13 million in the House budget.  While this is not the $15.5 million that MLAC requested, it is $1 million more than last year’s appropriation. 

As for the Judiciary, the good news was that the House unanimously approved a pay raise for all Trial and Appellate judges for the first time since 2006.  The increase would take effect in three steps starting January 1, 2014. 

For Trial Court Judges the compensation levels would increase as follows:

  • January 1, 2014    $144,694
  • July 1, 2014         $154,694
  • July 1, 2015         $159,694

Appellate court judges also received comparable dollar increases.  During the budget debate, Judiciary Chair Eugene O’Flaherty took the lead on this issue.  He and other members of the House spoke persuasively about the need for an increase in judicial compensation for the Massachusetts Judiciary.   

In addition to the judicial pay raise, the Trial Court received an additional $6 million, bringing their appropriation up to $573.8 million.  This is still $15. 7 million less than their maintenance budget request for Fiscal Year 2014. 

Please be sure to thank your own representative for supporting and advocating on behalf of these important issues.  The budget process now moves to the Senate where it will be debated in May.   After that, a conference committee will aim to deliver a final budget in time for the July 1 start of Fiscal Year 2014.

There’s still work to be done.  As for MLAC, we will continue to work to bring that number back up to $15.5 million in the Senate.  For the Judiciary, we will focus on the Trial Court’s maintenance request and bringing the judicial compensation increase as close as possible to the recommendations of the Guzzi Report– something that we, too, support. 

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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