Tag Archives: legal services

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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BBA Budget Advocacy- A Year Long Commitment

It’s that time of year again – time to talk about the budget! Governor Patrick will release his budget next Wednesday, January 23rd followed by the House budget in April and the Senate budget in May.  The differences in the various budgets must be reconciled by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, 2013. Each year the BBA plays a major role in the budget process, advocating for adequate funding for civil legal services, our state courts, district attorneys and CPCS.  Here are a few of the ways we have recently been involved in adequate funding for FY 2013 for the Trial Court and civil legal services–

Trial Court Advocacy

Meeting with the people who make the important decisions is always a big part of any advocacy effort.  This year we took it right to the top.  BBA President-Elect Paul Dacier (EMC Corporation) sat down with Governor Patrick on January 9th to discuss court funding and specifically the Trial Court’s Fiscal Year 2014 maintenance request of $589 million and the $22 million needed for a judicial pay raise. The Governor was sympathetic and appreciated the BBA’s commitment to court advocacy. He also understands the need for fully functioning courts and agreed that our judges are woefully underpaid.

In addition to meeting with the decision makers, we took our advocacy on the road to meet with those directly affected by the Trial Court’s budget.  BBA President J.D. Smeallie hosted his own state representative and state senator at Salem District Court.  This informal meeting also included the Essex County Legislative Caucus, Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence, clerks, judges and other court staff. This meeting offered an open forum to discuss the current state of the understaffed departments within the courthouse and what effect it has had on the administration of justice. Legislators that attended the meeting included Representatives John D. Keenan, Lori A. Ehrlich, Theodore C. Speliotis, Jerald A. Parisella and Senators Kathleen O’Connor Ives and Joan Lovely. Due to the success of this meeting and the impact of having court personnel speak on issues they face on a day to day basis, the BBA will continue to take court advocacy on the road by visiting other courthouses across the Commonwealth.

Civil Legal Services Advocacy

We are co-sponsoring the 14th annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid again this year.  This event, one of the largest advocacy events of its kind will take place on January 30th at 11 am at the State House.  Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), the largest funding source for civil legal aid programs in the Commonwealth, will be requesting $15.5 million for legal services, a $3.5 million increase over last year’s budget. This money is needed to avoid further layoffs and service cuts that would force programs to turn away even more residents who need legal help.

We also raise money for legal services through our charitable arm, the Boston Bar Foundation (BBF). In 2012, the BBF made grants totaling $1 million to 24 Massachusetts community organizations providing a wide variety of core legal services – from domestic violence and immigration to housing and homelessness.  Each year the BBF hosts the John and Abigail Adams benefit to raise money to support is mission of promoting justice. The Adam’s Benefit will take place this year on Saturday, January 26 this year. Tickets are still available!

The Boston Bar Association works year round on a variety of fronts to increase legal aid and secure funding for our Courts. We take serious our commitment to ensuring that all citizens of the Commonwealth have access to justice.

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Cleaning Up Loose Ends

As of this writing, Massachusetts has just 23 days to finalize the $32.4 billion state budget.  With differences between the House (H  4101) and Senate (S 2275) versions of the budget, now is the time for negotiations conducted by the recently named budget conference committee. Serving on that committee are the House conferees Representative Brian Dempsey, Representative Stephen Kulik and Representative Viriato deMacedo, and Senate conferees Senator Stephen Brewer, Senator Jennifer Flanagan and Senator Michael Knapik.  As you may recall, the House budget was finalized in April and the Senate’s version was finalized at the end of May.  Once the conference committee has agreed on the details of the budget, it will be reviewed by Governor Patrick before he signs it.  The goal is to get this all done by July 1st.

Just for the record, the BBA has a particular interest in line item 0321-1600 – Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC).  MLAC’s request for fiscal year 2013 was $14.5 million – check out MLAC’s fact sheet.  Both the Governor and the House proposed funding MLAC at $12 million, while the Senate only appropriated $11.5 million.  The BBA will be working with our legal services partners to secure at least the $12 million provided by the Governor and the House.

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An update on another conference committee the BBA is watching with interest… For the past six months, the crime bill conference committee has been meeting to settle differences between a habitual offender sentencing reform bill that the House approved and a much larger crime package passed by the Senate.  Both sides have expressed optimism that a compromise bill will be ready before the end of July.

Among the issues still being negotiated and discussed by the crime conference committee are the list of crimes that would trigger a “three-strikes” elimination of parole, a reduction to the size of school zones that carry increased penalties for drug crimes and a reduction in mandatory minimum sentences.

While Massachusetts has a year round Legislature, formal sessions end on July 31st.  But, the Legislature will continue to meet about twice a week through December in informal sessions. There’s a push to get this crime bill (and many other bills too) completed by the end of July because it can be challenging to advance a major piece of legislation during an informal session.  During an informal session, if even one member of the Legislature raises an objection, this brings the informal session to a halt – thereby blocking the progress of any bill being considered.

We expect a lot of activity over the next few weeks as the Legislature works to complete a number of its priorities.  In addition to the work on behalf of MLAC and working to push for mandatory minimum sentence reform for nonviolent drug offenses, the BBA will continue to try to get our other bills over the final finish line for this session.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
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!

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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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Justice System Budget Update

After just three days the House of Representatives concluded its work on a $32.4 budget that provided $12 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) and $560 million for the Massachusetts Trial Courts.   This was a victory of sorts for MLAC and the Trial Court since the original House budget appropriation was less.  Issue Spot reported on the House’s initial budget only a couple of weeks ago.

Thanks to our BBA members who made phone calls and sent emails to their state representatives.  It made a difference.  One member of the House who was present in the budget caucus room when these amendments were being discussed said there was a huge showing of support for the MLAC amendment when it was under consideration.  It was also reassuring to hear that members of the House recognized the unmet needs of our justice system when the focus turned to the Trial Court. In the end, both MLAC and the Trial Court received a bump in their funding.

Among the amendments that did not pass and were therefore not included in the final House budget was an amendment that would have provided the new Court Administrator with broader authority to transfer funds within the Trial Court.  Currently, transferability is authorized across the Trial Court departments, but restricted relative to Probation and Community Corrections accounts.  Transferability from the latter two line items from another court line item cannot exceed 5%.  The amendment would have removed the restriction and allowed transfers between any line item within the trial court to any other item of appropriation within the trial court as deemed necessary and appropriate for FY 2013.

Our work is not done.
(1) We urge you to thank the representatives that we reached out to this week.  A special mention to Representatives Ruth Balser and John Keenan, both of whom were the lead sponsors on the amendments calling for increases to MLAC and the Trial Court.

(2) Please contact your senators as the Senate starts to build their version of the budget.  Just as we did in the House, we need to reach out to our senators and share our personal stories of how underfunding the justice system has adversely affected us, our practice and our clients’ lives.

– Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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Pro Hac Vice Proposal Progresses

Last week the Supreme Judicial Court’s (SJC) Rules Committee requested public comment on proposed Rule 3:15, which would institute a pro hac vice admission fee in Massachusetts.  As Issue Spot reported last November, the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission (AJC) petitioned the SJC to adopt this rule in hopes of developing another source of funding for legal aid.  When the BBA Council met in November, there was unanimous support for the AJC’s proposal.

The new pro hac vice fee of $300 per case would be imposed on out-of-state lawyers seeking to appear in Massachusetts Courts except if the attorney is providing pro bono legal assistance to an indigent client.  Under Rule 3:15, the proceeds from the pro hac vice fees would be given to the IOLTA Committee and distributed by it, in the same proportions as other IOLTA revenue – to the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, Massachusetts Bar Foundation and Boston Bar Foundation.  A small portion of the fees will go to the Board of Bar Overseers for administration purposes.  Forty states and the District of Columbia already have such a rule.

One ancillary benefit. . . Court clerks are also looking forward to Rule 3:15 because it will help bring consistency to how these pro hac vice cases are handled.  Right now there is no way of monitoring the number of attorneys who appear pro hac vice in Massachusetts.  Rule 3:15 will formalize the pro hac vice admission process and help court personnel track how many out-of-state attorneys appear in Massachusetts courts.

The next step in the process to implement the admission fee is to collect public comment.   Proposed Rule 3:15 is out for public comment until March 9th.  After the deadline has passed, the SJC Rules Committee will review the comments and make a recommendation to the Justices of the SJC.  Once a recommendation has been made, the Justices will consider the Rule in an administrative session.  Likely, the proposed Rule would be considered by the Justices in late spring.

Instituting a pro hac vice admission fee will never replace the funds provided by Massachusetts IOLTA accounts before interest rates plummeted and transactions slowed. That being said, proposed Rule 3:15 would help plug the gap and help increase funding for legal services in Massachusetts is worthwhile.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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Legal Services Corporation Seeking More Federal Funds

On Monday, President Obama released his budget for Fiscal Year 2013.  The $3.8 trillion budget included $402 million for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) – which is a 15% increase over LSC’s current budget of $348 million.  While any increase can be viewed as good news, President Obama’s plan provides $68 million less than the LSC budget request of $470 million for FY 2013.  As we’ve written about before in Issue Spot, Massachusetts has four LSC-funded programs: the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, the Massachusetts Justice Project, Merrimack Valley North Shore Legal Services and the New Center for Legal Advocacy.  These programs provide essential services to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

LSC funding was approximately $404 million in FY 2011 before falling to $348 million last year.  According to the LSC press release sent out on Monday, that drop has resulted in attorney layoffs at legal services programs across the country and the closure or projected closure of 18% of LSC-funded programs.

How is the BBA helping?  As part of our commitment to LSC, we participate in a grassroots legislative advocacy effort coordinated by the American Bar Association (ABA).  We’ve been doing this since 2002 when the BBA Council voted to join the ABA in advocating on behalf of civil legal services provided through the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) funding.

When the ABA approached the BBA to get involved, Senator Edward Kennedy – a leading advocate for the creation of LSC back in the 1970’s – and Senator John Kerry were already very involved in this issue.  The ABA hoped to get enough support in the Senate to help build a broad based coalition in the House during the final budget deliberation.  Since then, the BBA has joined with the ABA and other bar leaders in lobbying efforts for LSC funding every year.  In April, we will travel to Washington D.C. again to take part in ABA Day.  We will spend time with our congressional delegation discussing the importance of civil legal aid.

In most cases, we will be thanking our delegation for their continued support of legal services and describe the current state of civil legal services in Massachusetts.  We’ll also ask them to make funding for LSC a priority and discuss it with their colleagues who may not hold support for civil legal aid in the same regard.  Being from Massachusetts, we’re often told how different our experience is from our bar colleagues in other parts of the United States.  There isn’t always a shared appreciation between the bar and members of Congress for the need for funding for civil legal services.  Even though the BBA’s job may be comparatively easier, it’s just as critical that we are there in person delivering the important message to our delegation.  This year we will ask our delegation to support a 35% increase to bring LSC funding to the requested level of $470 million.

-Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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