Tag Archives: Marriage Equality

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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BBA Continues Advocacy for Marriage Equality

It’s gratifying when the BBA has an opportunity to throw our support behind issues related to civil rights and civil liberties, both fundamental to our mission as a community of lawyers.  This week the BBA joins as amici in two cases currently before the United States Supreme Court — Dennis Hollingsworth, et al. v. Kristin M. Perry and United States v. Windsor.  Simply put, the Perry and Windsor briefs argue that sexual orientation classifications warrant heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.

Heightened scrutiny is essential when the affected minority lacks the political power to defend itself from the majority’s prejudices through the normal democratic process. As the amicus brief in Perry notes, heightened scrutiny is “warranted to ensure that historical prejudice and antipathy are not masked by after –the- fact rationalizations.”

Perry challenges California’s Proposition 8, a gay marriage ban approved by a 2008 ballot initiative.  From June 2008 until November 2008 when Proposition 8 passed, same-sex couples were allowed to marry in California.  Proposition 8 took away that right.  Same-sex couples in California sued to overturn Proposition 8, and a federal judge ultimately found Proposition 8 unconstitutional. When the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the judge’s decision, gay marriage opponents attempted to revive Proposition 8 in the Supreme Court.

Windsor challenges Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defines marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife,” and also defines a spouse as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

The BBA works to advocate for access to justice for all, including the right of all persons to equality under law.  The BBA has been a leader when it comes to the rights of same-sex couples.  Whether we use the phrase marriage equality or same-sex marriage we are talking about the equal treatment of same-sex couples.   In October 2002, the BBA filed a brief in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, arguing that denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Massachusetts violated the state constitution.  Three years later, in January 2005, the BBA filed another brief in Cote-Whiteacre v. Dept. of Pub Health.  To better understand our involvement with this important issue check out our past blogs.

The issue of whether DOMA is unconstitutional now lies in the hands of the US Supreme Court.  We urge the Court to strike down this discriminatory act. Stay tuned…we will report back once arguments in both cases have been heard.  Arguments in Perry begin March 26 and arguments in Windsor begin March 27.

 

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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