Tag Archives: Paul Dacier

Brockton, Bill, and Budget: Intra-Governmental Efforts to Eliminate Substance Abuse

This past year, we witnessed a proliferation of substance abuse emergencies in our communities, prompting the Governor to declare a public health emergency.  At the same time, our understanding of best treatment both scientifically and criminally continues to evolve.  Thus, we are pleased to see the response of our government, which has come together across branches and politics to make some major changes in an attempt to address the problem.   Through the budget, legislation, and judicial innovation, the Commonwealth is taking on this issue in new and creative ways.

We noted in our budget updates that the Trial Court’s budget request included a $2.7 million “module” for the creation of specialty courts.  Although the final budget was about $3 million below the Trial Court’s $615 million request, it specifically included funding earmarked for this project.  In fact, this module was provided for in each step of the budget process across the Executive and Legislative branches – first by the Governor, next by the House and Senate, and finally in the Conference Committee budget signed by the Governor.  The Senate even called for an additional $300,000 in funding beyond the Trial Court’s request to help fund continuing examination and analysis of specialty court functioning.

At the end of formal session, the legislature passed its own measures to combat drug abuse in the bill S2142, An Act to increase opportunities for long-term substance abuse recovery, which Governor Patrick signed into law on August 6th.  The bill is intended to prevent drug abuse by increasing oversight on prescriptions while also making treatment easier to obtain and afford.  Most notably, the bill includes provisions requiring insurance providers to cover deterrent drug products and substance abuse treatment in some cases.  Other parts of the bill increase oversight and monitoring of patients prescribed certain drugs and require coroners to report opioid-related deaths to the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  In addition, the bill gives DPH new authority to monitor potentially dangerous substances.  Although the bill costs $20 million and caused some concerns for insurance companies, it passed with bipartisan support and has been touted as a potential model for federal legislation.

Around the same time the bill was passed, the Trial Court announced its plans to open a new specialty drug court in Brockton, funded by the $2.7 module appropriated by the legislature.  BBA President Paul T. Dacier examined the specialty court system and drug courts in particular this year.  In his blog, he notes that the specialty court model achieved remarkable results nationwide, reducing recidivism and helping people recover from addiction.  Specialty Court sessions feature judges trained and peer-reviewed in handling certain issues.  The Courts focus on rehabilitative treatment programs and probation, sometimes lasting up to two years.  This approach has resulted in seventy-five percent of rehabilitation program graduates remaining arrest-free two years out of the program – quite an achievement, especially considering that Specialty Courts handle the cases of those individuals considered most at risk of recidivism.

While the issue of substance abuse is extremely complex and constantly changing, we were pleased to see – from the budget, to a bill, to the execution of specialty courts – that each branch came together in an attempt to solve a problem and improve the lives of people in Massachusetts. 

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Harry Spence at the BBA Council: Infectious Optimism

This week, BBA President Paul Dacier and the BBA Council had the opportunity to meet with newly appointed Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence.  He was informative and enthusiastic about the trial court’s positive momentum. 

The court is improving on all levels.  From the macro-perspective, the court continues to cultivate its good relations with the other branches of government.  The last few years have resulted in stable budgets with modest increases.  This is due in large part to the tireless efforts of Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, who spends days at the legislature building relationships and the respect of lawmakers and key government leaders.  Spence believes that other branches of government have made a fundamental decision to give hands-off support to the courts, and that they won’t return to budget cuts and micromanagement. 

Spence is relishing his collaboration with new Chief Justice of the Trial Court, Paula Carey.  They are working hard to implement the steps and mission statement of the new Strategic Plan, to achieve “one mission with dignity and speed.”  The first changes will come in the areas of technology, specialty courts, and court service centers. 

Technology advances will change the way courts operate.  For example, the courts recently completed their online platform.  E-Filing will be available for a majority of criminal cases and a large amount of civil cases in the near future.  Smart phone apps will soon help streamline the court experience for attorneys.  In addition, the court is using other technological advances to overcome staff shortages such as upgrading the phone system in Boston Municipal Court to reduce calls to clerks’ offices and preserving documents digitally so they are infinitely smaller and easier to transport.

The court will also add and improve specialty courts.  These courts have proven effective at reducing incarceration and recidivism by increasing effective responses specially tailored to those suffering from problems such as addiction, homelessness, or veterans’ issues.  Despite initially being a leader in establishing specialty courts, the Commonwealth has lagged behind other states in their development.  Spence foresees a future where these courts work in collaboration with the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Public Health, and the Department of Veterans Services to maximize their impact.  They will be located in the areas most in need of their services and they will operate based on universal standards instilled through a mandatory certification and training process.  They will enhance efficiency by capitalizing on the expertise of clerks and judges, while at the same time sharing back room staffers to avoid the repetition of overhead expenses.  Furthermore, they will gather detailed data and undergo constant evaluation so their true value can be understood.

Finally, the court will implement service centers to help self-represented litigants.  This will take some strain off litigants and judges alike.  Pro se litigants can get the help they need to navigate the court system and judges will see better prepared parties.  Spence described visiting a Connecticut court with mandatory service centers where judges spoke of saving an estimated two to three hours daily thanks to this innovation.

Spence described an ambitious present and bright future for Massachusetts courts.  We at the BBA look forward to these advances and are confident the trial court can make it happen thanks to their new leadership team, strategic plan, and cooperation with other branches of government.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Having an Impact: Lessons From the BBA Leadership Retreat

In late October, the BBA held its annual leadership retreat and we were delighted with the results.  The weekend began with a panel discussion entitled “Having an Impact: The Constitution, the Daily Mechanics of Government, and You.”  It featured four panelists discussing the Massachusetts Constitution, perceptions versus realities in the operation of our state government related to judicial funding, and brainstorming ways lawyers can make a difference by working within this system.

BBA President Paul Dacier, who is known to carry around a copy of the state constitution, served as a spirited moderator.  Navjeet K. Bal, former Commissioner of Revenue and current member of Nixon Peabody’s Public Finance Group, brought her extensive budgeting knowledge and the perspective of the executive branch.  We learned about the judicial branch’s perspective from retired Judge John C. Cratsley, who served 33 years on the bench including as Regional Administrative Judge in Suffolk and Norfolk Counties.  Robert J. McCarron, Vice President for State Relations and General Counsel for the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts and former Director of Legal Affairs for the Massachusetts House Committee on Ways and Means, brought the perspective of the legislative branch.  New England Law Boston Professor, Lawrence Friedman, rounded out the panel with his expertise on the state and federal constitutions.

The panelists revealed the inner workings of the budget process in Massachusetts – the massive pieces of the pie consumed by health care and education, the zero-sum-game position of the parties involved, and the importance for funds-seekers to build relationships with government leaders and give comprehensive reporting on their plans and achievements.  The conversation touched on the constitution, the structure and process of government, the role of politics, and the human elements inherent in the Commonwealth’s budgeting process.

In the afternoon, the BBA leaders split into four discussion groups to reflect on the morning panel, explore the issues of court funding and consider their own potential for involvement in the government budgeting process.  It was eye-opening to observe the idea-making process at work.  On Sunday morning, the groups came together to reflect and share their experiences.  We are still sifting through all of the thoughts and ideas and hope to emerge with some innovative solutions and new approaches for ways to advocate for adequate court funding.

While there will never be a quick-fix for improving judicial funding, the BBA’s leaders are committed to securing sufficient funding for the Commonwealth’s judiciary.  One thing is for sure, it begins with engagement in the political process and relationship-building with our legislators.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Civility Can Save the Day in Law and Politics

Last week, political television pundit Chris Matthews made headlines during his Boston visit.  The BBA was there when he addressed the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Forum.  Matthews is on a book tour promoting Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked.  The irony of his book’s subtitle was not lost on the audience as week one of the government shutdown was coming to an end.  The subtitle – when politics worked – provided a perfect contrast to the recent events on Capitol Hill. 

Though television political banter is hardly known for its speakers’ calm demeanors and respectful exchange of ideas, Matthews pointed to these traits as the hallmark of a relative golden age of politics.  United States Representative from Massachusetts and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan were on different sides of the aisle, but they managed to work together and find compromises to benefit the country.  Outside of politics, they became personal friends in a relationship built on mutual respect.  Tip was the first person to visit Reagan in the hospital after he was shot in a failed assassination attempt in 1981.  President Regan was fond of the expression “we’re all friends after 6:00.”  Both recognized the importance of talking through their differences and putting America first.

Matthews compared them with today’s government leaders.  He noted that O’Neill represented the President before Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev in a move considered normal at the time.  When he asked if anyone could imagine President Obama sending John Boehner as his personal representative before Vladimir Putin, the audience laughed. 

Matthews noted that the biggest problems with government today are a lost sense of national unity and a lack of personal relationships between lawmakers.  As he put it, political “lubrication” comes from personal relationships –lawmakers are much more likely to compromise at work when their spouses are friends outside of it. 

Lawyers can learn a lot from these messages.  Much like politics, the nature of law as a profession presupposes an adversarial relationship during the day.  But, as BBA President Paul Dacier notes, lawyers should be able to share a drink after work.  He is a strong proponent of civility in the courtroom and in our profession. 

In government, civility can be a means to ending political stalemate and the government shutdown.  In the courts it can expedite the legal process, earn you the respect of your peers, and even help you win your case.  Civility truly can save the day.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Sequestration to Solution

The term “budget sequestration” refers to automatic categorical federal spending cuts.  We are now seeing the immediate results of the sequestration enacted in the Budget Control Act of 2011 that kicked in on March 1, 2013.  The federal judiciary has been amongst the hardest hit.  Operating on an annual, nationwide $7 billion appropriation, less than 0.02% of the total federal budget, the courts have long been stretched thin.  However, with the latest sequestration resulting in a loss of about $350 million, roughly five percent of its budget, the courts are at their breaking point.  The cuts have resulted in mandatory furloughs, hiring freezes, the elimination of numerous positions, training cutbacks, decreases in courthouse security, and major budget hits for indigent defense providers.

This dire situation even prompted some judicial vigilantism when a New York District Court judge took matters into his own hands.  In United States v. Laron Spicer, Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. held that although jurors merited protection due to a defendant gang member’s record of witness tampering, he could only afford to keep their names secret.  He refused to provide them with any additional safeguards, citing the multi-million dollar price tag associated with sequestering a jury.

Ironically, the small immediate savings to the federal government are likely to cost taxpayers far more in the future.  According to a recent Brennan Center for Justice report, cuts to federal defender services are resulting in increases in the number of cases assigned to private counsel, which is ultimately more expensive for taxpayers.

We at the BBA are very sensitive to this issue.  We have long been at the forefront of advocating for indigent defense services and fair judicial funding.  Recently, BBA President Paul Dacier and BBA representatives have been meeting with both state and federal court judges in Massachusetts to listen to their concerns.  Dacier, who frequently quotes articles XXIX and XXX of the Massachusetts Constitution, is a strong proponent of fair funding and honorable salaries for the judicial branch and the preservation of three co-equal branches of government.  We know it will be an uphill climb to accomplish these goals, but we are committed to finding solutions.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
Comments are disabled for this blog. To submit your comments please e-mail  issuespot@bostonbar.org

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