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Having an Impact 2: Carrying on the Themes of the BBA’s Leadership Retreat

It’s been six months since the BBA’s Leadership Retreat, and many of the themes still resonate.  We can’t emphasize enough the importance of member involvement in our year-round commitment to advocacy on behalf of the entire justice system. 

January’s Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid was a good opportunity for our members to make a connection with elected officials — but that one-day event was only the start.  Since then, we’ve sat down with the Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel Kate Cook and Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo to make our pitch for funding for civil legal aid, as well as the other parts of the justice system.  We will continue to reach out to leaders in all branches of government.

We can always do more.  Recently, the BBA’s Criminal Law Steering Committee’s Court Funding Exploration Subcommittee completed its Initial Report and Preliminary Recommendations, which was intended as a follow up to our fall retreat.  The Report reflects the discussions and independent research of three members of the Criminal Law Section – Michael Avitzur, Georgia Critsley, and Lisa Hewitt.  The Subcommittee made the following four recommendations:

  • Reinstituting the BBA’s “Courthouse Road Show” – This concept is based on a prior BBA initiative in which BBA leadership invited their own legislators to tour the courthouse in their own district.  This was an opportunity to meet Trial Court staff directly and to hear about the effects of the court budget and also the positive changes that have recently been implemented to meet funding challenges.  The BBA hopes to carry out this new iteration across the state.
  • BBA Budget Hearing Panel – The Subcommittee recommends that the BBA testify in support of more funding for the trial court at a public Joint Ways and Means Committee regional hearing.  Great idea, and one we haven’t thought of before.  We like this idea so much that we want to take it a step further.  We are in the process of setting up meetings for BBA leadership with the Chairs of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees.
  • Anecdotal Evidence Collection – To bolster our arguments at these meetings, the Report recommends that the Criminal Law Steering Committee initiate the collection of anecdotes from its own members and their colleagues to give legislators a personal take on those directly affected by the Trial Court’s budget.  While the budget process necessarily entails a focus on numbers, it is important to not lose the human element – funding numbers affect people, and that is what these stories will help show.
  • Statehouse Budget 101 – Advocating for the Trial Court and its budget requires knowing how the budget works and how public entities are funded.  While attorneys practice in the courts, they are not necessarily experts in its funding structure or the state’s budget process.  Thus, the Subcommittee recommends that the Steering Committee plan an event to educate the BBA membership on the budget process and legislative cycle timelines, as well as a primer on grassroots legislative advocacy strategies.  This will also be a first, and we look forward to this program.

Stay tuned to hear more about the outcomes from the suggestions in this Report and to find out how you can get involved in advocating for the judiciary.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Governor’s Budget and Walk to the Hill

Yesterday Governor Patrick released his proposal for the Fiscal Year 2015 state budget –his final budget before he leaves office.  While Governor Patrick’s $36.4 billion budget focuses heavily on education and investments in the life sciences, we were pleased to see his proposals in the area of criminal justice.  One proposal would provide a modest increase in spending to help former inmates successfully reintegrate into society.  Another proposal included $7 million for a program to reduce juvenile recidivism. 

Here’s what the Governor recommended for the Trial Court and for Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation:

The Massachusetts Trial Court

We are glad to see that Governor Patrick proposed funding the Massachusetts Trial Court at their maintenance budget request of $615 million plus an additional $2 million for specialty courts.   A maintenance budget is the cost of maintaining current services in the next fiscal year and takes into consideration adjustments for costs associated with inflation, caseload changes, and certain other factors. 

Developing effective specialty courts and expanding the ones we already have in the areas of drug, mental health, homelessness and veterans issues is a great investment.  Nationally, these courts have proven effective at reducing recidivism, shortening jail stays, saving money, and helping convicts return to society.  The additional funding will help expand the Massachusetts specialty courts program, standardizing it across the state in the areas most in need, and pay for data collection to study its effects to assure that Massachusetts achieves the best results. 

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation

Governor Patrick also recommended $14 million in funding for MLAC.  While this represents a $1 million increase over last year’s appropriation, this level of funding is $3 million shy of MLAC’s $17 million budget request, meaning legal services programs will still struggle to meet even half of the overwhelming need for civil legal services. 

Our attention now turns to the Legislature.  We need to persuade both the House and Senate to hold onto the $617 million for the Trial Court and to include the full $17 million in funding for MLAC.  The House Budget will come out first in April, followed by the Senate budget in May.  

With one week to go before Walk to the Hill, we need your help.  Join us at the Great Hall of the State House at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, January 30th as we kick off this event, then talk to your legislator.  But this year, we urge you to also commit to continue those conversations throughout the budget process.  That is the real challenge. 

You can help us — become an advocate.  Let your legislators know you pay attention to their voting and you care about this issue. 

Become a resource.  As a lawyer and community member, who better to keep your legislators informed on, say, how an increase in pro se litigants affects justice, the court system, your own work, and the citizens of the Commonwealth? 

Become an ally.  Personal relationship building goes a long way in any profession – politics is no different.

Here are some helpful tips to help you get the most out of interacting with your elected officials and/or their staff on Walk to the Hill day and beyond.

  – Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Another Victory for Civil Gideon

Due process rights recently took another step forward as Hawai’i joined the overwhelming majority of states that automatically appoint counsel for indigent parents in child welfare proceedings.  On January 6th, the Hawai’i Supreme Court held unanimously that indigent parents have a constitutional right to legal counsel in cases where the state seeks to remove children from their parents’ home and place them into the foster care system. 

Under Massachusetts law, legal counsel must be appointed within 14 days of a petition filed for care and protection proceedings.  These are difficult cases in which a juvenile court judge must decide what is in the best interest of the child.  The judge determines whether a child has been or is at risk of serious abuse or neglect by a parent or guardian, whether the guardian is fit to care for the child, and who will have custody.   

The ruling in Hawai’i came in the case of In The Interest Of TM, in which the Department of Human Services (DHS) tried to take custody of a child from the petitioner.  The petitioner was not granted counsel until 19 months into proceedings terminating her parental rights.  The Hawai’i Supreme Court held that the Family Court abused its discretion by failing to appoint counsel earlier, noting that the delay did not give the petitioner a fair chance to defend herself due to the complex legal issues at hand and the significance of the proceedings.  Furthermore, the Court noted that the petitioner’s behavior improved significantly after the appointment of an attorney – she started making positive progress in her personal and home life, in large part because she was better able to understand what she needed to do in order to have a chance at custody of her child.   

When a state doesn’t require and subsidize legal counsel, the alternative is often pro se litigants who are at a major disadvantage at achieving justice.  The stakes are high in these cases and everyone should be represented by an attorney. 

 

Don’t forget to mark your calendars on Thursday, January 30th for the 15th annual Walk to the Hill.  This event, where 650 lawyers speak with legislators and staffers on the impact of civil legal aid funding in Massachusetts, is one of the largest of its kind nationally and kicks off the year of advocating for legal services.

 

UPDATE – For those looking for more information after last week’s post, we recommend this video on juvenile justice issues in which attorney Hank Coxe gives an entertaining and moving speech on the subject.

  – Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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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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Catching Up . . . Have You Heard?

SJC Annual Address

Last Wednesday, Chief Justice Roderick Ireland gave his annual address at the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Bench-Bar Symposium at the John Adams Courthouse.  For the first time in a long time, the courts’ future looks bright.  Ireland spoke highly of the new leadership of Chief Justice Paula Carey and Court Administrator Harry Spence, as well as the Governor and legislators who approved a much needed judicial pay raise, the first in seven years.  The funding the Trial Court received will allow for some additional hiring to replace a handful of laid-off workers and has raised the morale of judges and clerks.  Furthermore, the court has returned to full hours and service in all clerks’ offices for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis.  Finally, the court is looking to the future with Ireland’s announcement that the SJC is working on an e-filing program.

Annie Dookhan Court Appearance

Last Friday, Annie Dookhan, the state chemist accused of tampering with and mishandling evidence, made an appearance in Suffolk Superior Court for a conference regarding a possible change of plea.  The night before, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office recommended a five to seven year sentence and five years of probation if Dookhan pleaded guilty.  

In December 2012, a grand jury indicted Dookhan on 17 counts of obstruction of justice, eight counts of tampering with evidence, and single counts of perjury and falsely claiming to hold a degree.  Without the plea, Dookhan could face a massive sentence – each of the 25 counts of obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence carry up to a 10 year state prison term.  The single perjury charge can result in up to 20 years of prison time, and lying about her degree could add another 2½ years.  She has pleaded not guilty and her attorney is asking for a sentence of one year or less.

The BBA’s Drug Lab Working Group met one more time recently and is preparing a report for BBA leadership on its conclusions in the coming months.

SCOTUS Death Penalty Case

Last Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in a capital punishment case, Kansas v. Cheever.  The defendant, Scott Cheever, admitted to fatally shooting Sheriff Matt Samuels in 2005.  He argued, however, that due to his methamphetamine usage, he was unable to meet the premeditation requirement needed for a murder conviction.  In a lower court, a psychiatrist testified on behalf of the defense substantiating this claim.  The prosecution countered with testimony from a government psychiatrist who examined Cheever under court orders.  The issue before the Supreme Court is whether the state violated the defendant’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination by rebutting his defense with evidence from the court-ordered mental evaluation.

In oral argument, a majority of the justices appeared to side with the prosecution.

The BBA’s Death Penalty Working Group met for the first time early this week.  They will reexamine the BBA’s positions, investigate the possible use of the death penalty in Massachusetts, and discuss the legal implications of its use in a federal case in the state, such as for the Marathon Bomber.  They will meet monthly through the beginning of 2014 and report to BBA leadership then.

EJC Walk to the Hill

We are pleased to report that the Equal Justice Coalition is hard at work planning this year’s Walk to the Hill event.  The event will take place on January 30, 2014 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Massachusetts State House.  On that day, hundreds of lawyers will meet at the statehouse to lobby their own lawmakers to protect state funding for programs providing civil legal aid to low income Massachusetts residents.  Stay tuned for more information about how you can get involved.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Advocacy Skills In Action

Thank you to our members who took the time out of their busy schedules to gather at the State House for yesterday’s 14th annual Walk to the Hill.  BBA members were among the 650 attorneys who put their advocacy skills into action in support of civil legal aid.  Walk to the Hill 2013 was a great success, but our work to ensure adequate funding of civil legal aid is only just beginning.

A real life example of how civil legal aid helps people was described by South Coastal Counties Legal Services client, Daniele Bien-Aime.  Through no fault of her own, this mother of two young children lost her job, and then her health insurance and came close to being evicted from her apartment — while undergoing a bilateral mastectomy and follow-up treatment for breast cancer. A legal aid attorney helped her get her job back, continue her treatment and stay in her home.

A surprise visit from Governor Patrick provided an opportunity for us to thank him for recognizing the importance of civil legal aid.  Last week, House 1 proposed $15.5 million for Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC).

Gov and BBA Banner

The most important part of the morning followed the pep talks from Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, BBA President James D. Smeallie and others, when attendees headed toward the offices of their lawmakers to continue the conversation about the need for civil legal aid funding.  As we described in Issue Spot before, making a personal connection and building a relationship with your own state senator and state representative is key to effective advocacy.

Ellen Kief, a member of the BBA’s Solo & Small Firm Section and a resident of Weston, met with her legislators, Senator Michael Barrett and Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch. She shared her perspective on civil legal aid as a constituent and an attorney. In particular, Ellen emphasized her experience with immigration law and the positive impact that civil legal aid has had on her own clients.

Ellen Kief with Rep. Peisch

Meeting with a key staffer is just as important.  As Issue Spot has said in earlier posts, staff often makes recommendations and it’s a great way to get to know what’s important to your legislator.  BBA President J.D. Smeallie sat down with an aide to his state representative, Jerald Parisella. This was an opportunity for President Smeallie to make a direct connection with the person who advises the lawmaker.

JD and House aide 2

It was great to see advocacy in action as lawyers filled the State House halls.  These conversations will continue throughout the budget process that will run through the end of June.  We need to cultivate these relationships and circle back to our legislators between now and June in order to provide them with additional information and facts, tell stories and keep the dialogue and discussions going.  We need to arm them with the reasons why civil legal aid is important and should be one of their top budget priorities.

– 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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