Monthly Archives: March 2011

BBA Testifies on Probation Reform

The most seasoned of lobbyists will tell you there’s no way to predict how any one legislative hearing will play out, regardless of how much time you have dedicated to advocating on the issue at hand. These marathon hearings are held in small rooms that are packed with people and video cameras. Hours can pass before you have an opportunity to testify — even if you were the first person in the hearing room.  Sometimes there is a full complement of legislative members engaged and asking lots of questions while other times members are rushing out in response to a roll call to vote on some unrelated matter and you’re lucky if you find yourself talking to one lone legislator.

On Wednesday, BBA President Don Frederico and Jack Cinquegrana testified before the Massachusetts Judiciary Committee at a public hearing held on legislation related to reforming the Probation Department.  The hearing room was filled with judges and probation officers.  At the same time the House was in the middle of debating a $325 million supplemental spending bill.  Amid the BBA’s testimony, not one but two separate roll calls occurred, emptying the panel except for a few Senate members.

During his testimony, BBA Past President Jack Cinquegrana explained that part of the problem faced by the Probation Department stems from inefficient sentencing guidelines that prevent successful re-entry into the community.  Following his remarks, Senator Thomas McGee thanked the BBA for bringing attention to that piece of the probation puzzle.

Every chance to be heard on our position is useful, whether it is one-on-one with a legislator, at a public hearing or in a written statement.  Being given an opportunity to offer our probation principles as the Legislature considers the issue is part of the process, and we will continue to participate in that process.

Speaker Robert DeLeo set probation reform as a priority earlier this year saying he wanted it dealt with “early in the session and as expeditiously as possible.”  Rahm Emmanuel once said, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste….it’s an opportunity to do things you couldn’t do before.”  Still Judiciary Committee Chairman Eugene O’Flaherty provided a different take at yesterday’s hearing: “As one individual legislator I am not looking at this in terms of the alleged crisis…I don’t respond to alleged crises.  This is going to be done in a deliberative way.”

Regardless of the reasons that probation reform has been made a priority, this is an opportunity to restore the department to the national model it was in the 1990’s.  Progress is already being made under new Commissioner Ron Corbett.

 

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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BBA Will Make its Voice Heard Re: Probation Reform

The Boston Bar Association (“BBA”) is often asked why we weigh in on some topics and not on others.  The short answer is we are interested in speaking up on issues that have an effect on the practice of law or the administration of justice.  In reality, it’s not that simple.  Getting to the point where we can voice our opinion or share our position involves a careful process.  Sometimes that process is anticipatory while other times it is reactive.

For example, last week’s blog post described one instance where the BBA was pre-emptive and got out front on an issue.  Our members identified an area, updating state consumer debt collection regulations, in which their expertise could be put to use.  Almost all of the recommendations our members made were adopted by the Attorney General’s Office and they are now in the process of promulgating the new regulations.

Next week, on March 30th, the BBA will testify before the Judiciary Committee at a public hearing on probation.  In this instance, the BBA’s involvement has consisted of a measured review and response to the legislation filed by Governor Patrick in January.  This legislation was filed in the wake of the patronage scandal in the Massachusetts Probation Department and the tragic murder of Woburn police officer John Maguire.  Following the death of Officer Maguire, there was a loud and justifiable clamor for immediate review and reform of the department.

The reason the BBA decided to step into the debate is that the proper management and governance of probation is vitally important to the administration of justice.  The final probation reform legislation is sure to have a significant impact on the practice of law and the administration of justice in Massachusetts.

Once the governor’s legislation was filed, BBA President Don Frederico appointed a Council-level study group consisting of a wide range of federal and state prosecutorial and public defense experience.  After weeks of review, which included meeting with experts in the field, thoughtful study and debate, the BBA Council endorsed the study group’s position articulating the guiding principles that the BBA believes any probation reform legislation should be based on.

The study group never set out to correct all of the problems identified in the Ware Report.  Instead, it recognized that there is no one way to solve these issues.  The Legislature needs the freedom to install a system that remedies the problems plaguing the department.

This recent crisis provides an opportunity to make critical changes to the Probation Department.  The BBA hopes that the study group’s principles will help shape criminal justice reform and lead to a more efficient department while improving public safety.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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We’re Making Progress in Debt Collection Reform

As a membership organization with nearly 10,000 members, issues of public policy and opportunities to comment and suggest reforms routinely present themselves to the Boston Bar Association (BBA).  The BBA Council has adopted policy positions on a wide variety of issues.  Once a position has been approved, many of our members wonder, “What now?”

The answer usually depends on timing – the timing of Council approval in relation to what the Legislature is focusing on at that particular moment.  The salience of an issue often dictates how much traction it will have in the Legislature and other governmental agencies.  Unfortunately, forecasting what will capture the attention of government officials is more of an art than a science.  So advancing BBA positions demands patience and perseverance.

Just one example. . .When word came to the BBA last Friday that the Attorney General was submitting proposed updates to its Debt Collection Regulations to provide stronger consumer protections, we were thrilled.  As noted in Issue Spot last August, the BBA’s Consumer Finance Committee wrote a report proposing updates to the current regulations to reflect the real world today.

Many of the proposed updates submitted by the BBA group are found in the proposal submitted by the Attorney General’s Office.  These changes will provide substantial relief for debtors that have been subjected to unfair collection practices not covered by the current regulations.

Before the regulations are updated, there is a comment period and a hearing scheduled on May 18th.  Members of the BBA Consumer Finance Committee will present testimony on the Attorney General’s proposal to express the BBA’s support for these important modernizations of debt collection practices.  The BBA is proud to work with the Attorney General’s Office and all other agencies where the expertise of our membership can be useful.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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8th PILP Class Continues Legacy

Sometimes it is easy to overlook the good being done by attorneys in our city.  Of course Boston’s legal history is full of examples of lawyers answering the call of public service, not the least of which was John Adams’ defense of the British soldiers following the Boston Massacre.  The legacy of pro bono representation and public service is evident all over Boston’s legal community from multinational firms to solo and small practices and from in-house counsel of large corporations to legal departments of governmental agencies.  In order to cultivate the talent of new attorneys who exemplify the characteristics of an active lawyer citizen, the Boston Bar Association began the Public Interest Leadership Program (“PILP”) in 2003.

On March 2, over 40 PILP alums gathered at the BBA for an Alumni Reception hosted by this year’s class.  Chief Judge Mark Wolf of the United States District Court and BBA Past President Mike Keating stopped by to speak to the group and catch up with alums who have gone on to do extraordinary things.  One example of the work that PILP participants have gone on to do is to organize pro bono support for the Medical-Legal Partnership at Boston Medical Center.  Judge Wolf recalled speaking with Samantha Morton and Leiha Macauley, two PILP alumnae, after they were honored at the 2009 John & Abigail Adams Benefit for their work with the Medical-Legal Partnership.  Both women remarked that they might not have continued to practice had they not been selected to join PILP because the program inspired them to use their skills for public service.

PILP began as an idea and was the brainchild of Judge Wolf.  In early 2002, Judge Wolf wrote a letter to then-BBA President Mike Keating suggesting the idea for establishing a group for new attorneys who are engaged in the community.  It would be a forum for discussing common interests and problems, education, social activity, and planning public service projects.  Now eight classes later, that group has grown into a network of nearly 100 distinguished lawyers.

The Alumni Reception was a successful event – with Judge Wolf and Mike Keating noting that PILP has grown beyond their original vision and encapsulates the best of the profession.  It is truly remarkable to see a group of committed newer attorneys who find the time to balance full case loads, pro bono representation, public service projects, and bar activities.  As Mike Keating said last night, it is work that is done in a program like PILP that makes being a lawyer worthwhile.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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