Last week, the House and Senate sent the $30.6 billion state budget for FY 2012 to Governor Patrick. According to State House News, the 314-page budget included 218 outside sections, which affect current policy and provide for studies on a variety of issues that will set the stage for future policy. One in particular establishes a Commission on Criminal Justice that will include an appointee from the Boston Bar Association. The purpose of the Commission is to examine a variety of areas related to criminal justice, including mandatory minimum sentences and sentencing guidelines. This was a subject of conference committee debate. The Senate’s version of the budget included only elected officials as members, while the House’s version of the budget didn’t even include such a commission. In the past few weeks, the BBA reached out to conference committee members urging them to include bar association leadership and ultimately they did.
Here’s a snapshot of some of the budget accounts the BBA has been following:
District Attorneys’ Offices received a 5% increase
Masachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation was level funded at $9.5 million
Funding: The level funding request was $544 million; alas the Trial Court was funded at $519.8 million. According to the CJAM, who testified at a Judiciary Committee hearing this week, the appropriation is actually closer to $509 million. This $11 million shortfall is a result of the way the Trial Court’s retained revenue accounts were set up. The CJAM also testified that this is $35 million less than the current year’s appropriation of $544 million and $96 million (almost 16%) less than FY09 and could mean up to 750 layoffs, court relocations, etc.
Transferability: The budget increased transferability powers for the CJAM, but did not grant him full transferability over all accounts under his management. The CJAM can transfer only up to 5% of funds from Probation and Community Corrections.
Staff increase: The budget plan is for full-time public defenders on staff to handle 25% of indigent defense by the end of FY 2012 compared to 10% now. Currently, the state contracts with almost 3,000 private lawyers to provide legal work for the indigent, and employs 230 staff public defenders.
Indigency eligibility: Requirements to verify that someone cannot afford to hire a lawyer have been strengthened, and utilize standards already established by the Department of Revenue, the Department of Transitional Assistance and the RMV.
Cap on hours: The yearly cap on billable hours for private lawyers has been reduced to 1,650 (down from the current cap of 1,800 hours) and private lawyers are prohibited from accepting new cases after billing 1,350 hours (down from 1,400).
CPCS governing board changes. The budget reconstitutes the board of CPCS, and requires that the governor nominate two members to one-year terms, that the Senate president and House speaker each nominate two members to two-year terms, and theSupreme Judicial Court nominate nine members to four-year terms. For their nine appointees, the SJC shall consider nominations from the Boston Bar Association and other appropriate bar groups. While serving on the board, private bar advocates may not be assigned or appointed to a person with a case before CPCS.
Now the House and Senate are waiting for Governor Patrick, who can either sign the budget or send it back to the Legislature with suggested amendments or vetoes. The ball is now in Governor Patrick’s court; he has ten days from last Friday to act.
Government Relations Director