Monthly Archives: February 2013

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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Proposed Court Budget an Opportunity to Bring the Delivery of Justice into 21st Century

Massachusetts deserves a modern and efficient court system that provides justice in a fair and timely manner.  Unfortunately, we currently have an antiquated court system that impedes the delivery of justice.

Enter Harry Spence, the civilian Court Administrator appointed last April to bring a practical approach to the management of the Massachusetts State Courts. In 2013 the realities dictate that our court system be understood not just by lawyers, but by the public too.

No doubt we are still facing challenging economic times in Massachusetts.  But there will never be a time without tough choices to be made, and it’s time to turn the court’s challenges into opportunities for major improvement.  

At this week’s meeting of the Administration of Justice Steering Committee, Court Administrator Harry Spence detailed the Trial Court’s budget request for the upcoming fiscal year.  In addition to the Trial Court’s maintenance request of $589 million for the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, the Trial Court has presented the Legislature with a series of 6 modules, that if adopted and implemented, will most certainly modernize our justice system. 

Here’s a look at the 6 modules the Trial Court is proposing to the Legislature for consideration:

  • Module 1 – provides for an increase in judicial salaries.  Read more about judicial compensation in Massachusetts in Issue Spot.
  • Module 2 – restores public hours and brings all clerk and registers’ offices up to full time operation.  This would require backfilling 31 positions.  A list of the Courts that currently have reduced hours can be found here.
  • Module 3 – provides for more video conferencing.  Video conferencing is already commonplace in business and it should be in our court system.  This will save the Trial Court both transportation costs and time.
  • Module 4 – enhances security — including backfilling court officer jobs.  New equipment including metal detectors and x-ray machine. Sally ports for secure prisoner transport would also be purchased.   The safety of all users of the court needs to be taken seriously.
  • Module 5 – provides for much needed technology and telecommunications enhancements.  This will reduce costs and increase efficiency and includes system upgrades and a pilot program to create a central call center at the Boston Municipal Court which is estimated to reduce calls to Clerks’ Offices by 75%.
  • Module 6 – adds 20 additional Drug Courts statewide.  It has been proven that drug courts, when operated pursuant to recommended standards, reduce recidivism.

Court Administrator Harry Spence talked about other modernization initiatives that are already underway including an Extended Court Hours Pilot set to begin on February 26th.  There is an e-filing pilot beginning this spring.   The courts are also adding enhancements like e-filing technology, electronic case management, intelligent document and data capture and even secure mobile access.  The Court’s Strategic Plan is on schedule to be complete by June 30th.  Court Service Centers at three to four locations are to begin by July 1st as a pilot program.

The Trial Court’s maintenance budget request, as well as the series of modules, needs to be looked at as an investment in the future of our state courts.  Good and sound investments in our justice system will be felt overwhelmingly by the individuals and businesses whose use our courts every day.   

 

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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Judges’ Pay Raise a Must: No Need For Further Study

Public employees’ salaries are always a sensitive topic, and pay raises for public employees are even more so.  But it’s time that the Legislature addresses the compensation of a particular group of public employees — our state court judges.  When we last reported on judicial compensation, Massachusetts ranked 47th in the nation.  The only thing that has changed since then is that Massachusetts is now 48th.  Vermont is 49th and Maine is 50th.  The salary for a state court judge is currently at $129,694. It’s time to make the case that the Legislature needs to pay our judges adequately.

Judicial compensation is directly related to our focus on court reform.  The judiciary’s ability to provide high quality service to all people who use our courts is a matter of great importance.  The Governor appreciates the significance of adequate compensation for our judges, particularly from the perspective of trying to recruit the best and the brightest.  Recently, Governor Patrick filed a supplemental budget that, if passed, would create an advisory commission to study judicial compensation.  The last thing we need is another study.  In 2008, the Guzzi Commission studied the adequacy of compensation of high-level officials in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state government.  The Guzzi Commission’s recommendations included a salary increase for judges. 

We don’t need another commission.  We need the Legislature to respond to the Governor’s nod and appropriate the $21 million needed to increase the salaries.  The Judiciary’s proposal for a salary increase, if enacted, would bump Massachusetts up to 29th in the nation, not even in the top 25 percent

Judicial compensation is given as the primary reason attorneys with broad knowledge of the law, sufficient trial experience, and appropriate judicial temperament are reluctant to apply to be judges, absent family money or a highly compensated spouse. And the gap between what a judge earns on the bench in contrast to what lawyers earn in private practice continues to widen because judges have not received a raise since 2006.

A judge is responsible for making decisions that have profound impacts on people’s lives — their families, their property, their safety, their liberty, and their businesses.  We need judges with the legal expertise necessary to understand the nuances and complexities of our laws who are at the same time capable of understanding the real world impact of their decisions.

Not only will a failure to increase judicial compensation diminish the ability to attract and retain qualified judicial candidates, but at some point it’s going to harm the reputation of our judiciary.

Adequate compensation of judges with adjustments made annually to reflect cost of living increases is more than a matter of equity; it’s a smart thing to do.

 

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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10 Tips on Advocacy

Advocates are as diverse as the issues and groups they represent.  But there are some skills that every good advocate has in common — honesty, subject matter expertise, good judgment and communication skills.  As someone who spent almost eight years as legal counsel for the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee – the largest non-budgetary committee at the State House – I want to share some advocacy tips:

1. Don’t show your disappointment when a staff member substitutes for the legislator.  Even if you’ve confirmed that your meeting is going to be with the actual legislator the reality is that schedule changes happen.  If the House or Senate is meeting in a formal session, your legislator may be on the floor voting or an issue may have arisen in the district.  You also might actually be sitting down with the person – the staff member – who is the real expert in the office on your issue.   Don’t make assumptions or dismiss the person you’re meeting with just because they are staff and not the legislator.

2. Be clear, concise and compelling, but most importantly be truthful and factually correct.  A good advocate presents legislators with all sides of the issue and doesn’t try to sugarcoat one side over the other.  Have a strategy for dealing with both allies and opponents and be ready to give your best argument in favor of the bill and your best rebuttal to an argument against your bill.

3. Tell your story.  Explain how the proposed or pending legislation will affect you.  It’s helpful to frame your needs in terms of the legislator’s community or constituency.

4. Develop credibility.  Provide valuable information and build trust with members of the legislature and their staff, especially as it relates to your communications with them.  Legislators aren’t swayed by one simple conversation and effective advocacy requires more than a good sales pitch.  Your lawmaker is well aware that you are presenting one side, but major bills almost always have two sides to be considered.  In the end, the lawmaker has to make up his or her own mind.  That’s what they’re elected to do.  They shouldn’t just switch their vote based on who gives them the best story at the time.  A good lawmaker is going to look at both sides of the issue and see how it’s going to impact their constituents and the people of Massachusetts overall.

5. Repeat the process.  This means becoming aware of what else is going on in the context of the larger legislative agenda.  Is it budget season?  Is the legislature only meeting in informal session right now?  Do you know whether your bill requires a state appropriation in order to become law?

6. Have patience and understand timing.  Timing requires learning the sometimes mysterious ways by which the legislature conducts business.  It’s not enough to do all the right things; those things must be done at the right time and in the right sequence.  Sit down with the chair of the committee overseeing your issue before you request a meeting with the Speaker or the Senate President.  Trust me, the Speaker will ask if you’ve discussed this with his chairperson and a chairperson doesn’t want to be blindsided by a call from the Speaker on your issue if you’ve never taken the time to sit down with him or her.

7. Don’t play the name game.  Unless you are absolutely positive that your next door neighbor’s sister is a mutual friend of the legislator don’t name drop.  And, if you feel confident that you have a mutual friend, wait until after the meeting is over.  Thank the legislator for his or her time and then mention the connection.  A personal relationship isn’t going to influence the legislator.  If the relationship is a stretch it’ll appear that you’re trying too hard.

8. Maintain relationships, but be ready to cultivate new ones.  Things can change quickly.  Legislators face re-election every two years in Massachusetts.  Recently Senate President Therese Murray announced her new leadership team, including a new Majority Leader and a new Senate Chair of the Judiciary Committee, among others.

9. Don’t forget to make “the ask.”  Advocacy is based on action.  Once you’ve figured out your message and you’ve delivered it, make sure you ask your legislator for his or her support.

10. Say thank you.  Lawmakers have to balance a lot of worthy and competing interests.  While your issue is your first priority it may not be a top priority for your legislator.  If your bill doesn’t pass the first time it’s filed in the legislature, be gracious and wait for the next opportunity.  And if your legislator was helpful and did support your issue, remember that elected officials are like anyone else; they like to be thanked for their efforts.

 

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
Comments are disabled for this blog. To submit your comments please e-mail issuespot@bostonbar.org