Monthly Archives: March 2014

Justice Decades in the Making

In mid-March, the Massachusetts SJC handed down Commonwealth v. Robert D. Wade, the first case that relied on the 2012 law codified at G.L.c. 278A “An Act providing access to forensic and scientific analysts.”  The court held for the defendant, granting him an evidentiary hearing on the use of post-conviction DNA tests of evidence collected in 1993.  In its decision, the SJC relied extensively on legislative history and legislative intent to interpret C. 278A.

We are pleased with the SJC’s ruling and proud to have played a role in this process over the course of nearly seven years. Here’s a brief recap:

Our work is having a real impact today.  Hard work of legal experts, persistence and patience with the legislative process really can advance the cause of justice and improve the criminal justice system.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

Justice System Salaries Revisited

After our recent post on Massachusetts public defender and assistant district attorney salaries, we were interested to hear more from Chief Counsel Anthony Benedetti, and Deputy Chief Counsel Public Defender Division Randy Gioia, for the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) at our March Council meeting.

We learned more about the structure and operation of CPCS:

CPCS attorneys represent adult criminals, juvenile delinquents, and about a third of CPCS’ budget goes to representing civil clients primarily in family law and mental health cases.

In the last two to three years, CPCS has seen big changes in the delivery system of indigent defense.  In 2011, Governor Patrick proposed eliminating the private bar altogether from this practice area.  In Fiscal Year 2012, the legislature mandated that CPCS staff attorneys handle 25% of all indigent defense cases, with the private bar picking up the rest.  Today, CPCS is well on its way to meeting the legislature’s 25% target, having handled just under 23% of cases last year.  CPCS is still hiring to meet the legislature’s mandate but if the case load demand increases, they will have to hire more staff and attorneys to meet the growing need.

One of the biggest challenges the organization faces is attrition.  As its size has grown to meet the increased case load requirements, so have the number of departing employees.  Last year the number of staff leaving increased by 13%; a large percentage of those were attorneys, most before their third year with CPCS or, as experienced attorneys know, just as they are beginning to return value as attorneys who can handle the intricacies of legal practice with minimal supervision.

The reason for this exodus seems to be clear – the salaries.  An internal CPCS survey revealed that its attorneys average $140,000 in debt.  Furthermore, 37% have a second job and 73% have borrowed money from family or friends to make ends meet.  This year, CPCS is proposing a plan to gradually increase starting attorney salaries from $40,000 to $50,000 per year.

As Randy Gioia pointed out to our Council, with more than a third of their attorneys needing a second job just to make ends meet, the clients may suffer most.  Practicing law is a more than full-time job on its own; it’s all-consuming at times.  Speaking from his own experience, Randy reminded us that public defenders and assistant district attorneys should be wholly focused on pursuing justice for their clients.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

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

Chief Justice Roderick Ireland: Modernization and Collaboration

With Chief Justice Roderick Ireland’s recent announcement of his July 25th retirement from the bench, we wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the momentous progress our courts have made during his time as the Chief Justice.  Chief Justice Ireland has left an indelible mark by expanding and enhancing the relationship between the judiciary and our state legislature.

In 2010, Chief Justice Ireland became the first African-American Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court.  From the beginning, he worked closely with the legislature, building bridges and developing relationships that have become real friendships.  A testament to this relationship is obvious to any visitor at his Speaker DeLeo’s office.  Both men proudly display pictures of the two of them together in their respective offices.

Chief Justice Ireland’s leadership has always been impressive, and the way he has reached out to court employees is truly remarkable.  During his tenure, he made a point of visiting courthouses to thank court employees for their hard work.  He has done more than just boost morale for court employees; Chief Justice Ireland has been committed to improving the court system for the average person while demystifying the entire courtroom experience.

In 2011, working with Chief Justice Ireland, the legislature passed court reorganization legislation.  This law brought about the most comprehensive overhaul of the Massachusetts judiciary since the Court Reorganization Act of 1978.  It established the Office of Court Management under a newly created Court Administrator position who works in tandem with the Chief Justice of the Trial Court.  Shortly after its enactment, Paula Carey was named Chief Justice of the Trial Court and Harry Spence became the first Court Administrator for the Trial Court.

The Courts have done well under Chief Justice Ireland and the legislature has remained supportive of the judiciary including a recent – and long overdue – pay raise last summer.  In his roughly three and one-half years as Chief Justice, Roderick Ireland has made a lasting impression on the judiciary and every person who uses our courts on a daily basis.

His tireless efforts working with all branches of government have resulted in unprecedented reforms for the judiciary and lasting goodwill within the other branches of government, especially the legislature.  The Trial Court has emerged with a more streamlined and strong administrative structure, and judicial salaries are now more competitive than they have been in nearly a decade.  We are pleased to celebrate the remarkable accomplishments of Chief Justice Ireland and look forward to the next Chief Justice continuing his full government collaboration.

– Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association