Sneak Peek at Beacon Hill This September

The State House has gone quiet this month, legislators having recessed on July 31 in a flurry of budget overrides.  The BBA is relatively quiet, with fewer events on the calendar and with our sections and committees having largely wrapped up their work for the current program year.  Indeed, it seems at times that the city of Boston has become quieter, with so many on vacation and college students yet to return.

So now seems a good time to take a peek at what’s on tap for the coming months, once Beacon Hill, the BBA, and Boston as a whole spring back to life.

  • The start of September brings with it leadership changes at the BBA, starting at the top, where Lisa Arrowood will become President, taking over the reins from current President Julia Huston. Each fall, the incoming President holds individual meetings with the Chief Justice of the SJC and the chiefs of each of the departments of the Trial Court, as well as with the federal judges leading the U.S. Circuit, District, and Bankruptcy Courts.
    • Three of those chiefs will be new this year: As noted below, the Appeals Court and Housing Court will be under new leadership. And Judge Jeffrey Howard earlier this year became the chief judge of the First Circuit.
    • We are gearing up now for those meetings, which offer a chance for us to share our priorities and learn more about how we can help the courts with their mission.
  • After Labor Day, the Legislature begins formal sessions again, as well as continuing public hearings on the thousands of bills that have been filed this year. The Judiciary Committee, which holds public hearings on more bills than any other legislative committee, has been understandably very busy thus far, and it is expected to return to work on September 16 with a hearing on criminal-procedure legislation.
  • On September 2, the Governor’s Council will take up the nomination of Paul Treseler, chief of the Narcotics Case Integrity Unit in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, to chair the state’s Parole Board. This week, Governor Charlie Baker nominated Treseler to replace Charlene Bonner, an appointee of Governor Deval Patrick.
  • That will be the second major confirmation hearing for the current Council. Led by Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, the Council last month approved Judge Scott Kafker’s nomination to take over as Chief Justice of the Appeals Court.
  • Another significant nomination is forthcoming from the Governor, with the help of the Judicial Nominating Commission: Housing Court Chief Justice Steven Pierce has announced that he will be stepping down in September, after 10 years in that post.
  • The BBA is regularly called upon by the courts to offer comments on proposed rule changes, and we are at work right now gathering input on two such requests concerning ethical issues:
    • In July, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) Standing Advisory Committee on the Rules of Professional Conduct’s requested comments on proposed revisions to Rules 5.4 and 5.5 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  The change to Rule 5.5 would bring the Massachusetts rule mostly in line with the ABA Model Rule, permitting lawyers from foreign countries who are in good standing in their home country to act as in-house counsel to an employer in Massachusetts.  The change to Rule 5.4 would remove some sub-clauses in the interest of simplification.  These changes are currently being considered by the BBA’s Business Transactions and International Law Sections and its Ethics Committee.
    • In addition, the BBA and its Ethics Committee are considering commenting on proposed amendments to SJC Rule 3:11 giving the SJC the ability to issue advisory opinions and to review opinions written by the Committee on Judicial Ethics (currently the sole reviewer of these issues).  They would also permit individuals and groups of lawyers to solicit advisory ethics opinions, whereas the current rule limits this ability to judges.  These proposed amendments seem a natural next step as the SJC continues to revise the rules pertaining to judges.  The BBA has already commented on this process, and generally applauds the SJC for expanding the roles judges can play as members of the bar.  We look forward to considering both of these proposed rule changes and are happy to be part of this inclusive process.
  • Momentum continues to grow toward criminal-justice reform: This month we learned that Governor Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, and SJC Chief Justice Ralph Gants all signed onto a letter urging the Council of State Governments and the Pew Center for the States to work with Massachusetts on a review and analysis of our criminal-justice policies, making recommendations on what works well, what doesn’t, and what changes can be made to improve the system. It remains unclear what the timeline is for such a report – and specifically whether it can be done before the current legislative session ends next July.

We will continue to keep you informed on these issues as they develop.  In the meantime, we hope you are enjoying the summer!

— Michael Avitzur
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association