Guest Post: Jack Caplan is the current Lawyer Referral Service Co-op Intern at the BBA. Jack is a sophomore at Northeastern University studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics.
The BBA’s Law Day Dinner is held annually to celebrate the rule of law and those who step up to protect it and ensure that it remains an important institution of our democracy. Over 800 guests – a crowd made up of attorneys, elected officials, students, business leaders, members of the judiciary – joined us last week to acknowledge our shared values. We heard from, and celebrated, individuals who stand unwavering in their belief in access to justice for all.
To kick off the event, BBA President Mark Smith, a founding partner of Laredo & Smith, LLP, spoke about the BBA’s year so far. In the first four months of the calendar year, we filed three Amicus briefs. In Commonwealth v. Lutskov, we argued against adult mandatory minimums being imposed on juveniles. In U.S. v. Brian Joyce, we have continued our longstanding efforts to protect attorney-client privilege. In Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Attorney General, we argued in favor of measures to prevent future misconduct on the scale of Amherst Drug Lab Chemist Sonja Farak’s behavior.
We also have our members and staff to thank for their tireless lobbying for the passage of Massachusetts’s new overhaul of the criminal justice system. Following a detailed report which was the labor of months of research by our Criminal Justice Reform Working Group, the BBA published No Time to Wait: Recommendations for a Fair and Effective Criminal Justice System. In his remarks, Smith emphasized how thrilled we were to see so many of our recommendations incorporated into the version that Governor Baker signed just a few weeks ago. The next steps, he informed the packed room, include the BBA’s pilot Service Innovation Project, which will focus on the school-to-prison pipeline.
Smith then presented the BBA’s Thurgood Marshall Award, which honors private-practice attorneys for pro bono work. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Vice President & General Counsel Donald Savery accepted the award on behalf of the company’s legal department, for representing six children who came to the United States from Central America as unaccompanied minors. The pro bono project is a partnership with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), and AZULatinx, an employee resource group for Latinx staff members within Blue Cross. The team of attorneys, paralegals, and other staffers are doing all that they can to help these children start on a legal path to U.S. citizenship.
Smith also presented Prisoners’ Legal Services Executive Director Leslie Walker with the John G. Brooks Legal Services Award for her nonstop work to ensure that incarcerated people are treated with dignity and respect. Over her 17 years at the organization (soon coming to an end, as her retirement date approaches), Walker has lobbied, advocated, litigated, taught, and led a small but impactful staff to a series of meaningful victories. Walker has educated legislators and the public alike about inhumane treatment in prisons including solitary confinement, and the shackling of mothers giving birth. In her remarks, Walker urged guests not to adopt an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality about prisoners.
The BBA has a long a vibrant history of advocating for public policy change at the local, state, and federal level, and no matter how many engaged members or dedicated staff we have, most of these changes simply wouldn’t be possible without the support of the elected officials who cast the vote. That’s why we were proud to present Massachusetts State Senator Cynthia Creem with this year’s Distinguished Legislator Award. Senator Creem, the current Majority Leader in the State Senate, has spent over 30 years in various public offices, and said that serving on the conference committee for the recent criminal justice reform bill made her incredibly proud. She decried that for too many years the focus was only on punishment and not rehabilitation. What’s critical, she informed the crowd, is that we consider both the crime’s impact and the underlying causes that led the perpetrator to commit it. The reforms laid forth in the new law are moving Massachusetts ever closer to that ideal of justice.
To round off the evening, Adrian Walker gave a keynote speech, which focused mostly on his contributions to the Boston Globe’s recent series on race in Boston. As a columnist for the Globe’s Metro section since 1998, Walker has watched Boston evolve in many ways and remain stagnant in others. When first approached about working with the Spotlight Team on the series, Walker began thinking about the fact that Boston is a majority-minority city, but doesn’t feel like it. Many people want to think that Boston has moved beyond the ugly and virulent racism of the anti-bussing violence from the 1970s, and although a lot of the outright violence has subsided, racism has manifested and embedded itself in other ways.
The series covered sports, hospitals, colleges, power (including the practice of law), and the buildup of a burgeoning Seaport neighborhood that has done little to involve the city’s black community. Walker alluded to a shocking but accurate statistic from the series – one which prompted some readers to call and ask whether the Globe had made a mistake. The household median net worth is almost $250,000 in Greater Boston for white families, but it is only $8 for black families.
While Walker’s remarks included many hard truths, he also shared that he is optimistic based on the story’s reception. He has found his fellow Bostonians ready to confront serious, but not insurmountable, challenges.
“Improving Boston’s racial reality is in all our hands,” Walker said, adding that the first step is simply to be vigilant and notice inequities around us.
Near the close of his speech, Walker shared words from Kenyatta Savage, who was featured on the front page of the Globe as part of the series: “I’ve been talking to a wall for the last 20 years, and all of a sudden I feel like that wall has actually loosened so I can actually push it down,” he said. “You touched on some stuff that a lot of people have been going through. To use me as a cover [photo], it was like, ‘Thank you.’ ”
We would like to thank the evening’s attendees for joining us, and the event sponsors for their support.