Posts Categorized: SJC

Comment Round-Up: Update on the Recent Submissions on Proposed Rule Changes by the Business and Commercial Litigation Section

As we’ve often noted, the opportunity to comment on proposed amendments to various rules allows BBA members to leverage their particular expertise and offer specific, constructive feedback on items that influence their own practice of law. In addition, the courts have long shown an interest in taking a close look at these submissions by the Sections and often the concerns expressed in the comments are reflected in the final iterations of the rules.

The Business and Commercial Litigation Section has consistently been one of our most prolific contributors of comments on rule changes and the past few months have been no different. The hard-working “Comments Subcommittee,” made up of Paula BaggerDaniel Tighe, Brendan St. Amant, and John Bauer, with active oversight from the Section’s Co-Chairs, Brenda Sharton and Debra Squires-Lee, took the lead in producing the Section’s thorough and thoughtful comments over the last year.

Below, we highlight four comment submissions, beginning with the two most recent sets of comments submitted by the Section:

Proposed Amendments to the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure

Just this week, the BBA Executive Committee approved submission of comments on the proposed amendments to the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure.

The proposed amendments were drafted by the Appellate Rules Subcommittee, appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court Standing Advisory Committee on the Rules of Civil and Appellate Procedure. The Subcommittee was tasked with identifying proposals that would clarify the meaning and formatting of the rules, assist in the development of paperless processes, and encourage the just and speedy resolution of appeals.

Given the lengthy and technical nature of the amendments, representatives from interested sections were tasked with undertaking the review and drafting of the comments on behalf of their sections, with comments then redistributed for final review by the full Steering Committee. Paula Bagger and Daniel Tighe volunteered to tackle the lengthy proposed amendments and draft the comments on behalf of the Business and Commercial Litigation Section Steering Committee while Bethany Stevens did the same for the Criminal Law Section Steering Committee. Upon finalization, Paula Bagger and Bethany Stevens joined the Executive Committee to report on their comments.

Both the Business and Commercial Litigation Section and the Criminal Law Section expressed great appreciation for the great amount of work undertaken by the Standing Advisory Committee and the Appellate Rules Subcommittee to produce the amendments, and the BBA echoed this appreciation in the cover letter accompanying the comments. Overall, the Business and Commercial Litigation Section and the Criminal Law Section “were in agreement that the proposed amendments offered substantial improvements, especially by addressing technological advancements and changes to practice that have made the current rules obsolete and clarifying aspects of rules that were confusing and added difficulty for those who do not frequently appear before the Appeals Court or Supreme Judicial Court.” Both Sections then offered their own more technical suggestions for ways the proposed amendments could be tweaked to make them even clearer.

Proposed Amendments to the Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:11

In June, the BBA submitted comments on behalf of the Section in relation to proposed amendments to Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) Rule 1:11, Relative to the Disposal of Old Court Papers and Records.

The SJC Rules Committee solicited comments on the proposed amendments, which were drafted upon consideration by an SJC-appointed committee, on “whether changes were warranted regarding the scope of case records required to be retained permanently and whether any records might be retained electronically.” The proposed amendments offer a number of changes, including increased allowances for the use of electronic storage and the disposal of certain files, simplified notice requirements, and expansion of the rule to include the SJC and Appeals Court in addition to the Trial Court.

The comments drafted by the Steering Committee outlined a few of the strengths as well as a few of the ambiguities in the proposed amendments. For example, members praised the permissive nature of the rules, noting it was important that clerks are allowed discretion to retain those records they think important, even if they would be permitted to dispose of them. However, the comments also outlined those sections that could use some clarifying, including the lack of requirements related to “sampling” and the ambiguity in whether certain records that must be retained permanently must also be stored electronically.

Brendan St. Amant presented the Section comments before the BBA Executive Committee and Council, and following Brendan’s presentation, the BBA was struck by the potential significance of these rule changes. As a result, in the accompanying cover letter, President Carol Starkey stressed the need to balance the creation of an efficient mechanism for storing and disposing of records while also maintaining a great deal of deference to the historical significance of many legal documents, including recent documents, whose future historical value may not yet be fully evident.

We’ll be sure to keep you posted once the final approval of the amendments to SJC Rule 1:11 and Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure are announced.

In addition to these submissions, two final rules previously commented on by the Section were recently announced:

Board of Bar Overseers Rule 3.18 and Related Rules

Late last year, the Board of Bar Overseers (BBO) sought comment on proposed amendments to Rule 3.18 and related provisions of sections 2.8(b)(1), 2.13, 3.16, 3.17, 3.22(d), 3.32, and 4.9(a)(1) and (2). The proposed changes were an effort to clarify the allocation of authority between hearing officers and Board Members in ruling on certain motions. The amendments generally provide that when a hearing officer is appointed to a matter, they will have authority to decide most motions, but some motions will be reserved exclusively for Board Members, including motions by a respondent to dismiss charges, motions for a protective order, and motions on discovery.

In February, the BBA submitted comments on these proposed changes on behalf of the Business and Commercial Litigation Section and the Ethics Committee. The comments expressed unanimous support for these “welcome and necessary” amendments. The Section felt that certain motions, like those on protective orders and discovery, “are too important as a matter of due process to be left to the hearing committee members who may only hear one or two matters in their entire tenure.”

Last month, the SJC approved these amendments, which will be effective September 1, 2017.

Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure 26(b)(5)(A)

The same day we submitted comments on the proposed changes to BBO Rules, we also submitted comments on behalf of the Business and Commercial Litigation Section on Proposed Amendments to Rule 26 of the Mass. Rules of Civil Procedure. The proposed amendments would conform the Massachusetts rules on privilege logs to the federal rule, which, unlike the current Massachusetts rule, does not require a document-by-document log of privileged information, though parties are still required to describe the nature of the material withheld in enough detail for the other party to assess the merits of the withholding.

The Business and Commercial Litigation Section comments expressed a variety of views by members of the Section, including those that favored the proposed new rule and those who believed the present rule was more suitable to Massachusetts-specific courts and cases. For example, some members felt the new rule would address shortcomings in the current rule that made the process too time-consuming, expensive, and could be unfair for those parties with many more privileged documents, while others felt the current rule, though burdensome, offered greater and necessary safeguards for parties seeking the information. In addition, some members noted some discomfort with the rule’s lack of specific language providing for a judge’s ability to order production of a privilege log in certain circumstances. Though a judge could take that step without specific language in the rule, placing such authority in the rule itself would render a ruling of that type less extraordinary.

The SJC also recently announced the final amendments, effective September 1, 2017, to this rule. The final approved amendments remain largely the same as the proposed amendments, with the addition of one sentence, that reads “[t]he court, upon motion, may order the withholding party to provide such additional information as is necessary to assess the claim of privilege.” This addition helpfully offers the clarity sought by those members who thought the rule could benefit by the specific inclusion of the court’s ability to order the production of more information when appropriate.

The presentation on the Section’s comments both the BBO Rules and the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure to the BBA Executive Committee and Council in February was made by Paula Bagger (and, ICYMI, she will be, alongside Stephen Riden, the co-chair of the Business and Commercial Litigation Section Steering Committee in 2017 – 2018).

With the new program year only a few weeks away, we are excited to see all the future comments coming from the Business and Commercial Litigation Section and all the other sections at the BBA!

—Alexa Daniel
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

Chief Justice Gants Addresses the BBA Council

The Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) was once again kind enough to address the BBA Council at its most recent meeting. He spoke on a number of important issues facing Massachusetts, including criminal justice reform, the state budget, and civil legal aid.

From his appointment to the Superior Court two decades ago, to his appointment as Chief Justice of the SJC in 2014, and beyond, Chief Justice Gants has consistently shown his analytical rigor and intellectual scrupulousness. In addition to his unmatched legal analysis, he is well-known for his community outreach, regularly taking the time to address the public about the Massachusetts court system and the real impact it has on individual and community experiences.  Chief Justice Gants also has a long history of offering numerous platforms for discussion and critical insights on many of the causes near and dear to the BBA, including access to justice and pro bono legal services. He was a member of the SJC’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services and also served as co-chair of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission from 2010 to 2015. The BBA recognized Chief Justice Gants with the Citation of Judicial Excellence in 2012.

At the Council meeting, Chief Justice Gants spoke on:

Immigration Issues

Chief Justice Gants began by thanking BBA President Carol Starkey, and the BBA as a whole for the recent leadership shown in response to current events impacting immigrant communities. He noted that complex issues like these will likely not be going away anytime soon, and he is hoping to see members of bar associations stepping up and remembering why they chose to enter the legal profession in the first place. The Chief Justice also pointed to an instance in Texas where a woman was detained by ICE while filing for a protective order from her allegedly abusive boyfriend, noting that the courts in Massachusetts will be keeping a watchful eye on these issues. He remarked that even though these events may be happening far away, the impacts can still be experienced by Massachusetts residents and Massachusetts courts, potentially creating a chilling effect that discourages victims from pursuing redress. Once again, he noted how important it will be for lawyers, and specifically bar associations, to step up and reach out. Underserved populations need this outreach to ensure they understand the availability of legal assistance and know when and how to access their rights and seek assistance and justice through the courts. For its part, the court system has been sending the message that all are welcome and no one’s status will be questioned.

Criminal Justice Reform

Chief Justice Gants next discussed the Council of State Governments (CSG) report on criminal justice reform, which had been released earlier that morning.  Check out last week’s Issue Spot for our full run-down of the released report and a BBA event with an all-star panel discussing the final recommendations.  Similar to his last speech to the Council where he compared the budget process to a baseball game, Chief Justice Gants employed a sports analogy to describe the report, comparing the CSG process and report to a football game. He stated that the final report and proposed legislation were the equivalent of a first down: it advanced the ball down the field and did not require the team to resort to a punt. However, the CSG process did not produce a touchdown, so there is still more work to be done on criminal justice reform.  Overall, the Chief Justice saw the CSG procedure as a great learning opportunity, especially important as the previous nationwide reluctance to pursue substantial criminal justice system reform is beginning to shift and more and more other states are comprehensively addressing these issues. Finally, he provided that the CSG report and proposed legislation is particularly strong in certain areas, including its findings on wrap-around services and the specific reentry needs of 16 to 24 year olds that work to reduce barriers to housing, employment, and education. On that last point, the court system is developing a pilot project dedicated to those young people.

The Budget

Next, the Chief Justice addressed budget issues, beginning with a discussion of Governor Charlie Baker’s allocation of $1 million for a state-wide Housing Court. He noted that currently only two-thirds of the state has access to the Housing Court and that it “just makes sense” to extend access to the entire state. As the BBA has written in the past, proponents of a Housing Court expansion point to the expertise of the judges who are equipped to handle the range of housing issues, the specialists at Housing Court who offer mediation and save potential litigants time and money, and the special services in place that make the Court adept at serving pro se litigants and handling municipal code enforcement.  Additionally, the Housing Court operates at the lowest cost per case of any Trial Court department, making it an efficient option. Make sure to keep an eye out for future BBA updates on this issue.

Chief Justice Gants also addressed the Trial Court’s budget prospects. As we outlined a few weeks ago, the budget process is only just beginning, but the Governor called for a 1% increase in appropriations for the Judiciary for Fiscal Year 2018.  Chief Justice Gants specifically spoke about the likelihood of an increase in Probation staff in light of the CSG report that will call upon more comprehensive supervision to ease reentry and reduce recidivism. He also pointed out that the increase provided in the Governor’s budget would not be enough to allow for an expansion in specialty courts, including Veteran’s Treatment Courts, Drug Courts, Homelessness Courts, and Mental Health Courts. Overall, the Chief Justice noted that BBA support would be crucial on these budget issues, and the BBA has a long history of offering that support.

Civil Justice Reform

The Chief Justice concluded his remarks by reminding members of the Council of the recently-created “menu of options” now available that give lawyers more practice options and allow them to craft their own case in a way that makes the most sense for the particulars of the specific situation.  Chief Justice Gants stressed, as he did previously, that these increased options will only work if lawyers choose to employ them. In many other jurisdictions, the use of these options is imposed by the court, but the Chief Justice is hoping that here, more lawyers will step up and pursue the options independently now that they have the choice.

As expected, the Chief Justice offered important insights into a range of issues, displaying both his impressive expertise and his constant passion for reform that will improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accessibility of the Massachusetts court system.

—Alexa Daniel
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

 

 

BBA Government Relations Year in Review: Part I

As 2016 draws to a close, we wanted to take a quick look back at our year in Government Relations.  If you want to see a Boston Bar Association and Boston Bar Foundation-wide view of the world, I highly recommend checking out Our Year in Review, which provides both a look back and a look ahead at some of our biggest initiatives.

So what was on our minds in GR?  By the numbers, amicus cases ruled the day.  Roughly grouping our 63 Issue Spot posts of 2016 by subject matter, the numbers look like this:

  1. Amicus Cases (including Commonwealth v. Wade and Bridgeman v. District Attorney): 12 posts
  2. Criminal Justice Reform: 9 posts
  3. Rules Changes and BBA Comments thereon: 7 posts
  4. A three-way tie between: Court News, Diversity and Inclusion, and Budget Advocacy: 6 posts a piece
  5. Civil Legal Aid: 5 posts
  6. The remaining 12 posts cover an array of topics including the future of the legal profession, legislation of interest to certain Sections, and programs at the BBA.

Amicus Committee

So let’s start with the top – 2016 was a huge year for the BBA’s Amicus Committee.  Led by Co-Chairs Tony Scibelli, Barclay Damon, and Liz Ritvo, Brown Rudnick, the Committee celebrated the release of three major decisions in-line with our briefs, filed another brief in one of the most important currently pending cases, and received a BBA award that honored its history, marking 20 years of taking part in seminal cases.

  • March 10: BBA Seeks Justice for Vulnerable Youths Through a Two-Pronged Strategy – In early March, the SJC released its full opinion in Recinos v. Escobar. The ruling held in line with our brief, which we signed onto with a coalition of concerned organizations and individuals, and which was drafted by former BBA President Mary Ryan along with her team at Nutter, McClennen & Fish, LLP – BBA Business and Commercial Litigation Section Steering Committee member Cynthia Guizzetti (now at E Ink Corp.) and Mara O’Malley. It argued that the Probate and Family Court has equity jurisdiction over abused, abandoned, and neglected youths up to the age of 21 to enter the necessary findings as a predicate for status as special immigrant juveniles (SIJ’s).  It also made the case that the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights supports this sort of equitable remedy. The brief further argued that such individuals are “dependent on the court” to make such a finding because they have been mistreated and because such a finding is required to qualify for SIJ status.
  • June 23: Increasing Diversity in Legal Practice at the US Supreme Court – In June, the US Supreme Court released its decision in Fisher v. University of Texas (II), upholding the school’s race-conscious admissions policy with a finding that it does not violate the Equal Protection Clause. The Court reached the outcome we argued for in our amicus brief, drafted by BBA Secretary Jon Albano (who had previously drafted our brief in the related case known as Fisher I) and Sarah Paige, both of Morgan Lewis, that experimentation in admissions is necessary to balance the pursuit of diversity with constitutional requirements of equal treatment.  This ruling means that the University of Texas, as well as other schools across the country, may continue to experiment with admissions policies intended to create a more racially inclusive classroom, and society.

The outcome was truly a victory for access to justice and the practice of law.  We are proud to have played a role in helping to protect access to post-conviction DNA testing, a major tool in overturning wrongful convictions, and safeguarding one of the most important tenets of legal practice in attorney-client privilege.

  • October 26: BBA Amicus Advocates for Resolution in Dookhan Scandal – On October 24, we filed a brief, written by our Amicus Committee Co-Chairs, arguing for a so-called global remedy in Bridgeman v. District Attorney (SJC-12157), the latest case related to the Annie Dookhan/Hinton Drug Lab scandal. The remedy proposed in our brief would place the burden on the Commonwealth to re-prosecute within a set time period (to be determined by the Court) any Dookhan cases with dispositions adverse to the defendant that have not been re-adjudicated since 2012, when the scandal first came to light.  If cases are not re-prosecuted within that time period, the brief calls for their dismissal with prejudice, barring further prosecution.  The brief explains that the BBA’s interest in the case is twofold: to facilitate access to justice for all defendants in criminal cases and to ensure the timely, fair, and efficient administration of justice.  Not only will this global solution secure justice for the defendants, but it will also start to relieve the significant burden on the justice system, currently facing the prospect of addressing more than 20,000 unresolved cases individually.  Oral argument was held on November 16 and we look forward to a ruling from the court in the coming months.

Criminal Justice Reform

Always a major issue for us, criminal justice reform was the subject of frequent discussions in the Sections and amongst leadership, and this is likely only the beginning as we look forward to playing a large role in advocacy related to the forthcoming criminal justice reform package anticipated this legislative session.

  • February 4: Focus on Reducing Recidivism – In late January, we used the honoring of Roca, a community based non-profit organization committed to helping 17-to-24-year-olds succeed in re-integrating to society, at the 2016 BBA Adams Benefit (Reminder: please join us on January 28 for the 2017 Adams Benefit, honoring former SJC Chief Justice Margaret Marshall), as a springboard to discuss the BBA’s own efforts toward reducing recidivism. We discussed our longstanding opposition to mandatory minimums, and the possibility of bail reform, evidence-based risk assessment tools to help determine the security classifications of inmates behind bars, and their appropriate level of supervision upon release; as well as ways to reduce recidivism and promote successful re-entry of the 90-plus percent of those currently incarcerated who will ultimately return to society.
  • April 7: BBA Recommends Modernization and Reform of Wiretap Statute – Responding to concerns expressed by the SJC in decisions in both 2011 and 2014, and by the Attorney General in a 2015 statement, and to the simple fact that the wiretap statute, L. c. 272 §99 has existed in substantially the same form since 1968, even as technology has undergone revolutionary changes, the BBA’s Criminal Law Section, along with the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Section drafted a statement of principles for the Legislature, making a number of recommendations for potential revisions to the wiretap statute. In a May post, we detailed how a redrafted bill (H1487) incorporated many of these proposals.  The bill (final number H4313) ended session tied up in the House Committee on Ways and Means.  We will continue to advocate for amendments to the statute to incorporate the recommendations in our principles.
  • December 8: Discussing the Death Penalty – Recently, we reaffirmed our position in opposition to the death penalty in a new medium – a podcast that shares the same Issue Spot name as this blog. This post discusses our 40-year history advocating on this issue, including our 2013 report opposing the federal death penalty.  Our position is, and always has been, based on principled analysis:
    • The inevitability of error in criminal cases makes it overwhelmingly likely that reliance on the death penalty will lead to the execution of innocent defendants;
    • In practice, the death penalty has a disproportionate impact on members of racial and ethnic minorities; and;
    • Death penalty prosecutions are more expensive, more subject to prolonged delays, and unlikely to produce a different result than cases where the prosecution seeks life without parole.

Stay tuned for part two next week when we look back at the role we played in promoting diversity in the legal profession, advocating for civil legal aid funding, and improving legislation and practice rules!

Happy New Year!

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

Discussing the Death Penalty

As you likely know, the BBA has long opposed the death penalty, for more than 40 years to be exact.  Our reasoning is based on sound and practical principles – that the death penalty simply too fraught with peril, too likely to lead to the execution of the innocent, too likely to result in discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities, and too expensive and time-consuming—to play any role in our criminal-justice system.  We recently reaffirmed this stance and extended it to the federal death penalty with our 2013 report, The BBA and the Death Penalty and now we are proud to announce the release of the BBA’s first ever podcast, which takes the discussion of this position to the next level. With conviced murderer Gary Lee Sampson currently facing the death penalty at the Moakley Courthouse, the Co-Chairs of the BBA’s Death Penalty Working Group that produced that report, Martin Murphy (Foley Hoag) and retired Superior Court Judge Margaret Hinkle (now at JAMS), discuss their experiences with the death penalty and on the Working Group, and BBA President Carol Starkey shares her thoughts.

We have advocated against the death penalty through public education, such as in the aforementioned report and our 2015 press release urging the Department of Justice to seek a life sentence without parole instead of the death penalty for Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  We have made the same point when the Legislature has considered reinstating the death penalty and in amicus briefs including:

  • 1975 –Commonwealth v. O’Neal – Commonwealth v. O’Neal concerned the constitutionality of a law mandating use of the death penalty for a murder committed in the course of rape or attempted rape. The brief argued that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent for a rapist-murderer because such defendants would not consider variations in punishments, given their twisted and psychotic mental state. The brief also established mainstays of the BBA’s arguments against the death penalty: the possibility of mistake, the disparate impact on minorities, and the massive expenses inherent in pursuing the punishment. The Court rejected the state’s unconstitutional mandatory death-penalty provision.
  • 1984 –Commonwealth v. Colon-Cruz – Our brief challenged the constitutionality of a 1982 amendment to Article 26 of the Massachusetts Constitution, permitting the death penalty in the state, and related statutes providing for the imposition and execution of the death penalty in certain murder cases. In addition to reiterating our major tenets, the brief explained the major fiscal, emotional, and professional impacts of the death penalty cases on members of the bar:

Historically, the vast majority of capital defendants have been indigent. The immense defense costs thus fall on the Commonwealth and the private bar, especially through pro bono contributions.  It is unfair to impose the extraordinary burden of capital defense, often involving 8-10 years of complex litigation, on only a small segment of the bar, and life is too precious to be left to the defense of underpaid volunteers.

The psychological and emotional burdens on counsel, particularly on the defense, are immense. Aside from the onerous length and complexity of cases, defense lawyers are torn between close relationships with their clients and wanting to distance themselves in case of a death sentence.  In addition, prosecutors and defense counsel alike face unique community pressures.

Death’s severity and finality as a penalty and defense counsel’s failure to understand the nature and use of a bifurcated trial regularly lead to claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Such claims degrade the bar, but are inevitable when death is at issue, a client poor, and an attorney court-appointed and dependent on the judiciary for a fee.

The SJC invalidated the constitutional amendment and statutes, in line with our brief, finding that they violated Article 12 of the Declaration of Rights of the Massachusetts Constitution by impermissibly burdening a defendant’s right against self-incrimination and his right to a jury trial.

  • 2005 –S. v. Darryl Green – The BBA submitted an amicus brief in this case that combined our opposition to the death penalty with advocacy in support of both access to justice and diversity. This brief on the federal death penalty, eight years before our aforementioned Report formally declaring opposition to the federal death penalty, was drafted by David Apfel and Julie Wade of Goodwin Procter LLP (now Goodwin).

The brief explains that African-American defendants in the Eastern Division of Massachusetts are likely to face an all-white jury, given population statistics, and that social-sciences statistics show that African-American defendants are far more likely to be convicted and sentenced to death when facing an all-white jury.  It details how African-American jurors simply bring a different perspective to their role – they are more likely to: believe minority witnesses are credible, harbor lingering doubts about defendants’ guilt, view defendants as remorseful, and consider mitigating evidence.  Furthermore, the brief opposes the District’s proposed solution – the empanelment of two separate juries: one to determine guilt and the other, totally different in composition, to determine whether to impose the death penalty.  It states that this “remedy” is “a mere baby step” and “little more than a modest gesture” that does not in any way guarantee fairness.

The Court ruled in line with this argument, finding that the District Court’s suggestion of multiple juries relied on a misinterpretation of the Federal Death Penalty Act, but it did not address the concerns over disparate racial impact, as expressed in the brief.

Despite a general trend away from capital punishment recently, in the last few days, the death penalty has again made headlines.  Georgia executed its U.S. leading ninth inmate of the year.  The Georgia case described in the article suffers from some of the hallmarks we’ve highlighted in our opposition.  For example, the crime took place in March 1990, but the defendant was not sentenced to death until his second trial eleven years later.  Even more concerning, the case raises major due process issues:

[Defendant William Sallie’s] lawyers argued that he should, once again, be granted a new trial because a woman who ultimately ended up on the jury during the second trial lied during jury selection and failed to disclose her own history of domestic violence, messy divorces and child custody fights — traumatic events that they said were “bizarrely similar” to Sallie’s case.

But no court ever properly considered the alleged juror bias, his lawyers argued in a recent legal challenge, because the issue wasn’t discovered until more than a decade later, and courts had ruled that Sallie’s petitions raising that evidence were procedurally barred because he missed a filing deadline by eight days at a time when he didn’t have a lawyer.

The defense team also made those arguments in a clemency petition to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, urging it to act as a “fail safe” against a miscarriage of justice. But the board, the only authority in Georgia with power to commute a death sentence, declined to spare Sallie’s life after a clemency hearing Monday.

Earlier in the week, Florida appealed the state Supreme Court’s interpretation of a US Supreme Court decision finding unconstitutional the state’s system of allowing judges, instead of juries, to find the facts needed for a death sentence.  The US Supreme Court held that this gave judges too much power, violating the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.  From the Miami Herald:

At the time of the January [US Supreme Court] ruling, Florida’s system allowed jurors by a simple majority to recommend the death penalty. Judges would then make findings of fact that “sufficient” aggravating factors, not outweighed by mitigating circumstances, existed for the death sentence to be imposed, a process known as “weighing.”

Florida lawmakers hurriedly rewrote the law this spring, requiring jurors to unanimously find that at least one aggravating factor exists before a defendant can be eligible for a death sentence and requiring at least 10 jurors to recommend death for the sentence to be imposed.

The Florida Supreme Court then found the new law unconstitutional, because it did not require unanimity in imposing the death penalty (something Judge Hinkle experienced firsthand in a Florida death penalty case and discusses in the podcast).  The state’s attorney general is appealing the ruling to the US Supreme Court for discretionary review.

As always, we’ll be on the lookout for latest developments in capital punishment and continue our advocacy in opposition.  We hope you enjoy the podcast and we’ll keep you posted on the forthcoming second episode which will cover our role in a major state scandal…

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

Stepping Up: Bridgeman Argument and the BBA’s Mission

We hope by now you have seen BBA President Carol Starkey’s letter to our members, in which she makes the case that no matter how challenging we may find the tone of the national dialogue, the BBA remains committed to its mission.  This includes our work to assure the protection of due process rights (including for non-citizens, who may be particularly concerned of late about their rights under the law), freedom from discrimination, and access to justice for all.  One place we see these tenets in action is in our amicus work.  From promoting diversity and inclusion to opposing capital punishment to protecting access to justice and attorney-client privilege, we have been, and we will remain, at the forefront of many of the biggest issues in the Commonwealth and country.

In the latest example, we watched oral argument this week on Bridgeman v. District Attorney for Suffolk County (SJC-12157).  Our amicus brief argues for a global solution in the so-called Annie Dookhan cases—specifically that the Court should vacate, without prejudice, the adverse disposition on all drug related charges where Dookhan was the primary or secondary chemist, but that the Commonwealth should be granted a period of one year, or longer as the Court deems appropriate, to allow the District Attorneys to re-prosecute individual charges.  Any charges not re-prosecuted within that time period should be automatically dismissed with prejudice and further prosecution barred.

This solution places the burden on the Commonwealth, rather than on Dookhan defendants, in addressing the adverse disposition affected by Dookhan’s misconduct.  It is based in principles central to the BBA’s mission – access to justice and the fair administration of justice.  Read more about our brief and the background of the Annie Dookhan scandal in our recent blog post.

Beyond the arguments contained in the BBA brief, its mere existence was cited at oral argument by Matt Segal, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Massachusetts (ACLUM), as an example of the bar stepping up to meet the many challenges raised by the Dookhan scandal.  Segal’s answer came in response to Justice David Lowy, who had asked whether the bar could “step up” to assist an overburdened Committee for Public Services (CPCS) in handling the remaining unresolved Dookhan cases, which we now know amount to upwards of 20,000.

Segal went on to explain that while the private bar, CPCS, and the courts have all done their part in a tremendous effort toward resolving the mess left by Dookhan, any further “stepping up,” such as through lawyer volunteers to represent Dookhan defendants, would be an inappropriate bail-out for the Commonwealth, which should bear sole responsibility for fixing the problem.  Segal reminded the Court that, this case arises from the Commonwealth’s evidence, the very evidence that in turn has been tainted by a Commonwealth employee.  We couldn’t agree more, and our brief makes that point as well.

The justices and attorneys also probed a number of other issues pertinent to our brief, mission, and Presidential letter:

  • At what point does systemic misconduct rise to a level meriting the sort of global remedy contemplated here? Attorneys for Bridgeman argued that the sheer number of outstanding cases was important in implicating the integrity of the criminal justice system, conceding that if misconduct affected only one or even, say, 40 cases, they would have more confidence in the type of solution proposed by the District Attorneys of notifying defendants and handling each of their cases individually.  The timing also played a role, as more than four years after the scandal came to light, Bridgeman’s attorneys were understandably unwilling to accept as a viable solution the possibility of re-sending notices to Dookhan defendants giving them the option of challenging their convictions because it would violate principles of timely administration of justice.

Attorneys for the District Attorney’s Office argued that the systemic misconduct had been and would continue to be effectively remedied through the diligent work of many individuals and institutions in the state.

  • Can the justice system handle a case-by-case review of affected defendants? CPCS attorney Benjamin Keehn argued that his agency simply did not have the capacity or funding to handle the volume of cases that would be presented if even a fraction of the defendants seek to exercise their rights to try to challenge their convictions.  The District Attorney’s Office countered that these concerns were speculative as it was up to defendants to come forward and based on early returns, few seem to be doing so.  Defendants argued that this was due to shortcomings in the notice the DA’s Offices sent to defendants, because a large majority of defendants would be expected to come forward if they received and understood the notice.

The District Attorneys claimed that notice had been adequately provided and explained their contention that defendants were affirmatively choosing not to challenge their convictions, an assertion that was met with skepticism from Justice Geraldine Hines.  They also argued that a decision in a prior Dookhan case, Commonwealth v. Scott, 467 Mass. 336 (2014), required defendants to demonstrate a reasonable probability that knowledge of Dookhan’s misconduct would have materially influenced his decision to tender a guilty plea.  A global solution would, they argued, undermine this requirement.

  • What role do collateral consequences play? Both Chief Justice Ralph Gants and Justice Barbara Lenk seemed clearly focused on the indirect impacts that potentially-tainted convictions are having, and may yet have, on Dookhan defendants.  Of particular note is whether they may be susceptible to deportation as a result: Gants pointed out that while a case outcome of Continuance Without a Finding (CWOF) may not technically be an adverse disposition in the state, it could have grave implications for a defendant’s federal immigration status.  Lenk later hit on the same point, explaining that Dookhan defendants could unjustly face deportation or other collateral consequences, such as challenges finding housing or jobs, as a result of such a conviction.

The BBA has considered such collateral consequences before in relation to this case and criminal justice reform generally.  We are continuing that conversation and look forward to taking an active role in the upcoming legislative session, when we anticipate criminal justice reform legislation based in part on the recommendations of the Council of State Governments’ review of Massachusetts laws.

We are extremely proud of the work of our Amicus Committee on this case.  They represent one small slice of the BBA’s membership, but, as with so many of our volunteers, their work touches directly on our core values.  As President Starkey described, we are dedicated to our work supporting meaningful access to justice and protecting due process, and we hope you will join us in that commitment.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

BBA Meets with the Chief Justices

We do it every fall.  Because of the primary importance to the BBA of the judicial system in Massachusetts, the incoming BBA President meets each year with the chief judges at every level—the heads of the SJC and the Appeals Court, the US District Court, Bankruptcy Court, and Circuit of Appeals, the Chief Justice and Administrator of the Trial Court (together), and the leaders of each of the Trial Court’s seven departments: Superior Court, District Court, Boston Municipal Court, Housing Court, Juvenile Court, Land Court, and Probate & Family Court.

As you can imagine, these thirteen meetings take up a great deal of the President’s time.  But the effort is always worthwhile, for the opportunity it provides to discuss our mutual plans priorities for the coming year and where they overlap, to reaffirm our commitment to adequate funding and other support necessary to enable the Massachusetts courts to maintain their preeminent position in the nation, and to promote a free-flowing back-and-forth throughout the year.

BBA President Carol Starkey recently wrapped up her chief-judge meetings, and, as usual, some common themes emerged:

Budget funding

Funding for the Trial Court is always one of the BBA’s top priorities and a focus of our advocacy at the State House.  The Court has recovered well from the budget setbacks that were necessitated by the Great Recession, becoming leaner and more efficient.  But recent years have found budget-writers in the Governor’s Office and the Legislature tightening their belts once again, and the courts have not been entirely spared.

For the current fiscal year (FY17), the Trial Court’s final budget of $639 million represents $15.4 million less than what they would have required to maintain level services.  As a result, they are making do by putting off some hiring, launching an early-retirement program, and accelerating efforts to do more with less, such as by shifting staff among courthouses, sessions, and responsibilities.

This budget crunch is taking its toll throughout the system, and we heard from several chief judges about its impact in their courts.  Chief Justice Paul Dawley, who oversees 62 courthouses in the District Court system—many of them aging badly—knows as well as anyone how urgent the need is for adequate court funding.

Online access to court records

This past year, the Trial Court issued a new rule on public access to court records on-line.  The process was challenging, as these debates are always fraught with tension over the competing interests of transparency and privacy.  The rules seek to strike the proper balance by creating limited exceptions to the general rule providing for accessibility.  Criminal cases, for instance, come with their own set of concerns, and the Court took steps to ensure that access to information on those cases did not undermine either the letter or the spirit of recent changes to laws on criminal offender record information (CORI)—changes designed to promote successful re-entry of ex-offenders.

Beyond that, the Court recognized that on-line access rules are a work in progress and that a one-size-fits-all approach will not succeed: The new rules provide for both a working group to oversee and study their implementation and for standing orders within each department that address their unique concerns.  (In fact, just this week, the Probate & Family Court followed up with a standing order rendering both docket entries and parties’ addresses in a broad range of cases unavailable through the on-line portal.)  Both the opportunity and the challenge presented to the judiciary, and court users, as records move on-line are clearly on the minds of many of the chiefs we met with.

Vacancies on the bench

We’ve written here before about how critical it is that qualified candidates apply for judgeships—and that lawyers who work with such people encourage them to do so.  Right now, several court departments are facing significant shortfalls on their benches, and getting more applicants is one piece of the puzzle in filling those seats.

With 7 vacancies (out of 49) expected by the end of this year, Chief Justice Angela Ordoñez of the Probate & Family often has to place herself on special committees, rather than ask one of her overburdened judges to take on such work as well.  At the Superior Court, Chief Justice Judith Fabricant has 13 openings and sees 7 more coming by the end of 2017.

In all, the Trial Court has more than 50 judicial vacancies at the moment.  And while nearly half of that gap is being filled, for now, by recall judges, the need is still great.  The Governor’s office, the Judicial Nominating Commission, and the Governor’s Council are all hard at work, playing their respective roles in nominating, vetting, and confirming qualified candidates, but we will need to keep an eye on the situation.

One aspect of the process that all players are focused on is diversity among judges—racial and ethnic diversity, as well as geographic diversity, gender balance, and a mix of backgrounds in terms of practice area and setting.  Several chiefs told us they, too, are keeping a close eye on the diversity of their judges.  Chief Ordoñez is taking on the problem by addressing the early end of the pipeline—pairing small groups of lawyers as mentors with minority students at not only local law schools but also colleges and even high schools, to help them see the law as a potential career path.

Judicial evaluations

Each year we hear the same appeal from multiple chief judges: Please urge practitioners in their courts to fill out and submit judicial-evaluation forms!  The information they produce can be invaluable in helping judges improve and making the chiefs aware of topics for continued trainings.

We know that some lawyers have concerns about the forms—that they aren’t used by the courts, that responses that could be read as criticism will make their way back to the judge in question with enough particulars to reveal the respondent’s identity.  But the chiefs take pains to stress to us, time and again, that they do indeed rely on the forms, and that they make every effort to maintain confidentiality by scrubbing details before sharing them.

We have pledged to the chief judges that we will continue to help them with the evaluation process.  At the same time, we are always interested in any questions or hesitations you may have about it, so please let us know!  The chiefs are eager as well to hear informally, through the BBA, of any problems that have come to our attention, whether with individuals or more generally.

LAR

Another topic that came up time and again was limited-assistance representation (LAR), through which an attorney can take on a client for discrete parts of a case, without being tied to the client for the entirety of the case.  The BBA is a strong supporter of LAR as a way to bridge the justice gap that leaves too many litigants without the means to pay for counsel yet unable to qualify for assistance from legal-services providers.  It can also help new lawyers establish and grow a practice.

We are always seeking ways to help educate attorneys on LAR; we’ve conducted many trainings on it, and we are planning more.  (We also recently submitted comments on new rules bringing LAR to Superior Court for the first time.)  Our meetings with chief judges are a chance to assess how well LAR is working in their courts, to learn which types of cases are best suited for LAR in each court, and to ask how the BBA can further promote the program.  We have also relayed fears shared by some would-be LAR practitioners that they will be unable to extricate themselves from a case after they’ve finished the limited work they signed on to handle.

According to Chief Justice Roberto Ronquillo, the Boston Municipal Court sees many cases (e.g., collections matters) that can be settled in one day with the assistance of counsel—yet often at least party is unrepresented.  He also offered insight into LAR from a trial judge’s perspective, giving us useful advice on how to increase their awareness of LAR as an option to suggest to parties.

At the Land Court, where Chief Justice Judith Cutler presides, judges frequently recommend LAR.  Yet they’ve encountered some problems in how it’s worked in practice—problems they were keen to get our help with.  Specifically, they’d like to see LAR attorneys help with a case earlier in the process.  A simple consultation with an LAR attorney at the outset can help prevent further problems down the line.  Too often, pro-se litigants fail to even respond to motions, only to seek counsel late in the game.  There is simply too much at stake in cases before the Land Court for that be a beneficial approach, and Chief Cutler is eager to see such problems averted.

Beyond these broad themes, the judges raised issues that are affecting their courts individually.  For example, Chief Justice Amy Nechtem of the Juvenile Court spoke with pride about the work they’re doing to address racial disparities.  Chief Justice Timothy Sullivan thanked us for our advocacy on behalf of expansion of his Housing Court to statewide jurisdiction—a battle that will continue in the new year.

From Chief Justice Scott Kafker, we learned of his initiatives to help Appeals Court justices work through their caseloads more efficiently and to get cases ready more quickly.

When we sat down with SJC Chief Justice Ralph Gants, it was clear that the state’s on-going effort to study our criminal-justice system, in conjunction with the Council of State Governments (CSG), was occupying much of his thinking.  Chief Gants, along with Governor Charlie Baker and the Legislature’s two leaders, was a signatory to the letter inviting CSG to assist in this broad review of policies and practices, and, like the others, he is a member of the steering committee that is guiding their work.

CSG anticipates filing a report with recommendations by the end of this year, in time for legislation to be filed at the start of the 2017-18 legislative session, and Chief Gants foresees a role—as do we—for the BBA to play in analyzing and commenting on the report and resulting bills.

Our meetings with the chief judges in the federal system tend to highlight different issues.  The Bankruptcy judges (whom we met with as a group, led by Chief Judge Melvin Hoffman) were proud of their new local bankruptcy rules and asked us to spread the word.  Chief Judge Patti Saris told us the US District Court is looking into developing its own local rules of civil procedure.  At both of these meetings, we heard laments about the difficulties new lawyers face in first passing the bar and then establishing themselves in their careers.  And Chief Judge Jeffrey Howard of the First Circuit Court of Appeals shared with us that while his court has made advances in technology, it’s difficult to keep up.  As a result, some attorneys bring their own equipment, which can put pro-se litigants at a disadvantage.

Finally, we had a bittersweet meeting with Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey and Court Administrator Harry Spence, because the latter will be retiring this April.  He will clearly be racing through the finishing line, however, and he and Chief Carey updated us on a variety of projects they have before them, including training for staff on implicit bias, a restructuring of personnel to upgrade security, and the Court’s 20-year plan for capital spending to set priorities for new construction.

These annual meetings provide a window into the thinking of the leadership at the judiciary, and we will continue to share with you what we learn.

— Michael Avitzur
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association

Partners in Justice: The Bar and the State of the Courts Address

SJC Chief Justice Ralph Gants was a model of efficiency last Thursday, managing to attend our Annual Meeting Luncheon where he saw our Amicus Committee honored for 20 years of outstanding advocacy and heard a keynote address from his friend and former law school classmate Professor David Wilkins shortly before giving his annual State of the Judiciary Address in the Great Hall of the Adams Courthouse.  His speech created some headlines (see e.g. Boston Globe, CommonWealth, WBUR, Mass Lawyers Weekly) with an announcement that the Courts would be launching a study on racial disparities in imprisonment statistics.  However, that was only a small fraction of the substance covered at the event, which also featured speeches by Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula Carey and Court Administrator Harry Spence.  Between the three addresses, the speakers discussed how the Courts have developed and changed in recent years and provided a road map for where they are headed.  We are excited for the future prospects in store as these dynamic leaders have made tremendous strides in recent years to improve legal practice and access to justice.

Reflecting on the Last Four Years

Court Administrator Spence, giving his last address at this event before his five-year term ends in April, spoke about the effectiveness of his collaboration with Chief Justice Carey.  The Trial Court has indeed made great strides under their leadership including:

  1. Installing MassCourts in every courthouse to serve as a unified case management system, the first step to a “fully automated digital operation,” which the courts are aiming to complete by the end of 2019.
  2. Adopting evidence-based practices and risk assessment tools in the Probation Department.
  3. Combatting the opioid crisis through drug courts whose graduates are nearly two times less likely to recidivate than defendants in drug-related cases in other courts.
  4. Opening six court service centers to assist pro se litigants.
  5. Improving the capacity and capabilities of the Trial Court’s Facilities Management and Security Departments to assure safety and security in courthouses that continue to serve the public despite a severe shortage of capital investment.
  6. Implementing professional hiring and review procedures to assure highly qualified and professional court staffs.

Spence acknowledged the culture that paved the way for these and other changes, describing the 6,300 court employees as a “community that is committed to working in partnership with each other to improve the quality of justice.”  He described the Court’s commitment to constant improvement, driven by data gathering and analysis, and the increasing distribution of leadership points within what used to be a purely hierarchical structure.

We applaud Administrator Spence for his remarkable devotion to these causes and the incredible strides he has helped the Trial Court take in a short period of time.  We look forward to welcoming his replacement in the spring who we hope will meet the incredible expectations Spence has established for the position.

Looking to the Future

Chief Justice Carey spoke about her hopes and goals for the coming years.  Foremost, the Courts will focus on four “umbrella themes or principles:”

  • Continuous improvement
  • Racial and ethnic disparities
  • Public trust and confidence, and
  • The user experience

She explained that the Trial Court will be looking at its policies and practices to examine how decisions are made in cases and court administration in order to improve the administration of justice and ensure public safety.  This includes a number of initiatives aimed at increasing access to justice such as:

  • Expanding Court Service Centers which help pro se individuals navigate the court system.
  • Promoting the increased use of limited assistance representation, whereby clients can hire attorneys to assist them with a select part of their case.
  • Continuing to develop the language access plan to assure that everyone can read and understand important forms and documents.
  • Examining court fines and fees and the impact they have on certain populations.
  • Supporting the work of Specialty Courts which help defendants address the issues underlying criminal behavior in order to reduce recidivism.

The Chief Justice is also thinking about the court user experience, implementing trainings on domestic violence for judges, clerks, and court staff and the “Signature Counter Experience” program for all clerks’ offices which aims to instill best services practices for interactions with litigants, lawyers, law enforcement and other court house guests.

She closed by applauding the bar for its continued support and collaboration.  We look forward to continuing these efforts and look forward to all of the positive changes she has in store for the Trial Court.

The SJC Chief Justice Weigh-In

SJC Chief Justice Ralph Gants combined the two views, looking at the Court system today, where it’s been, and where he hopes it will go.  He began by acknowledging recent major changes as three justices were replaced with new appointees.

Next, he followed-up on a major issue from his 2014 address, the creation of expanded options aimed at streamlining civil litigation across court departments.  In the last year, the Superior, District, Boston Municipal, Probate and Family, and Land Courts all assembled working groups that proposed rules and practice changes that have the potential to save lawyer’s time and client’s money with more efficient practice.  The BBA played an active role in many of these, offering comments (read our recent blog posts on our comments to the Land Court and Superior Court).

Chief Justice Gants noted that the SJC just approved the final Superior Court rule changes that would allow parties to request an early nonbinding judicial assessment of a case, a case management conference, the immediate scheduling of a trial date, earlier pretrial deadlines, limits on discovery, and other opportunities to reduce the cost of litigation and obtain a quicker resolution.  It is now up to you all to take advantage of these changes.  In conversations at our Steering Committee meetings, we commonly heard that though people might not have articulable concerns about certain of these measures, they were skeptical that lawyers would use them (or that their clients would stand for them).  We hope you will give them a second look and try to incorporate them into your practice.

The Chief then turned his attention to access to justice issues.  As mentioned above, he made his biggest media splash by unveiling a plan to have Harvard Law School Dean and member of the BBA Statewide Task Force Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts, Martha Minow, lead a team to lead an independent research team to explore reasons for racial and ethnic disparity in the incarceration rate in Massachusetts.  While we are certainly excited at the findings of this report, the Chief Justice also covered a host of other access to justice issue of similar import.  He spoke about how the Courts will continue to examine the fines and fees associated with the justice system to make sure that they are not overburdening those who can least afford it.  The Courts will also attempt to continue expanding Court Service Centers to assist pro se litigants and Housing Court Statewide (with our help) to assure that the entire state can access this valuable legal resource.

As always, we look forward to continuing to work with the courts on these and other initiatives, and in particular, we share the Chief Justices’ enthusiasm to review the forthcoming criminal justice reform proposals borne out of the Council of State Governments’ comprehensive study of Massachusetts criminal justice policies.  Quite simply, we will strive to live up to the title he bestowed to the entire bar, to be the Courts’ “partner in the pursuit of justice.”

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

BBA Applauds SJC for Enhancing Attorneys’ Roles in Judicial Ethics

Yesterday, the BBA submitted comments to the SJC voicing its support for proposed amendments to SJC Rule 3:11, which establishes and governs the Committee on Judicial Ethics (CJE).  This rule underwent substantial changes last year, in which the BBA was involved.  At that time, we submitted a letter noting our support for the changes and also requesting some clarifications for how certain procedures would run.  The current proposed revisions seem to be in line with that request, specifically shedding light on processes and expanding privileges for how bar associations can be involved in seeking ethics opinions and advisories.

The 2015 revisions to SJC Rule 3:11 laid out a multi-tiered system of ethics advice, whereby judges can request Informal or Letter Opinions from the CJE and the SJC has superseding authority to issue Ethics Advisory opinions on its own initiative or at the request of a judge, lawyer, or group of lawyers or judges.  The current proposed revisions extend the right to request Informal Opinions to organizations or associations of lawyers or judges.  This means that bar associations will now benefit from an expanded ability to request opinions related to judicial ethics questions and at multiple levels, allowing for greater opportunity for review of any one issue.  We are confident that this proposed change will benefit the profession and practice of law in Massachusetts and thank the SJC for their thoughtful response to our 2015 letter.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

BBA Amicus Advocates for Resolution in Dookhan Scandal

On Monday, the BBA filed an amicus brief in Bridgeman v. District Attorney (SJC-12157), the latest case pertaining to the misconduct of Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Hinton Drug Laboratory chemist Annie Dookhan.  Our brief, written by our Amicus Committee Co-Chairs, Elizabeth Ritvo (Brown Rudnick) and Anthony Scibelli (Barclay Damon) argues for a global solution, that the Court should vacate, without prejudice, the adverse disposition on all drug related charges where Dookhan was the primary or secondary chemist, but that the Commonwealth should be granted a period of at least one year, or longer as the Court deems appropriate, to allow the District Attorneys to re-prosecute individual charges.  Any charges not re-prosecuted within that time period should be automatically dismissed with prejudice and further prosecution barred.

This solution places the burden on the Commonwealth, rather than on Dookhan defendants, in addressing the adverse disposition affected by Dookhan’s misconduct.  It is based in principles central to the BBA’s mission – access to justice and the fair administration of justice.

Background

In 2012, stories of misconduct at the Hinton Drug Lab first broke.  Soon, news stories revealed that Dookhan had engaged in criminal misconduct regarding drug evidence seized in connection with thousands of Massachusetts state and federal criminal cases.  Specifically, Dookhan mishandled drug samples, failed to conduct tests on samples she nevertheless labelled as controlled substances, contaminated unknown suspected drug samples with known drugs before running tests to identify those unknown drugs, falsified evidence logs and reports regarding drug testing and quality control steps regarding laboratory equipment, and bypassed mandatory office procedures.

In December 2012, Dookhan was indicted on 27 criminal counts, including obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence, and perjury.  In November 2013, she pled guilty to all 27 counts and was sentenced to 3 to 5 years in prison, from which she was recently released.  In the meantime, the entire justice system has struggled with how to handle the fallout.  Dookhan could not identify the specific cases where she engaged in all of this malfeasance, and it has been impossible to independently determine the specific cases at issue.  Some affected cases involve multiple defendants; some defendants have multiple affected cases.  The most recent numbers submitted by the ACLU and CPCS indicate that there are about 24,000 outstanding cases with adverse dispositions (conviction, plea, CWOF) where Dookhan was either the primary or secondary chemist.  These numbers were derived from lists submitted by all seven of the DA offices that prosecuted Dookhan cases.  These cases involve about 18,000 individual defendants (some have multiple cases).

Effect on the Justice System

In response to the Dookhan scandal, in October 2012, the Chief Justice of the Superior Court assigned specific judges in seven counties to preside over special “drug lab sessions” to deal with post-conviction filings by defendants who had cases where Dookhan worked on controlled substance samples.  From October 15 to November 28, 2012, the judges presiding over the drug lab sessions held 589 hearings, which placed a significant burden on the courts.  In November 2012, the Chief Justice of the Superior Court also appointed five retired Superior Court judges as “special judicial magistrates” to preside over post-conviction proceedings regarding the Dookhan scandal.  The enumerated powers of these special magistrates included handling arraignments, setting bail, supervising discovery, and conducting hearings on motions.  Over six weeks in the fall of 2012, Superior Court judges held 589 hearings, and in the following three months, special magistrates held over 900 hearings.  These hearings were targeted to handle cases of affected individuals who were still in custody at the time, and primarily dealt with motions to either vacate or stay sentences.  However, these numbers (though very significant and reflective of the hard work of the magistrates), involved only a relatively small fraction of the cases affected by the Dookhan scandal.  The outcomes of these cases were mixed, with some defendants receiving stays and vacated convictions, others not, and some cases pleading out.

As these cases started to be litigated, several appellate decisions by the SJC created at least a partial framework for resolving the cases.

In Commonwealth v. Charles, 466 Mass. 63 (2013), the SJC resolved certain questions concerning the powers of the special magistrates.  For example the SJC held that the special magistrates did not have authority to allow a defendant’s motion to stay the execution of his sentence pending a motion for a new trial, but could report findings of fact and law to a judge of the Superior Court (who did have such authority).  Also, special magistrates could conduct plea colloquies and report findings about the voluntariness of the proposed pleas (and the factual basis for the pleas) to a judge of the Superior Court.

In Commonwealth v. Scott, 467 Mass. 336 (2014), the defendant pled to sufficient facts and entered into a plea agreement with the Commonwealth.  He was charged with possession of cocaine, and the Hinton drug lab certificate identified the controlled substance as cocaine.  After the Dookhan scandal came to light, the defendant filed a motion to vacate his plea, which was granted by the lower court.  The Commonwealth appealed, arguing in part that the defendant has an obligation to show that there was specific misconduct in his case, i.e., that Dookhan had falsified his test results in some way.  In response, the SJC held two things. First, in any case where Dookhan signed a drug certificate as either the primary or secondary chemist in a defendant’s case, the defendant is entitled to a conclusive presumption that Dookhan’s misconduct occurred in that case, that it was egregious, and that it is attributable to the Commonwealth.  Second, the defendant must still demonstrate a reasonable probability that knowledge of Dookhan’s misconduct would have materially influenced his decision to tender a guilty plea.  The defendant’s case was remanded for proceedings on the second issue.  In short, the SJC established a global standard for finding misconduct, but still required a specific showing that knowledge of the misconduct would have influenced his decision to plea.

In the first Bridgeman case (Bridgeman v. Suffolk DA, 471 Mass. 465 (2015)), the SJC established other principles to guide resolution of the Dookhan cases.  In that case, the petitioners filed suit asking the SJC to protect defendants challenging an adverse disposition in any Dookhan case from facing more severe charges or greater punishment.  In response, the SJC held that “a defendant who has been granted a new trial based on Dookhan’s misconduct at the Hinton drug lab cannot be charged with a more serious offense than that of which he or she initially was convicted under the terms of a plea agreement and, if convicted again, cannot be given a more severe sentence than that which originally was imposed.”  However, the SJC specifically declined to enter a “global remedy” under its general superintendence powers, and declined to vacate all the Dookhan adverse dispositions.

Bridgeman II

We are now in the second Bridgeman case, SJC-12157.  It was born out of issues regarding a notice sent to all Dookhan defendants.  In August 2016, the various DAs sent the SJC, CPCS and the ACLU a notice it intended to send to all Dookhan defendants with an adverse disposition.  CPCS did not agree with this notice, or its wording.  This was a highly contentious issue and CPCS contends that the notice was “so poorly drafted that it will have the predictable consequence of limiting individual cases to a bare minimum. . . It is a poison pill.  Anyone who receives it could be misled, confused or both.”  Their opening brief in Bridgeman II lays out eight “peculiarities” with which it takes issue, including confusing language, lack of important information about rights of defendants and the outcomes of prior cases in the Dookhan scandal limiting their potential exposure, a requirement to contact the DAs for more information even though the DAs are adverse to the defendant, and that the included Spanish translation is unintelligible.

In response, CPCS and the ACLU filed a single justice petition on behalf of Bridgeman and others, asking that the single justice reserve and report the following question to the Court – “whether all cases involving misconduct by Annie Dookhan should be dismissed or subjected to a court imposed deadline.”  This is the second Bridgeman case (SJC-12157).  In short, the petitioners are once again seeking a global remedy.  (The petitioners also filed an emergency motion to stop the notice from issuing, but that motion was denied).

The single justice reserved and reported this matter to the full SJC with oral argument scheduled for November 8.  On September 16, the SJC requested amicus briefs on:

Whether the persons who were convicted of drug-related charges and in whose cases former Hinton Drug Lab Assistant Analyst Annie Dookhan signed the certificate of drug analysis as the analyst, who are collectively referred to as the “Dookhan defendants,” are entitled to a comprehensive remedy, including, whether all cases involving misconduct by Dookhan should be dismissed or subjected to a court-imposed deadline.

BBA Amicus Brief

On October 24, the BBA filed an amicus brief in the case calling for a global solution placing the burden on the Commonwealth to re-prosecute within a set time period (to be determined by the Court) any cases that have not been re-adjudicated since 2012, when the scandal first came to light.  If cases are not re-prosecuted within that time period, the brief calls for their dismissal with prejudice, barring further prosecution.

The brief explains that the BBA’s interest in the case is twofold: to facilitate access to justice for all defendants in criminal cases and to ensure the timely, fair, and efficient administration of justice.  Not only will this global solution secure justice for the defendants, but it will also start to relieve the significant burden on the justice system, currently facing the prospect of addressing more than 20,000 unresolved cases individually.

We advocate that the burden in this case must rest with the Commonwealth to re-prosecute certain cases rather than on individual defendants to come forward because the widespread and systemic nature of Dookhan’s misconduct implicates public confidence in the government and justice system.  Furthermore, we express a number of concerns about the current proposition of sending notice to impacted defendants, requesting action by those wishing to challenge their adverse dispositions including:

  • The attenuated timeframe of the case makes the prospect of sending notice to individual defendants unreliable.
  • Even if they should receive adequate notice, it is likely many defendants would not understand their rights or what course of action they should take in challenging their adverse dispositions.
  • Defendants clearing the first two hurdles may still face significant hurdle in challenging their cases because the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) will struggle to provide attorneys for each of their cases (see CPCS/ACLU Bridgeman Brief, pp. 24-32).

While the Courts have worked admirably and diligently to handle these cases individually, now that the full and pervasive scope of Dookhan’s misconduct is more fully understood, it is clearly an exceptional circumstance meriting the SJC’s use of its extraordinary powers to impose a global remedy.  We conclude that “the net result of the current process will be that a certain and significant number of adverse dispositions that were obtained by ‘egregious’ misconduct attributable to the Commonwealth will remain intact.  Thus, by default, many Dookhan defendants will continue to suffer the consequences of ‘egregious’ government misconduct and, absent a global remedy, such misconduct will not be remedied or abated in any systemic or comprehensive way.”  This outcome is unacceptable – it is inconsistent with due process and undermines the integrity of the criminal justice system.

We look forward to watching oral argument on November 8 and a decision from the SJC in the following months.  We will keep you updated on the latest developments in this case and the work of our Amicus Committee.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

Carol Starkey on 20 Years of Amicus

Ever since my first meeting at 16 Beacon Street nearly 16 years ago, the Boston Bar Association has been an invaluable resource for me professionally.

As lawyers, we are all in pursuit of professional excellence.  But we also need support and intellectual nourishment outside of our firms or organizations in order to be, and remain, successful in this competitive industry.  And for me, those resources always have been found at the BBA.

In addition to the rich educational programming and the ability to develop a strong network, perhaps what is most exciting about the BBA as an organization is its capacity to bring some of the brightest, most powerful people in the legal industry together, regardless of where they practice or how they identify themselves, in order to help solve problems affecting all of us.

Over my nearly 3 decades of practice, I have experienced how much we can do – as lawyers – when we step outside our own individual practice silos and work together on common issues in the profession.  For me, nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the work of the BBA’s Amicus Committee.

If you’ve been following Issue Spot’s coverage of the Amicus Committee this month, you know that through this important group of volunteers, the BBA has weighed in on some of the most important – and sometimes controversial – issues of our time.

In 2002, we submitted a brief in support of marriage equality in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, a landmark case which helped paved the way for equality across the nation.

In 2012 – and again in 2015 – the BBA filed a brief in Fisher v. the University of Texas, supporting diversity in higher education as a means of increasing diversity in the legal profession.

The Goodridge and Fisher cases demonstrate that when the BBA takes a position on an issue – like marriage equality or diversity in higher education  – it is not just words to be taken lightly, but a firm belief that is reflected in our core values.

In addition to the issues that attract a national spotlight, our Amicus Committee has allowed the BBA to argue successfully for some of the bedrock principles that affect the very core of what it means to practice law.

In keeping with our long-standing advocacy on behalf of access to justice, in 1990 we filed a brief regarding House Bill 5858 An Act Establishing the Economic Stability and Recovery Compact arguing that a tax on legal services would infringe upon each individual’s ability to, in the words of the Massachusetts Constitution, “obtain right and justice freely, and without being obliged to purchase it.”

And just last year, the BBA filed an amicus brief in Commonwealth v. Wade, a case in which we argued there had been a misinterpretation of a new post-conviction forensic testing law – a law that the BBA helped create – resulting in a forced waiver of attorney-client privilege.  The SJC agreed with our brief, clarifying how the law should be read and protecting the confidence of attorney-client communication.

Over the years, courts have, time and again, cited BBA amicus briefs, both during oral arguments and in their written decisions.

The dedication and talent of our Amicus volunteers have helped shape the BBA into an organization whose opinion matters. We are the ones the legal community turns to – and listens to – in matters of law.

That is why during today’s Annual Meeting, I gave the 2016 President’s Award to the more than 100 volunteer attorneys who have helped contribute to BBA amicus briefs throughout the years as Committee Chairs, members and brief writers.

It is through the talented and dedicated volunteers on our Amicus Committee that we’ve been able to do this work, the collective force of which not only stood up for individuals’ rights, but forever changed all of our lives by re-shaping the legal landscape in which we live.

Carol Starkey
President