As we begin to turn our attention to 2018, we wanted to spend a moment to recap our past year in the Government Relations Department.
Our annual survey of our Issue Spot posts reveals our priorities over the past year, and it will come as no surprise to learn that Criminal Justice Reform and Access to Justice were two key focal points. We also offered regular updates on our budget priorities, legislative advocacy, news from the courts, and comment submissions, with the remainder of the posts focusing on various notable events and speakers.
Criminal Justice Reform
It’s been a big year for criminal justice reform here at the BBA, and for the Commonwealth as a whole. A couple of decades since the last comprehensive set of reforms, the Legislature is posed to pass sweeping changes, and we’ve been right in the mix with the release of our own report and recommendations for necessary reforms.
February 23: Let the Criminal-Justice Reform Debate Begin. The year kicked off with the long-anticipated release of the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center (CSG) report and recommendations, following 18 months of CSG review and analysis. In an effort to achieve consensus, the recommendations focused largely on recidivism reduction and improvements in re-entry efforts, leaving many issues unaddressed, especially on the so-called front end of the system (e.g., diversion programs, cash bail, and sentencing,).
June 29: Criminal-Justice Reform Inches Forward. Over the summer, the Joint Committee on the Judiciary held two heavily-attended public hearings on the CSG legislation as well as over 150 other criminal justice bills on items like criminal procedure, sentencing, prison programs, and related issues. BBA Treasurer Martin Murphy of Foley Hoag testified on our behalf, focusing on our long-standing opposition to mandatory minimum sentences.
October 05: New BBA Report Recommends Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform. As the CSG group prepared release of its report, then-BBA President Carol Starkey of Conn Kavanaugh appointed a BBA working group to review and analyze the CSG work and consider further reforms necessary for improving the criminal justice system in Massachusetts. Led by former BBA President Kathy Weinman of Hogan Lovells LLP and BBA Treasurer Martin Murphy, the Working Group released its report and recommendation, entitled “No Time to Wait: Recommendations for a Fair and Effective Criminal Justice System.” This report, which calls for broader reforms than that recommended in the CSG proposal, outlined six key ways to make the criminal justice system here in the Commonwealth fairer and more cost-efficient.
November – December. As the year wrapped up, both the House and the Senate passed criminal justice reform legislation that would offer significant changes to our system. We offered updates at each of the key steps:
While neither of the bills in conference would implement all of the recommendations of the BBA Report, they would take significant steps toward reaching the goals outlined in the six areas addressed in the Report, and we will continue to advocate our positions to the conferees and keep you updated as the debate continues!
Access to Justice
As a key part of the BBA’s mission, 2017 was also filled with many access to justice-related updates.
January 12: Walk to the Hill 2017: Rallying for Civil Legal Aid. Every year kicks off with one of the largest access to justice events in the state, and one of the largest lobby days at the State House, and 2017 was no different. Here, we previewed the January 26 Walk to the Hill event…
February 2: Walking for Justice … And here, we recapped the event, where around 700 lawyers gathered in the Great Hall to hear from then-BBA president Carol Starkey, the MBA President, and SJC Chief Justice Ralph Gants on the importance of civil legal aid funding, before heading out to speak to their own legislators.
May 3: BBA at ABA Day 2017. While much of our government relations focus remains at the local and state level, every April, BBA leadership heads to D.C., alongside bar leaders from across the country, to advocate for federal funding for civil legal aid and other important issue areas. Last year, in addition to calling for adequate funding for the Legal Services Corporation, then-BBA President Carol Starkey and current-BBA President Mark Smith also discussed access to justice for homeless veterans on their congressional delegation visits. The 2017 ABA Day felt especially close to home, as Representative Joe Kennedy received the ABA Justice Award for his work on civil legal aid, upon nomination by the BBA and MBA.
July 27: BBA Council Endorses Two Access to Justice-Focused Policy Items. The July BBA Council took on an access to justice theme with the consideration of ABA Resolution 115 and a set of comments from the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Section. The Council voted to endorse the Resolution, which called for the provision of counsel in federal immigration proceedings, by the federal government, and unless and until then by all levels of government, with a priority given to those individuals in removal proceedings who are detained. The set of comments related to the proposed change from print reports of appellate decisions to electronic reports only, and presented key access to justice considerations that must be made when making this switch, as requested by the Court’s comment solicitation.
October 12: Third Access to Justice Commission Reconvenes. The Third Access to Justice Commission held its first meeting of the year in October, celebrating key victories of the past year like the statewide expansion of Housing Court—approved by the Legislature after years of efforts by a coalition led by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and including the BBA—and previewing some key initiatives in the coming year, including the Justice for All Project, the Greater Boston Immigrant Defense Fund, the Office for Victim Assistance Grant to the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC).
October 19: A2J Update: Legal Services Corporation comes to Cambridge; Equal Justice Coalition Previews 2019 Budget Campaign for BBA Council. In what proved to be an access to justice-focused October, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the federal funder of legal services programs, came to Massachusetts for its Quarterly Board Meeting. The Meeting consisted of a Forum with a number of panels on topics like “Natural Disasters, Legal Aid, and the Justice System” and “The Importance of Access to Justice to American Business.” Following the forum, BBA President-Elect Jonathan Albano was invited to speak at the Pro Bono Awards Reception honoring attorneys who have devoted significant time and energy to pursuing projects at LSC-funded legal aid organizations. That same month, the Chair of the Equal Justice Coalition (EJC) Louis Tompros of WilmerHale and Director of the EJC Laura Booth visited Council to forecast the FY19 civil legal aid budget campaign and thank the BBA for our continuing work in support.
December 14: Walk to the Hill with the BBA. As 2017 began with a focus on civil legal aid and Walk to the Hill, so it wrapped up, as we previewed the 2018 event in one of our last Issue Spots of the year.
We also, as usual, continued to advocate for our key priorities in the budget. In addition to adequate funding for civil legal aid and the MLAC line-item, we also successfully advocated for funding and authorizing language for statewide expansion of the Housing Court, and renewed our call for adequate funding for the Trial Court Department and the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS).
February 16: Initial Read on the FY18 Budget
March 30: BBA Budget Advocacy for FY18
April 13: BBA Budget Update: House Ways and Means Proposes FY18 Budget
June 1: Budget Update: Senate Approves FY18 Budget
July 13: Budget Update: Conference Committee Submits FY18 Budget to Governor
By way of reminder, the FY18 Budget provided an $18 million appropriation (level-funding from FY17) for the MLAC line-item, $642.6 million for the Trial Court Department, and around $59 million for CPCS staff and operations, $98 million for CPCS private counsel compensation, and around $15 million for indigent court costs. The past few years have seen revenues fall consistently short of initial projections, creating on an on-going budget crunch, but the run-up to the current fiscal year was especially challenging, with the shortfall continuing to widen throughout the budget process, causing conference-committee members to take the drastic step of revising their appropriations downward on the fly. Early indications are that, while revenues remain constrained, the outlook for the coming FY19 (starting July 1) is not quite so dark.
In a major budget victory, after more than four years of advocacy, the FY18 budget included both funding and authorizing language for statewide expansion of the Housing Court. The Housing Court Department has begun this expansion, and you can expect more updates for us on this rollout into 2018.
State House Updates
In addition to our budget advocacy and push for criminal justice reforms, we continued to advocate for our past positions, like support of a ban on conversion therapy practices on minors, and added a few new ones, like support for Massachusetts adoption of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act language. Here’s a recap of these and other legislative updates:
February 8: State House Forecast for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
March 23: What Will Become of Your Digital Assets?
April 6: News from the State House: Educating Beacon Hill at a Public Hearing and a Legislative Briefing
May 11: RUFADAA Update: Testimony at Judiciary Committee Hearing and Podcast
May 18: BBA Testimony at Judiciary Committee Hearings
June 8: BBA Presents Testimony in Support of Banning Use of Conversion Therapy on Minors
News from the Courts
We used a number of Issue Spot posts to update key case and court developments. One of the biggest stories of the year was the highly-anticipated “Bridgeman II” decision that stemmed from Hinton Drug Lab Scandal and the misconduct of chemist Annie Dookhan. You’ll recall that the BBA filed an amicus brief, drafted by then-Amicus Committee co-chairs Elizabeth Ritvo of Brown Rudnick LLP and Anthony Scibelli of Barclay Damon LLP in the case, calling for a global remedy, or the dismissal of all drug charges tainted by the misconduct. While the court did not adopt the global remedy approach, the decision placed the burden on the DAs and not the individual defendants to correct the misconduct and produced a similar result, with the eventual dismissal by prosecutors of over 20,000 convictions.
January 26: SJC Takes a Big Step Toward Closure in the Years-Long Annie Dookhan Drama
March 2: Chief Justice Gants Addresses the BBA Council
March 16: Recent Developments in the Law on Jurors
April 20: SJC Update: Dookhan Conviction Dismissals and ICE Detainer Oral Arguments
September 27: SJC Update: Court Narrows Felony-Murder Rule
October 2: ICE Conducts Raids in Massachusetts, Points to SJC decision
October 30: Chief Justice Ralph Gants Delivers the State of the Judiciary
Many of our posts also focused on the hard work of our sections in submitting comments on proposed new rules and amendments to existing rules:
March 9: Busy BBA Sections Submit Comments on Five Proposed Rule Changes and New Rules
August 10: Comment Round-Up: Update on the Recent Submissions on Proposed Rule Changes by the Business and Commercial Litigation Section
October 26: BBA Committees Offer Comment on Proposed Amendments to SJC Rules on Clerk Magistrates and a Proposed Probate and Family Court Uniform Practice
December 7: Comments Update: BBA Committees Provide Comments on Proposed District Court Protocol and Trial Court Rule Amendments
Finally, we took the time at various points throughout the year to recap key speakers, dates and events:
January 19: AG Healey Spells our Priorities at Council
March 27: Issue Spot Podcast Episode 5: Gender Identity and Public Accommodations in Massachusetts
April 27: BBA Council Hears from the Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel
May 25: BBA Law Day Dinner: Celebrating the Leaders Who Shape and Protect the Rule of Law
August 24: ABA Annual Meeting Recap
September 7: Welcome to the 2017 – 2018 Program Year
September 14: DACA Update: BBA Hosts Panel Discussing Implications of Program Discontinuation
September 28: BBA Annual Meeting Preview
We look forward to continuing to keep you up to speed on our work, and we hope that you’ll keep reading. Happy New Year!
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association