Posts Categorized: justice system

A Call to Action on the Budget

Yesterday we hope you received our budget alert – a call to action advocating on behalf of funding for civil legal aid, the Trial Court, and statewide expansion of the Housing Court.  With budget debate in the House forthcoming next week, now is the time to contact your Representative on these issues.  Here are some quick notes for you to share with them (Don’t know who to call?  Look up your Representative here.):

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC)
• Request: $27,000,000
• Governor’s Budget: $17,170,000
• House Ways and Means Budget: $18,000,000

Representative Ruth Balser has filed amendment #847 asking for an additional $9 million.  If adopted, it would bring the total MLAC line item to $27,000,000.  The amendment is currently co-sponsored by more than 70 Representatives, and the list keeps growing.  If you see your Representative on that list, call them to express your thanks and ask them to continue pushing for the amendment.  If you don’t see their name on that list, click here to ask them to sign on.

Trial Court
• Request: $654,374,856 + Modules
• Governor’s Budget: $638,606,000
• House Ways and Means Budget: $639,900,000 (including Specialty Courts module)

As you can see above, the Trial Court is being funded at far below its maintenance amount.  Amendment #474, filed by Representative John Fernandes, seeks an additional $17 million.  If the Trial Court does not receive this funding, it will likely have to lay off around 300 individuals, resulting in decreased service at courthouses already stretched thin.

The courts have recently made great strides toward modernizing and enhancing efficiencies under the new management structure put in place by the Legislature, as evinced by their request for maintenance funding of only 6,520 staff positions, a 17% reduction in staffing levels since FY02.  Furthermore, in the last eight years, while the state budget has increased 43.3% overall, funding for the Trial Court, a major piece of the third co-equal branch of government, has increased by only 7.9%.  More funding is essential to maintaining the high quality of justice to which we in Massachusetts are accustomed.

Statewide Housing Court Expansion
• Request: $2,400,000
• Governor’s Budget: $1,000,000
• House Ways and Means Budget: $0

The BBA has been advocating for the statewide expansion of Housing Court for the last year. Housing Court is a special court session conducted by experienced and expert judges.  They operate out of already existing court houses, providing landlords and tenants with a special legal forum to resolve disputes, as well as code enforcement, mortgage fraud, and numerous complex housing matters.

The total cost to the state for the expansion is estimated to be roughly $2.4 million per year.  The Governor’s budget included $1 million for Specialty Court, enough to get it started and start phasing it in to the areas not currently covered.  Unfortunately, the House Ways and Means Budget did not, potentially stifling this much-needed measure.  As a result, Representative Chris Walsh has filed amendments #1180 (to fund with $1,200,000) and #1176 (to include enacting language) creating Housing Court.

Housing Court covers 80% of the state geographically – but only about two-thirds of the population.  Housing Court is the only forum in the Commonwealth set up to handle code enforcement, evictions, and other housing issues on a daily basis.  Its judges have the expertise to analyze the federal, state, local laws and codes on housing.  Housing Court is also the only forum to use Housing Specialists, individuals who mediate cases, saving potential litigants time and money they would otherwise spend to have their case heard in court.  Over half of Housing Court cases were resolved in this way last year.  Specialists also perform on-site reviews of property to resolve issues concerning housing conditions.  In part because of these services, Housing Court is extremely efficient, featuring the lowest cost per case of any Trial Court department.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

 

Funding Justice: BBA FY17 Budget Advocacy

On Wednesday, the Legislature took the second major step in the FY2017 budget process, releasing the House Ways and Means budget recommendation, roughly 2.5 months after the January 27 release of the Governor’s budget recommendation.  The BBA has been advocating for adequate funding for the judiciary through the Trial Court line items, civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) line-item, and statewide expansion of the Housing Court.  We sent a letter to Brian Dempsey, Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee detailing the funding needs in these areas.

Here is where things currently stand as to each of these BBA budget priorities:

MLAC

Funding for civil legal services has never been more crucial, in large part because legal aid helps address many of the most pressing social issues facing the Commonwealth today.  Every day, legal aid helps prevent unjust foreclosures and evictions, protect victims of domestic violence, and assure access to essential care and services, including life-saving treatments to combat addiction.  And that is only a small piece of what they do.  They provide advice and representation in many and diverse legal areas, including helping set up small businesses and organizing mentoring nonprofits.

However, because of their outstanding reputation and the overwhelming need for legal aid, MLAC agencies had to turn down 64% of the qualified clients seeking their services in 2013 according to the findings of the BBA’s Investing in Justice Task Force Report.  And that was only the people who actually got through the long wait times to have their issues considered.  As a result, the courts have to bear the weight of pro se litigants who often do not understand court procedures, bogging down the justice system and creating added work for already overburdened judges and court staff.  Most importantly, it also often leads to an unjust outcome, particularly where one side has representation and the other does not.  In a recent survey of judges, more than 60% responded that the influx of pro se litigants hindered the fair administration of justice.

Here is a breakdown of MLAC funding:

FY16 Final Budget Amount $17,000,000
FY17 MLAC Request $27,000,000
FY17 Governor’s Budget $17,170,000
FY17 House Ways & Means $18,000,000
FY17 House Final House budget debate will take place during the week of 4/25
FY17 Senate Ways & Means

Forthcoming

FY17 Senate Final
FY17 Conference Committee
FY17 Final Budget Amount

 

Representative Ruth Balser will be filing an amendment requesting an additional $9 million in MLAC funding.  We hope that you will call your Representative or email them directly and ask them to support her amendment (Don’t know your legislator?  Look them up here), not only for the great work legal services agencies provide, but also because they can essentially pay for themselves.  Investing in Justice demonstrates that in the areas of evictions, domestic violence, and federal benefits every dollar invested in legal aid returns $2 to $5 to the state.  Be sure to thank them for the House’s generous $2 million funding increase last year!  Legal aid is already putting that investment to good use, to handle an additional 1,230 cases, benefitting some 3,295 residents.  With $10 million more this year, they can expand their reach to more than 16,000 additional people.

Trial Court

The Trial Court is comprised of seven departments which handle nearly all of the cases in the Commonwealth and represent the main point of contact for nearly all Massachusetts residents who have legal issues they need resolved.  Thus it is essential that courts are adequately funded.  The Trial Court provides an annual budget breakdown wherein it asks for a maintenance funding amount, which is what is required to continue providing current services, and a host of modules for the budget-makers to consider with additional funding.  This year’s maintenance budget request is around $654 million, and the nine modules range in price from $785,000 to $10 million.

In the budget, the Trial Court is represented by 15 line items.  It received a generous increase of nearly $20 million in last year’s budget, but the judiciary is still underfunded.  The courts have made great strides toward modernizing and enhancing efficiencies under the new management structure put in place by the Legislature, as evinced by their request for maintenance funding of only 6,520 staff positions, a 17% reduction in staffing levels since FY02.  Furthermore, in the last eight years, while the state budget has increased 43.3% overall, funding for the Trial Court, a major piece of the third co-equal branch of government, has increased by only 7.9%.

However, the Trial Court still has a major need for increased funding in order to continue improving.  For example, the installation of new technologies, which can ultimately save on staffing and overhead costs, requires large up-front investments.   In addition, the Trial Court’s facilities are in dire need of upgrades in the area of security systems, to preserve the safety of court employees, users, and the general public — a $4.1 million module.  Furthermore, innovations such as the successful Specialty Courts, a $2.8 million module, increase access to justice for vulnerable populations, but need adequate staffing and funding to thrive and expand, so that all residents who can benefit from participation in the Specialty Courts have access to them.

As shown in the table below, the Governor’s budget included roughly a $7 million increase over last year’s funding level, but is still $17 million below the Trial Court’s maintenance funding needs.  Funding at this level would result in layoffs of approximately 300 Trial Court employees according to a statement from SJC Chief Justice Ralph Gants.  The House Ways and Means budget matched that amount but also included the Specialty Courts module.

FY16 Final Budget Amount $631,500,000
FY17 Maintenance Budget Request $654,374,856
FY17 Governor’s Budget $638,606,000
FY17 House Ways & Means $639,900,000 (includes Specialty Courts module)
FY17 House Final House budget debate will take place during the week of 4/25
FY17 Senate Ways & Means

Forthcoming

FY17 Senate Final
FY17 Conference Committee
FY17 Final Budget Amount

 

Housing Court

The BBA has been advocating for the statewide expansion of Housing Court for the last year. Housing Court is a special court session conducted by experienced and expert judges.  They operate out of already existing court houses, providing landlords and tenants with a special legal forum to resolve disputes, as well as code enforcement, mortgage fraud, and numerous complex housing matters.

Housing Court was first established in 1972 for the City of Boston.   Since then, it has gradually expanded through the advocacy work of local constituencies to its current makeup, consisting of five divisions covering approximately 80% of the state geographically – but only about two-thirds of the population.  Housing Court is the only forum in the Commonwealth set up to handle code enforcement, evictions, and other housing issues on a daily basis.  Its judges have the expertise to analyze the federal, state, local laws, and codes on housing.

Housing Court is also the only forum to use Housing Specialists, individuals who mediate cases, saving potential litigants time and money they would otherwise spend to have their case heard in court.  Over half of Housing Court cases were resolved in this way last year.  Specialists also perform on-site reviews of property to resolve issues concerning housing conditions.  In part because of these services, Housing Court is extremely efficient, featuring the lowest cost per case of any Trial Court department.

Finally, Housing Court is adept at serving pro se litigants and individuals facing evictions.  It is home to the Tenancy Preservation Program (TPP), a counseling service designed to intervene in cases affecting individuals with physical and/or mental disabilities to help prevent homelessness, as well as volunteer lawyer-for-the-day and other self-help forums.

Despite all these benefits, nearly one-third of Massachusetts residents do not have access to a housing court.  Currently, there is no Housing Court for all of Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket Counties, most of Norfolk County, and a large portion of Middlesex County.  These areas include cities such as Chelsea, Framingham, Malden, Cambridge, Medford, Somerville, Watertown, Woburn, and Waltham, which have some of the highest number of rental units.  As a result, any housing or code enforcement issues in these counties are heard in District Court, where judges may not have any special housing expertise and housing cases are simply a drop in the bucket of a high volume caseload.  One consequence we’ve heard is that municipalities not covered by the Housing Court sometimes don’t even bring code-enforcement actions to District Court, because they know the inevitable delays make it not worth the effort.

The total cost to the state for the expansion is estimated to be roughly $2.4 million per year.  The Governor’s budget included $1 million for Specialty Court, enough to get it started and start phasing it in to the areas not currently covered.  Unfortunately, the House Ways and Means Budget did not, potentially stifling this much-needed measure.  As a result, Representative Chris Walsh will file an amendment on April 15 to include $1.2 million and the authorization for statewide housing court in the House budget.  We hope that you will call your Representative and ask them to support his amendment (Don’t know your legislator?  Look them up here).

Estimated Cost $2,400,000
FY17 Governor’s Budget $1,000,000 (to cover the first 6 months)
FY17 House Ways & Means $0
FY17 House Final House budget debate will take place during the week of 4/25
FY17 Senate Ways & Means

Forthcoming

FY17 Senate Final
FY17 Conference Committee
FY17 Final Budget Amount

 

Please keep an eye out for a budget alert next week.  We hope that you will take the time to contact your legislators and run through some talking points with them on why this funding is important.  Below are some quick bullet points for you to raise:

MLAC – Line Item 0321-1600

  • Seeking $10 million, for a total of $27 million. The House Ways & Means budget included a $1 million increase.  Representative Ruth Balser is filing an amendment to secure the additional $9 million.  Please support her amendment!
  • Provides civil legal aid for indigent individuals for essential life services such as eviction prevention and protection from domestic abuse
  • 64% of qualifying individuals are turned away annually – more than 54,000 individuals
  • Pro se litigants place a burden on the courts and struggle to access justice
  • Civil legal aid is a good investment, providing a positive return on investment by saving the state in areas such as shelter and medical costs.

Trial Court (15 Line Items)

  • Seeking $654 million, $17 million more than included in the House Ways & Means budget. If funding remains at the current proposed level, the Trial Court will have to lay off 300 essential staffers.
  • Despite being chronically underfunded — in the last eight years, while the state budget has increased by 43.3%, funding for the Trial Court has only increased by 7.9% — the courts have made great strides in efficiency. Today they operate at full capacity with 17% fewer employees than in FY02.
  • Lack of funding will stifle innovations and potentially endanger court users. As demonstrated by the module requests, the courts deserve increased funding for programs such as overhauling outdated security systems and expanding the groundbreaking Specialty Court sessions, which provide support and treatment for the issues underlying criminal behavior and have produced great results in reducing recidivism.

Statewide Housing Court Expansion – Line Item 0036-0003

  • Requires $2.4 million to operate yearly, but could ramp up to full capacity with the $1 million proposed by the Governor. Unfortunately, the House Ways & Means budget includes no funding for this initiative.
  • Nearly two-thirds of residents are deprived of this resource. Housing Court is the only forum in the Commonwealth set up to handle code enforcement, evictions, and other housing issues on a daily basis with specialized judges, housing specialists who mediate cases to avoid costly trials, and the Tenancy Preservation Program, providing counseling and intervention for individuals with physical and mental disabilities to prevent homelessness.

Thank you for your help and we hope you will check in again as we continue to keep you updated no the latest budget developments.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

BBA Weighs-in on Proposed Superior Court Practice Changes

Ever since he became Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, Ralph Gants has been talking about reforming civil litigation.  In his first State of the Judiciary address in late 2014, he laid out a plan to form working groups in various Trial Court departments that would examine creating a “menu of options” for cost effective civil litigation.  Soon thereafter, we began fieldling calls from the various departments requesting the service of BBA members.  We were pleased to place a number of interested individuals on these panels.  They spent the next year meeting and discussing ways to improve practice in the courts, and now we are beginning to see the results.

Superior Court was the first to submit its working group’s draft proposal to the public comment process.  The proposal consists of three parts:

  1. Menu of Options – provides a right to individual case management and tracking at the option of the parties and with approval of the Court. The parties would have the opportunity to agree to vary standard procedures in one or more ways, including the procedures that otherwise govern discovery, trial, and post-trial events.  For example, the parties could agree to an early and firm trial date, with or without a jury, and with a variety of limits on the quantity and kind of evidence.
  2. Pilot Program for Early Case Management Conferences – would require an early case management conference in four case categories: real estate, construction, products liability, and employment discrimination. The proposed pilot program would provide an opportunity to assess the value of early case management conferences and the time required to conduct them.  In each case included in the program, the Court would convene a conference with the judge and counsel within 90 days after service of process.  Prior to the conference, the parties would be required to confer, to exchange written settlement proposals and responses, and to complete a standard form addressing case management.  An amendment to Superior Court Standing Order 1-88 would establish procedures for the conferences, and provide the form for the parties to prepare and submit. In addition, to facilitate conducting the conference early in the life of the case, as provided in the proposed amendment to the standing order, the Superior Court would recommend that the Supreme Judicial Court amend Rule 4(j) of the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure to reduce the time limit for service of process from the present 90 days to 30 days, or to provide for a more expeditious alternative similar to the process now used in federal court, where service is required only when a defendant fails to respond to notice by mail.
  3. New Rule on Expert Disclosure – as is already required by the court’s “Notice to Appear for Final Pre-Trial Conference” in Superior Court Standing Order 1-88, the new rule would require that unless the parties agree, or the court orders otherwise, each party shall set forth certain information in the final pre-trial conference memorandum relating to any expert that a party intends to call at trial.

The proposed Superior Court initiatives were reviewed by all BBA Sections.  The Business and Commercial Litigation and Insurance and Tort Litigation Sections drafted comments that were reviewed and approved by BBA Council and submitted to the Court on March 16.  Members of both Sections were generally supportive of the proposals and felt that proposal #2 had the most potential.

They also had some specific concerns.  For example, on proposal #1, some members felt that it was unclear how the rules would work within the Superior Court’s judicial circuit system, in which judges rotate through courts, despite that fact that the proposal calls for increased judicial involvement.  Members also voiced concerns about the implications of the non-binding judicial case assessments in which it was unclear whether the judge would just be giving their “off-the-cuff” thoughts about the case, how wedded they might be to those early opinions, whether there would be any uniform formal process, or whether procedural decisions would all be in the hands of the individual judge and attorneys.

Some members voiced concerns about the reduction of time to effect service of process from 90 days to 30 days contemplated in proposal #2, which would cut down on the time often used for case resolution.  Finally some members felt that proposal #3 would not make a significant change in practice.  To read the full comments, click here.

We look forward to keeping you updated when the Superior Court releases its final plan for more cost-effective civil litigation, and analyzing the implications for practice.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

Equal Justice Coalition Legislative Recognition Reception

The Equal Justice Coalition’s Legislative Recognition Reception annually honors some of the state’s top leaders in civil legal aid advocacy.  The event is a great opportunity to recognize the work of state officials who devote their time and efforts to expanding access to justice.  The awards are hosted by the Equal Justice Coalition, a joint project of the Boston Bar Association, Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC).  Founded in 1999, the EJC campaigns for legal aid funding, including through the annual Walk to the Hill lobbying day.

The 2016 Legislative Recognition Reception was held on Wednesday evening at the Grand Staircase in the Massachusetts State House.  The honorees included Supreme Judicial Court Justice Robert Cordy and Attorney General Maura Healey, who received the Champion of Justice Awards, and Beacon of Justice Award winners, Representatives Claire Cronin, Paul Donato, and Brad Hill, and Senators Harriette Chandler and Karen Spilka.

Not only was the event an opportunity for the Equal Justice Coalition to honor some of its strongest supporters, but it also gave everyone a chance to explain why they support legal aid.  Rich Johnston, chief legal counsel to Attorney General Maura Healey, accepted the award on her behalf.  He spoke glowingly of how she lives and breathes the pursuit of justice every moment of every day, and lauded her unyielding commitment.

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Chairwoman Karen Spilka and Betsy Soule, Executive Director of MetroWest Legal Services

Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, Karen Spilka spoke of the inspiration she draws from the Jewish traditions of tzedakah, or charity, and tikkun olam, making the world a better place – as well as the Biblical directive, “Justice, justice, thou shalt pursue.”  That phrase, and those traditions, have guided her service in the Legislature and hold a personal meaning – reminding the Senator, a former social worker, that individuals are all responsible for each other.



Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler received her Beacon of Justice Award from constituent Faye Rachlin, Deputy Director of Community Legal Aid.  Senator Chandler spoke of both the philosophical and practical aspects of her support.  Her career has always focused on helping others, especially those in her community.  The Senator explained that in simplest terms, she is a big supporter of funding for civil legal aid because she refers many constituents to legal aid programs for assistance and recognizes both the utility and necessity of the services they provide.



Second Assistant Majority Leader Paul Donato and Minority Leader Bradford Hill, were also recognized for their long-time support of civil legal aid.  Representative Donato declared civil legal aid a “beacon of light” for those in need.  He drew a personal connection between his role as an advocate for his constituents and the representation civil legal aid attorneys provide for their clients.  He also spoke as a member of the Commission on the Status of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, which has given him specific insight into the challenges many elders face trying to navigate through the judicial system, challenges that are eased, if not alleviated altogether, by legal representation provided by MLAC organizations.



Representative Hill thanked the attendees for their advocacy.  He noted that, without their work, legislators wouldn’t know about the services legal aid provides or its funding needs, and he stressed that legal aid funding is truly a nonpartisan issue.



The final Beacon of Justice Award was presented to Representative Claire Cronin, House Vice-Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.  She thanked the House’s Speaker Robert DeLeo and Chair of Ways and Means Brian Dempsey, saying they were all doing their best to support civil legal aid.  She applauded the work of legal aid attorneys, noting she knows they are not in it for the money, but “the wealth they receive is all the good they do for others.”  She encouraged them to keep working every day because it matters so much.



Finally, retiring Supreme Judicial Court Justice Robert Cordy, received his Champion of Justice Award.  In the audience to show their support were fellow SJC Justices Nan Duffly and Margot Botsford, along with Chief Justice Ralph Gants.  Justice Cordy’s former clerk and Equal Justice Coalition member Louis Tompros, WilmerHale, spoke about Justice Cordy’s long-time support of legal aid, most notably in his time as legal counsel for Governor Bill Weld, and about his devotion to advocating annually at Walk to the Hill.  Justice Cordy described how access to justice had become one of the principal and most challenging issues of our times.  He commended lawyers working for civil legal aid organizations and spoke of his own beginnings in indigent criminal defense, which gave him special insight into the necessity of representation for the poor as the key to accessing justice.

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Louis Tompros, WilmerHale, BBA President-Elect Carol Starkey, and Champion of Justice Honoree, SJC Justice Robert Cordy

In all, it was a great event and we look forward to working with many of the honorees throughout the budget process as we move closer to achieving this year’s goal of an additional $10 million in funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

Pro Bono in Your PJs

Wednesday was a big day at the BBA, and potentially for the future of pro bono legal service in Massachusetts.  We were pleased to host a presentation and discussion of the newest innovation in legal service – MassLegalAnswers, an Internet-based virtual help-line, soon to be operating in Massachusetts, that connects those in need of legal help with lawyers.

The concept is simple: in brief, individuals with legal questions who meet certain requirements, such as income limits, can create an account and enter their legal questions into an online database.  Licensed lawyers interested in pro bono work can also create an account where they can log in to the question repository and can select questions to answer.

The site was born out of an online program that started in Tennessee at OnlineTNJustice.org and is quickly spreading to other states.  The sites have been a huge hit both for clients and lawyers, spawning the catch-phrases “pro bono from home” and “pro bono in your pajamas.”  The American Bar Association (ABA) has recognized their effectiveness and is working to spread the site nationally.  Over forty states are currently committed to participating, a number of others are discussing the issue, and a handful have already launched their sites.  The ABA is helping states to adopt similar versions of the Tennessee website, though each state has some options to make tweaks in order to satisfy local ethics rules and to maximize its effectiveness for their populations.  The ABA is also providing malpractice insurance for all lawyers who answer questions through the database.

How it Works

When the database is up and running, a client question queue will form, which lawyers can peruse for cases of interest.  They can also search questions based on urgency and practice area, as well as subscribe to certain practice areas of interest to be alerted of new questions they may be interested in answering.  Once a lawyer selects a question, it is removed from the general pool and enters the lawyer’s private queue.  The questions will be monitored by a site coordinator who will also perform quality control checks of answers provided.

Further details are still being worked out, but generally, the lawyer has a set number of days in which to answer the question before it will be returned to the pool.  The lawyer can provide an answer, and, if necessary, engage in an exchange of questions and answers with the client over the issue, all through the web site.  Either the client or the lawyer has the option of ending the inquiry at any point.  If questions are not answered, they remain in the queue for a set period of time, but may be removed without receiving answers.  This video about Washington’s version of the site provides a good overview of the general operation.


Individual clients are allowed to ask a set number of questions per year, but lawyers can answer as many questions as they are willing to take on.  Lawyers have the option of giving fuller representation if they want to do more, but any additional services are not covered by the website’s malpractice insurance.

The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) will be in charge of running the site with the help of the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association (VLP).  They will make sure the technology works as it should, keep an eye on the queue, and recruit both client questions and pro bono volunteers.  MLRI and VLP are currently examining funding and staffing issues, but have plans for both to get the site running, at which point they can re-evaluate staff time and resources.  The beauty of this process is the relatively low startup costs thanks to the ABA providing malpractice insurance and the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and Tennessee Bar Association providing free access to their established online program.

Moving Forward

It is clear that the site will offer unprecedented opportunities to both lawyers and low-income individuals.  Other states have cited examples of lawyers who find this sort of pro bono opportunity especially fulfilling and noted the ability of these sites to unlock a new group of lawyers who are interested in providing pro bono service, but may have been hesitant to take on full representation cases.  There are also stories of teams of lawyers answering questions and law school professors using questions as real-life problems for their students to research and solve.

There are still some issues to work out, and program attendees held fruitful discussions on some of them — including whether attorneys answering questions must disclose their names to clients and whether the site could extend to chat or Skype capabilities.  However, there is also plenty of time, as MLRI is targeting the fall for its go-live date.  In the meantime, MLRI and VLP are working on setting up a panel of advisors who can examine the details and work out the kinks to make this site into a reality.

We are excited to see this idea become a reality and will keep you posted on the latest developments.  Hopefully some of you will consider answering questions through MassLegalAnswers Online in the coming months.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

Walk to the Hill 2016

Walk to the Hill 2016 was a huge success.  More than 600 attorneys packed the State House’s Great Hall and spread throughout the building, telling their legislators about the importance of civil legal aid and explaining the urgent need for an additional $10 million in funding.  This increase would bring total funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (line item 0321-1600) to $27 million, allowing them to greatly expand essential services to the most vulnerable populations.

crowd shot

BBA President Lisa Arrowood speaking at Walk to the Hill

Our day began with the BBA’s annual pre-walk breakfast where more than fifty young lawyers gathered to prepare their talking points over coffee and donuts.  We were especially excited to welcome a busload of UMass Boston Law School students who helped get the hashtags “I Walk for Justice” and “Walk to the Hill” trending!

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BBA President Lisa Arrowood with Representative Stanley

BBA President Lisa Arrowood met first with her Representative, Thomas Stanley, and then her Senator, Michael Barrett.  Both were interested in learning more about the findings of our Investing in Justice report that for every $1 spent helping fight against wrongful evictions and foreclosures, Massachusetts saves $2.69 in shelter, health care, foster care, and law enforcement costs.  In addition, every $1 spent on legal aid for survivors of domestic violence results in $2 in medical and mental health care savings, and every $1 spent on legal aid attorneys working to secure federal benefits yields $5 in federal economic benefits to Massachusetts residents.

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BBA President Elect Carol Starkey with Representative Coppinger

BBA President-Elect Carol Starkey also paid a call on her legislators, Representative Edward Coppinger and Senator Mike Rush.  They both noted their support and thanked Carol for spreading the word.

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By 11:00 we were registering and entering the Great Hall with more than 500 of our colleagues.  Equal Justice Coalition Chair John Carroll welcomed everyone to the event and spoke passionately about the importance of legal aid and everyone’s efforts on this day.

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Attorney General Maura Healey was full of high praise, noting that while many think of her office as the “people’s attorney,” legal services are as well.  She applauded them for their work and the legal community for its great showing of support, asking that we all “remember who we are and what we should always aspire to be.”

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Chief Justice Ralph Gants put the funding request into perspective, explaining that $27 million is less than the cost of a single round-trip T-ride for every Massachusetts resident and at less than $4 per person, is below the New York funding rate of $4.30 per resident.  He encouraged attendees to answer legislators who asked how they could afford such an increase with a question of their own, “How can we afford not to?”  He finished, much like a Supreme Judicial Court holding, with a strong closing statement – that supporting legal aid is right, reasonable, and smart.  Read his full remarks here.

IMG_8378MBA President Bob Harnais encouraged legislators to visit the courts to see the effects of the lack of representation – both on the court system and on the pro se litigants themselves, who are confused and overwhelmed.  He recommended attendees invite their legislators to court to offer hard proof of the need for legal aid funding because “seeing is believing” and justice should not be reserved for those who can afford it.

BBA President Lisa Arrowood held up the BBA’s Investing in Justice report and encouraged attendees to spread the word about its contents – making the argument that funding legal aid makes sound business sense for the Commonwealth.  Watch the video above for her full remarks.

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Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) client, Lisa, spoke about how civil legal aid literally offered her son a second chance at life.  When her son was a senior in high school, routine surgery to remove his wisdom teeth resulted in an addiction to pain medication, and a 10-year battle with heroin.  Shortly after he committed himself to methadone treatment, working hard every day to overcome his addiction, he was declared ineligible for MassHealth care coverage because of an administrative change.  Lisa feared that, if he were to miss even one day of treatment, he would suffer withdrawal symptoms and quickly relapse.  GBLS took her case and worked with MassHealth to resolve the issue in short order, taking action Lisa recognizes as the difference between life and death for her son.  Read more about her story here.

Everyone was moved by her story and inspired by all of the speakers to speak with their legislators.  This year’s Walk to the Hill was an unqualified success and a remarkable demonstration of the private bar’s support for access to justice.  Thank you to everyone who participated – we hope that you will continue to be involved throughout the budget process and we look forward to seeing you again at next year’s event!

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

Senator Brownsberger Talks Criminal Justice Reform at Council Meeting

Today we begin the final countdown to Walk to the Hill 2016 for civil legal aid, which is happening exactly one week from the date of posting, on January 28, from 11:30-12:30 (on-site registration begins at 11:00 am) at the Great Hall in the State House.  So we were very excited to welcome to this week’s BBA Council meeting a key legislator and long-time supporter of legal-aid funding, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, William Brownsberger.  Senator Brownsberger began with some background on his legal career.  He spoke of his tenure in the Attorney General’s office where he worked on the Public Protection Bureau and as Asset Forfeiture Chief in the Narcotics and Special Investigations Division.  It was there that he first became interested in the issues of addiction, and began consulting and teaching on criminal justice and addiction issues, which he soon turned to full-time.
IMG_7943It wasn’t long, however, before he became sick of talking about people with addictions, and wanted to talk with them, so he began practicing in drug court.  He explained his philosophy that criminal lawyers play a “sacred role” in court so that every defendant knows they “got a fair shake.”  He described how this experience changed his thinking about criminal justice and supervision, as he witnessed that jail time, followed by over-supervision after release, could “crush people” and keep them from reaching their potential as productive members of society.

The Senator then moved on to discussing his views on the need for criminal justice reform, which have been formed by both his personal experiences and his study of the larger issue.  For example, he shared this stunning statistic: 40 years ago the prison population in Massachusetts state prisons was under 2,000 and had been holding fairly steady for decades.  But between 1975 and the early 1990s, that population increased five-fold to around 10,000 individuals, where the level has more or less remained for the last twenty years.  Senator Brownsberger said when he looked into these statistics alongside legislative reforms made during that time period, he could not entirely link the massive prison population increase to major legislative changes.  He concluded that the increase was actually the result of a general societal “tough on crime” push that affected not only legislators but also police, district attorneys, judges, and the public as a whole.  The question now is, can we dial that back? And if so, how?
IMG_7950Furthermore, if it’s the case that the current incarceration problem stems from a larger systemic shift, it is likely that the Legislature cannot solve it alone.  While the Senator expressed some frustration that major reforms have been delayed in the recent past to await the results of outside studies, he was excited about the recent study on Justice Reinvestment being undertaken in Massachusetts by Pew and the Council of State Governments — and by the potential their work holds for bringing the state’s leaders together on criminal justice reform.  He hopes that the state will pass some limited reform bills this session (what he termed hitting “singles and doubles”, such as easing the burden of post-release driver-license suspensions for drug offenders) and then make a push for major, comprehensive reforms in 2017.

While mandatory minimum sentences – which the BBA has long opposed — are certainly a part of the problem, the Senator explained that he felt their impact was sometimes overstated, as they are responsible for less than 20% of the inmate population at both prisons and houses of correction.  He hopes to:

  • increase prisoners’ ability to earn “good time” in order to ultimately shorten their sentences
  • re-classify certain inmates into lower-security facilities as their release nears, in order to better prepare them for re-entry, and
  • rework probation and parole by reducing or eliminating fees and addressing the problem of redundant dual supervision of one ex-offender by both agencies.

These and other steps are aimed at revamping the justice system to make it more supportive of successful re-entry.

We thank the Senator for his insights into the criminal justice system and look forward to working with him on future reforms.  In the meantime, we hope that you will join us at Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid on January 28 to hear speeches by BBA President Lisa Arrowood, MBA President Bob Harnais, and state government leaders and then meet with your State Senator and Representative.  Tell them how much civil legal aid funding means to you, voice your support for appropriating a much-needed $27 million to the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC – line item 0321-1600), and start a dialogue that you can continue throughout the budget process — and into the future on issues of interest to you, such as the criminal justice reforms Senator Brownsberger and others are working on.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

BBA Brief Fights for DNA Testing and Attorney-Client Privilege

We are pleased to be able to once again report on the great work of the BBA’s Amicus Committee.  In the last few months alone they have helped achieve access to justice for abused youths, worked to secure a right to counsel in parental guardianship actions, opposed improper attorney sanctions, and defended race-conscious college admissions policies as a means to assuring a more diverse bar.  And in the latest example of their tireless efforts, last week we filed a brief in the case of Commonwealth v. Wade (SJC-11913), urging the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) to correctly interpret the Commonwealth’s new post-conviction DNA testing law and defending attorney client privilege.  This case holds particular importance for the BBA as we have a long history of protecting attorney client privilege and were also instrumental in drafting and advocating for the DNA testing law at issue here.

The case first came to our attention over the summer and our interest only intensified when the SJC requested amicus briefs in late October asking:

Whether, in order to obtain postconviction DNA testing under G. L. c. 278A and specifically, in order to support a finding under c. 278A, § 7 (b) (3), that the evidence or biological material has not been subjected to the requested analysis for any of the reasons in [c. 278A, § (3) (b) (5) (i)-(v)] it is sufficient for the defendant to establish that the requested analysis had not yet been developed at the time of the conviction, see c. 278A, § 3 (b) (5) (i), or whether the defendant must also show that a reasonably effective attorney would have in fact sought the analysis had it been available.

After extensive discussions in our Amicus Committee and Council, we couldn’t be happier with the resulting brief drafted by a team of lawyers from K&L Gates, LLP.  Former BBA Council Member and Chair of the BBA Drug Lab Crisis Task Force, Mike Ricciuti led the team, which also consisted of Kathleen Parker and Patrick McCooe.

The brief makes two major points – that the lower court judge erred in interpreting the requirements of G.L. c. 278A and, in doing so, erroneously forced counsel for the defendant to violate attorney-client privilege.  The BBA has a particular interest in Chapter 278A because it is a product of our advocacy, stemming back to our Task Force to Prevent Wrongful Convictions, whose 2009 report, Getting it Right: Improving the Accuracy and Reliability of the Criminal Justice System in Massachusetts, included a draft law nearly identical to what was eventually enacted in 2012.  The purpose of the law, as best articulated in that report, is to “remedy the injustice of wrongful convictions of factually innocent persons by allowing access to analyses of biological material with newer forensic and scientific techniques.”

Subsection 3(b)(5) of the law allows for new forensic testing if a defendant can show, inter alia, that the evidence has not already been subjected to the requested analysis.  It sets out five reasons why it would be justifiable for the requested analysis not to have been pursued, such that it should be pursued now.  These prongs are identical to the recommendation contained in Getting It Right, except that the report recommends putting “or” after every clause, whereas the enacted text uses semicolons and then puts “or” before the last prong. The significance of the fact that both approaches emphasize the disjunctive nature of the list of prongs will become evident shortly.

(i) the requested analysis had not yet been developed at the time of the conviction;

(ii) the results of the requested analysis were not admissible in the courts of the Commonwealth at the time of the conviction;

(iii) the moving party and the moving party’s attorney were not aware of and did not have reason to be aware of the existence of the evidence or biological material at the time of the underlying case and conviction;

(iv) the moving party’s attorney in the underlying case was aware at the time of the conviction of the existence of the evidence or biological material, the results of the requested analysis were admissible as evidence in courts of the Commonwealth, a reasonably effective attorney would have sought the analysis and either the moving party’s attorney failed to seek the analysis or the judge denied the request; or

(v) the evidence or biological material was otherwise unavailable at the time of the conviction.

Background

In 2014, the defendant sought DNA testing pursuant to c. 278A in an attempt to overturn his conviction, arguing, under the first prong, that the DNA testing he then requested had not been performed in 1997 because it had not yet been developed.  He also initially made an argument, under the fourth prong, that a reasonably effective attorney would have sought the analysis.  The judge, however, ruled that the statute required the defendant to show the “actual reason” that no DNA testing was requested in 1997, even though the test being requested was not then available.  In order to determine the “actual reason,” the judge, over objection, compelled the testimony of the defendant’s trial attorney. The defendant had not waived attorney-client privilege or submitted any affidavit from his trial attorney, but the Commonwealth argued that any time a movant pleads that his trial attorney was not reasonably effective, he has waived attorney/client privilege as to all communications with trial counsel.

The defendant sought interlocutory relief from this decision, and, in a G.L. c. 211,§ 3, memorandum, SJC Chief Justice Gants held that the Commonwealth could subpoena the trial attorney but his testimony would be limited by attorney-client privilege and any waiver by the defendant.  At the hearing, when the Commonwealth began questioning the trial attorney about privileged communications, the defendant waived the “reasonably effective” prong, insisting that he could still meet the statutory requirements on the unavailability of the requested DNA analysis at the time of his conviction, under the first prong.

The defendant argued that the Commonwealth was asking the trial attorney about privileged communications, which the defendant had not waived, and that abandoning the “reasonably effective” prong obviated the need for his testimony.  The motion judge disagreed, finding that the defendant had waived his attorney-client privilege.  Although the trial attorney repeatedly refused to answer the Commonwealth’s questions, citing privilege, he eventually relented under the threat of contempt by the court.

The motion judge ultimately concluded that it had been a strategic decision not to request DNA testing at the time of trial.  The motion judge rejected the defendant’s argument that, to get testing he need only show that the analysis was not performed at the time of his conviction “for any” of the five alternative reasons under G.L. c. 278A, § 3(b)(5).

BBA Amicus Brief

Our amicus brief argues that the judge misinterpreted Chapter 278A.  Once the defendant demonstrated that the requested analysis had not yet been developed at the time of conviction, he satisfied the requirements of § 3(b)(5) and did not need to support any other prong of the test.  The use of “or” in the list of prongs demonstrates that the Legislature intended a defendant need only identify one reason the testing had not yet been done.  The statute contains no requirement that the defendant must show a “primary cause” or “actual reason” why DNA testing was not conducted at the time of trial.  Furthermore, the brief argues that the judge misunderstood § 3(b)(5)(iv): The test is not to determine why the defendant’s attorney did not seek a different type of DNA testing at the time of trial, but rather, whether a reasonably effective attorney could have sought the requested analysis.  Here, a reasonably effective attorney could not have sought the requested analysis because the requested analysis did not exist at the time of the conviction.

The brief also argues that the trial judge’s erroneous focus on the “primary cause” that DNA testing was not pursued at trial resulted in the “deeply flawed conclusion” that the defendant had waived attorney-client privilege.  The brief makes clear that there was no express or implied waiver of the privilege and the trial judge’s interpretation threatens to undermine the effectiveness of Chapter 278A, which calls for an objective test of what a reasonably effective counsel could have done, and not a subjective analysis of what trial counsel actually did.  If the statute were to be interpreted as the trial judge espouses, with both the “primary cause” and subjective analyses, it would frustrate the purpose of the law and chill access to justice, potentially denying wrongfully-convicted individuals a pathway to establishing their innocence.

The case is scheduled for standby oral argument on Thursday, December 10.  If it is not heard that day, it will be argued on Monday, January 11th.  We look forward to watching the broadcast and reading the decision in the coming months and will, as always, keep you updated on how the case is decided.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

BBA Helps Achieve Access to Justice for Abused Youths

It has been a momentous last few weeks for our Amicus Committee.  Most recently, they worked on a brief in the Recinos v. Escobar case that ultimately played a major role in achieving a positive outcome facilitating access to justice.  Recinos, which was initially before the Appeals Court, and was taken up sua sponte by the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) in expedited fashion, deals with the jurisdiction of the Probate and Family Court to hear the case of a 20-year old woman seeking federal Special Immigrant Juvenile status before her 21st birthday in December.

In brief, since 1990, the federal government has provided for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status to children, defined by federal law as unmarried persons under the age of 21, as a pathway to seek legal permanent resident status.  SIJ status requires a finding of abuse, abandonment, or neglect by a specialized state court, and a determination that the child is dependent on the state court, in order to merit SIJ consideration by a federal immigration agency or federal immigration court. However, because the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court generally does not have jurisdiction beyond age 18, some judges felt constrained from making such findings for individuals who are 18, 19 or 20.

Thus, in Massachusetts, there is a small class of individuals – roughly estimated to be about 60 in number — that would otherwise qualify for SIJ status, but may be barred from doing so because the Probate and Family Court will not make a finding because they are aged 18 to 21.  According to immigration law practitioners, anecdotally, the Probate and Family Court sometimes extends equity jurisdiction to hear these cases, but this is not uniform and judges have no guidance on the matter.

The brief, which we signed onto with a coalition of concerned organizations and individuals, argues that the Probate and Family Court has equity jurisdiction over youths up to the age of 21 to enter the findings needed to be eligible for SIJ status.  Specifically, it argues that the pathway to permanent legal residency for immigrant youths requires the state courts to play an essential role and that the Probate and Family Court has equity jurisdiction over these cases.  First, it argues that the Court’s equity jurisdiction is not limited by statute and makes the case that the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights supports this sort of equitable remedy.  The brief further argues that children who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected are dependent on the court to make such a finding since they have been mistreated and because such a finding is required to qualify for SIJ status.

It is also important to note that the BBA has previously considered this issue.  In 2014, the BBA Council approved a bill, entitled “An Act relative to abused, abandoned, or neglected immigrant juveniles,” which would have statutorily extended Probate and Family Court jurisdiction to this discrete group of individuals.  The BBA’s Immigration Committee was the force behind this action, and current Co-Chairs Iris Gomez and Prasant Desai, along with former Co-Chair Bill Graves, were a great help in vetting the current case.

Thus, the brief here was a means to the same end, and footnote 15 on pages 43-44 of the brief addresses the interplay of the case and legislation.  It notes that the Legislature is currently considering this session’s refiled versions of those bills (H1418/S740 – currently before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary) and argues that the fact that there are proposed bills pending “is not determinative of whether the court has equity jurisdiction without legislative action.  In light of inconsistent positions held by lower court judges, both routes have been pursued to ensure that these vulnerable youth have the access to the courts they desperately need.”

On Thursday, November 5, the SJC heard oral argument on the case.  The Justices asked a series of tough questions, raising concerns about the circularity of the dependency argument and the appellant’s reliance on case law where the Probate and Family Court exercised equity jurisdiction under very different factual circumstances.  They also referenced our amicus brief.  Justice Hines explains at about the 12 minute mark that she found the brief “extremely helpful” and noted that she felt the brief clarified the dependency issue.  The Justices also asked about the pending legislation, and we hope that the explanation provided in the amicus brief and spelled out above helped them see the necessity of their action in this case.

As it turned out, on Monday, November 9, the SJC released their order, ruling in line with the brief – that the Probate and Family Court does have equity jurisdiction to decide the case, and remanding to that court for further proceedings on an expedited basis, so that the appellant may have time to apply for SIJ status before her 21st birthday.  We applaud the SJC for their work on this case, first taking it up sua sponte, and then handling it in such an expedited manner in order to assure justice for an individual in need and clarify the law for a small class of dependent youths.  We would also like to thank former BBA President Mary Ryan, and Cynthia Guizzetti, Nutter McClennen & Fish, LLP, and their team for drafting the brief and working with us to facilitate our participation.

In all, the BBA was proud to be involved with this case and couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.  We look forward to keeping you up to date on all the fine work of our Amicus Committee as they continue to review and consider cases locally and nationally.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

Repairing the World through Judicial Innovation and Evolution

On Tuesday, Chief Justice Ralph Gants gave his annual State of the Judiciary Address at the MBA’s Bench Bar Symposium in the Great Hall of the John Adams Courthouse.  Attendees such as Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, Judiciary Committee Co-Chairs Representative John Fernandes and Senator William Brownsberger, Attorney General Maura Healey, Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel Lon Povich, and a host of SJC Justice and Chiefs of the Trial Court departments were there.

Chief Justice Gants began with high-minded principles.  He explained that he sees every court – not just specialty courts — as a problem solver, which he defines as meeting an obligation to repair the world, an obligation met by saving even one life.  No one, he noted, comes before our courts unless they have a problem that cannot otherwise be amicably resolved.  All courts seek to repair the world, one problem at a time – a task that can be accomplished only with the support and assistance of the two other branches of government.

Gants SotJ

The Chief went on discuss two main issues, civil case reforms and justice reinvestment.

Civil Case Reforms

The Courts are intent on changing civil cases, making them more affordable and cost efficient at all levels.  “Slow, expensive litigation,” he said, “is the way of the dinosaur.”  Three changes are coming this winter:

  • A menu of options in Superior Court – parties will soon be able to choose from a number of resolution options. The top option will be the “three course meal” of full discovery and a jury trial.  However, there will be a sliding scale of other options, available only upon the agreement of all parties, which will attempt to bring cases to resolution with greater speed and less expense.  We expect to have an opportunity to circulate these proposals for comment within the BBA before they take effect.
  • More efficient cases – judges will monitor cases more closely to assure that they stay on track. In addition, the SJC Standing Advisory Committee on the Rules of Civil and Appellate Procedure will be revising Rule 26 of the Rules of Civil Procedure.  Using the recently revised federal rule on discovery as a model, the Committee will tweak our state rule to encourage discovery proportional to case costs.  We look forward to being part of the review and comment process on Rule 26 as well.
  • Increased number of dedicated civil sessions – the District Court and Boston Municipal Court will, at least partly in response to our comments, introduce more sessions dedicated to civil cases, so that these will no longer be the third priority behind criminal and domestic abuse cases. They will also delay implementing the proposed increase in the procedural amount at these courts until these new sessions are running well and demonstrating that they can more efficiently handle civil cases.

Justice Reinvestment

The Chief Justice shared a number of ways the courts are working to improve criminal practice, with a focus on decreasing recidivism, helping individuals become productive members of society, and using the state’s criminal-justice budget more wisely to help achieve these twin goals.

  • Trial Court departments with criminal jurisdiction have been studying best practices in sentencing and hope to use this information to improve sentencing practices starting this winter. The BBA was represented by Thomas Peisch, Conn Kavanaugh, on the Superior Court Working Group; Daniel Dain, Dain, Torpy, Le Ray, Wiest & Garner PC and Michael Fee, Pierce & Mandell PC on the Land Court Working Group; and Thomas Beauvais and Nigel Long, Liberty Mutual on the BMC Working Group.
  • Chief Justice Gants is committed to following the findings and recommendations of the Council of State Governments, which he, along with the Governor, Speaker, and Senate President, invited to examine the Massachusetts criminal justice system. He cited a fact that the Council had already found – in 2012, 46% of those released from state prison in the Commonwealth went back to the street without either parole or probation supervision.  This is one of the highest unsupervised release rates in the country and may have the effect of increasing recidivism rates.
  • The Chief offered a number of ideas on justice reinvestment such as increasing the availability of good time credits, promoting step-down and re-entry programs, and removing mandatory minimum sentences, or at least their prohibition on the aforementioned programs. He also expressed the belief that the Commonwealth may benefit from decreasing sentence lengths and enhancing post-incarceration supervision.  Even though the Commonwealth’s incarceration rate is amongst the lowest in the country, it still does not compare favorably to history (the incarceration rate now is three times higher than it was in 1980 despite the fact that the rates of violent crime are now 22% lower and property crime are now 57% lower), or the world (if Massachusetts were a separate nation, it would have the eighth highest incarceration rate).
  • We need to reconsider all of the fees we are imposing on criminal defendants. We are charging them each hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars – fees that amount to more than $30 million per year, when many of these individuals have little or nothing to spare.  In addition, the task of collecting these fees has fallen to probation officers, which distracts them from their far more important function of helping probationers succeed in re-entering society.

Chief Justice Gants ended his speech with some notes on access to justice and jury voir dire.  On the former issue, he touted the recent opening of four Court Service Centers and the adoption and beginning implementation of a language access plan to help non-English speakers understand court processes, forms, and procedure.  The Courts are constantly exploring ways to assure that everyone can meaningfully access their services.

Finally, he talked about how the SJC responded to the bar with the adoption of attorney voir dire.  We were pleased to be involved in this process, as current BBA Vice-President Mark Smith, Laredo & Smith, LLP, served on the SJC Committee on this issue.  Over the past year, the Court issued a standing order governing lawyer participation in voir dire and designed a pilot project on panel voir dire, which is in use by 15 Superior Court judges.  They also recruited 30 Superior Court judges to study attorney-conducted voir dire.  The Courts have trained judges and gathered data on the impact of the new measures.  In all, the Courts continue to develop, grow, and adapt to this new aspect of practice.

As always, Chief Justice Gants clearly has his finger on the pulse of the judiciary.  We are excited to learn of the changes that are coming and to reflect on the strides the Courts have made in the last year.  We look forward to working with the judiciary to bring the Chief’s visions to reality, as the Courts innovate and thrive.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association