Posts Tagged: Boston Bar Association

The Spirit of Boston

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh made “spirit” the focal point of his speech at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Forum this week.  Just over 100 days into his tenure as Mayor, he spoke with pride and awe about serving as one of Boston’s chief public servants.

He described his four priorities:

Strengthening our economy and creating jobs,

Improving public safety and stopping gun violence

Ensuring our public schools help every child succeed, and,

Increasing trust and transparency in city government.

He also talked about some of the challenges he’s faced in his first few months – the tragic loss of a child to gun violence, the loss of two firefighters in the Beacon Street fire, and a Boston police officer who died on duty.

Mayor Walsh emphasized the importance of getting more summer jobs for Boston’s youth.  He asked every business in the room to hire a Boston public school student for the summer in order to provide meaningful opportunities for our city’s young people.  There are often young people that do not have someone at home to guide and direct them, and Boston businesses can make the difference in a young person’s life.  Mayor Walsh stressed that we need to have our next generation of Boston’s leaders reflect the diversity of the city.  While recognizing the many Boston businesses that have already supported the summer jobs program, he talked about the importance of continuing the atmosphere of business and city collaboration.  We are honored to assist law firms in facilitating their participation in this program.

Mayor Walsh envisions changes in City Hall that will support business, including increasing certainty and transparency.  He hopes to give everyone a seat at the table by opening up regulation processes so that the city will be more partner than adversary.  He touted development through ongoing construction projects in downtown Boston and surrounding communities as well as increasing the use of advanced technology, spearheaded by the city’s newest position, Chief Digital Officer.

Finally, the new Mayor ended his speech by telling the stories of three Boston companies:

  • Liberty Mutual – started in Boston by three people looking to pool their insurance costs and now employs more than 50,000
  • – founded in a South End apartment and now an online furniture company valued at more than $1 billion
  • The yet-to-be-formed company – it exists as only as an idea in the minds of a group of college students in the Boston area.  They need access to capital, a pool of smart and talented employees, world class infrastructure, housing options, and a productive partner in city hall to succeed –

The spirit of Boston is what makes these stories possible and the commitment to progress that will make them endure.

Our members infuse the BBA with the impressive spirit of the Boston legal community.  They provide constant reminders of why the city is a paragon of ethical practice, innovative litigation, and charitable giving both in money and service by firms, corporations, and practitioners devoted to their communities.

We look forward to serving the legal community and promoting its continued evolution to meet the needs of these businesses and contribute to our dynamic, thriving city.

– Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association

UCC Update Bill: Primed to Pass During Informal Session

This month the BBA Council voted to support House Bill 25 “An Act Making amendments to the Uniform Commercial Code Covering General Provisions, Documents of Title and Secured Transactions.”  This legislation was filed in January 2011 at the beginning of the 187th legislative session.  House Bill 25 will modernize provisions of Articles 1, 7 and 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC).  These updates will bring Massachusetts in line with the national model.  The revisions to the UCC include things like providing for electronic bills of lading and warehouse receipts and addressing technical corrections in personal property secured transactions.

House Bill 25 has broad support from groups representing creditors and debtors alike – including the Massachusetts Bankers Association and the Associated Industries of Massachusetts.  Last October, the Financial Services Committee held a public hearing on the bill, and it is now before the Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee.

The Legislature is in informal session through December. In order for bills to pass during informal session there cannot be any opposition – even a single member can derail a piece of legislation. This means that typically only non-controversial proposals would have a chance of advancing in the next two months.  Passage of a bill during an informal session is generally a win-win for everyone – because legislators get credit for passing sensible reforms and supporters are rewarded for their hard work.

Despite the fact that the Legislature only meets in informal sessions between now and the end of the year, House Bill 25 is still alive and there is a good chance that it will find its way to the Governor’s desk before January.  Here’s why….it’s a good bill, it’s non-controversial, and it has broad support and no known opposition.  Probably even more important than all of that is the fact that during informal sessions there is a much smaller queue of bills vying for placement on the legislative calendar.

A legislative victory by the end of December – and during an informal session – wouldn’t be the first time the BBA has seen a flurry of activity in the waning months of a legislative session.  In December 2010, when the last legislative session was coming to an end, the BBA was pleased to see homestead reform and an update to the bankruptcy exemptions statute in Massachusetts become law.  Similar to the updates of the UCC, these bills made sensible improvements to existing laws that were widely supported. Both bills progressed quickly in the final days of session but actually took years to gain traction to advance in the Legislature.  The BBA had been working on homestead reform for numerous legislative sessions and on various iterations of the bankruptcy exemptions statute for several years.

Controversial and contentious bills often grab headlines during formal session.  Informal sessions can present opportunities for the Legislature to turn attention to seemingly mundane but important issues like House Bill 25.  With more time to fully vet and promote passage, bills in this category often become law before the session ends.  The BBA will now focus on getting this bill on legislators’ radar screens in an effort to secure passage before the end of the year.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association

New Year at the BBA Means Renewed Focus on Important Issues

It’s September and that means the BBA’s program year has begun, and we are already off to a busy start. We welcomed our new president, J.D. Smeallie, and we have a full slate of things on the horizon.

Annual Meeting Luncheon
This year’s Annual Meeting is scheduled for September 21st at the Boston Sheraton Hotel. The event begins at 11:30 a.m. and features keynote speaker Senator Patrick Leahy . This former Vermont state prosecutor shares a common passion with the BBA – ensuring access to justice for all. He has championed several critical pieces of federal criminal justice reform legislation. The Senator’s work on these issues – particularly on the Justice for All Act of 2004 – has been essential to making our criminal justice system accessible to everyone.

The Justice for All Act of 2004 is a comprehensive package of criminal justice reforms. Senator Leahy was instrumental in drafting the legislation in 2004 and getting it passed. He is so committed to this issue that he introduced legislation to reauthorize the criminal justice package last year. Under his leadership as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the reauthorization legislation passed the Senate in June 2012.

One of Senator Leahy’s key contributions to the Justice for All Act of 2004 and the reauthorization legislation is the Innocence Protection Act. The Innocence Protection Act includes procedures for post-conviction DNA testing in federal court (sound familiar?). It also establishes the Bloodsworth Grant Program, which provides money to states to help offset the costs of post-conviction DNA testing. Now that Massachusetts passed the BBA’s legislation providing access to post-conviction DNA testing, we join the 48 other states that are eligible to apply for Bloodsworth funds. Senator Leahy’s work on these issues has gone a long way to ensure a more reliable system of forensic science and criminal justice.

Child Support Guidelines
On September 27th, the BBA is hosting the Trial Court’s Child Support Guidelines Task Force. Since federal law requires that the Guidelines be reviewed every four years, the Task Force has opened a comment period and will hold hearings around the state. The Trial Court’s Task Force is being led by Chief Justice Paula Carey of the Probate and Family Court. The BBA’s Family Law Section reviewed the Guidelines and will submit its comments to the Trial Court’s Task Force for its consideration.

The Guidelines are of tremendous importance to not only the legal community, but also to the public. Parents receiving child support, lawyers, judges, and others are concerned about the fair application of these Guidelines. Since non-custodial and custodial parents cannot always agree on what is enough support for their children, the Guidelines help ensure that children are adequately supported by their parents. The judges of the Trial Court use the Guidelines in setting orders for current child support, in deciding whether to approve agreements for child support, and when addressing the modification of existing orders.

Meeting with the Courts
This month the new BBA president will start meeting with each of the Chief Justices of the Massachusetts state and federal courts. These meetings help the BBA understand the issues faced by members of the judiciary and frame our advocacy efforts for the year ahead. In recent years, court funding has been the major focus for our state courts as the Judiciary struggles meeting the demand for justice amid inadequate resources.

Changes to Court Rules
The Supreme Judicial Court expects to release changes to both the Model Jury Instructions and Rules 12 and 29 of the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure – check out last month’s Issue Spot post for more information. Both SJC committees reviewing these rules are expected to meet this month.

Further on the horizon, arguments in the Fisher v. University of Texas Supreme Court case are scheduled for October 10th.  It promises to be a busy, but very challenging fall.  Check back with Issue Spot to keep up to date with it all.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association

Probate Bill and State Budget Get Go Ahead from Gov

As the formal session winds down (ending July 31st), the Governor last weekend signed into law two major bills the BBA has been tracking: An Act further regulating the Probate Code and establishing a Trust Code and the State Budget for FY2013.  Here’s a quick snapshot of these pieces of legislation:

Probate Code and Trust Code

The Massachusetts Uniform Trust Code (MUTC), corrections to the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (MUPC) and a revised fee schedule for the Probate Court represent a major victory for trusts and estates attorneys, the probate bench and the public.  These measures became effective immediately and will provide greater clarity and predictability for attorneys and clients.

The MUTC, now known as Chapter 140 of the Acts of 2012, codifies the laws of trusts and makes them more accessible and easier to understand.  With the passage of the MUTC, Massachusetts becomes the 24th state to have adopted the Uniform Trust Code (the District of Columbia also has the UTC).

The technical changes to the MUPC are intended to make the time-saving and efficiency of proceedings available to more estates.  Other sections of the legislation make corrections to the guardianship provisions of the MUPC to promote availability of medical information to the Court and to add flexibility for the Court to authorize guardians to place incapacitated person in nursing homes.

The revised fee schedule includes updated references to many actions and pleadings that are already being used under the MUPC.  Of specific importance are the revised fees for the first bond and first letter.  Under the revised fee schedule, there is no separate charge for the initial appointment bond of the fiduciary, or for the issuance of the first letter.

For additional information, check out this blog post drafted by the BBA Trusts and Estates section.  The Probate & Family Court also provides regular updates on its MUPC hub page.

State Budget

Governor Patrick has signed the FY13 state budget after taking the full 10 days allowed for reviewing the spending plan produced by the Legislature.  For the first 8 days of FY2013, the Commonwealth was operating on a temporary $1.25 billion interim budget.

The FY13 budget has huge implications for the welfare system, immigration status verifications and other policy areas.  As we’ve noted in this space in previous posts, the BBA took great interest in a few select line items:

  • The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) received $12 million in funding.  While this figure falls short of the original request of $14.5 million, it will allow MLAC to continue providing legal services at its current level and to avoid MLAC needing to make further cuts to the organizations that it funds.
  • The Trial Court received $550,977,000 for FY13.  Governor Patrick did veto $10 million from the line item reserved for Probation.  The Governor noted that he believes the new figure meets the projected responsibilities and caseloads.  The Trial Court plans to ask the Legislature to override the Governor’s $10 million veto from Probation’s line item.

-Government Relations Department
Boston Bar Association

Reflections for the 4th

As we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July and reflect on the founding of our nation, the BBA is reminded of its own beginnings and the meetings convened by John Adams in the 1700’s.  These meetings provided lawyers throughout the city with an opportunity to discuss the practice of law in colonial America and the common desire to live in a just society. Today the BBA, as a community of attorneys and citizens, focuses on these same issues in a variety of ways.

Just one example of the ways we do this is through our public policy work.  The BBA speaks out at the federal and state level on significant pieces of legislation that impact access to justice, the administration of justice and the practice of law – including civil rights and civil liberties. Our advocacy in this area spans such issues as affirmative action, the right to vote and same-sex marriage.  Some of our recent work includes raising our concerns over the National Defense Authorization Act in a letter to President Obama, testifying in support of the  newly enacted Transgender Equal Rights Act and collaborating with the Legislature to secure passage of a critical access to DNA bill in Massachusetts. The BBA continues to be a beacon for fair and equal treatment under the law for every citizen.

For America’s birthday we thought we’d share a quote from our founder, John Adams.  In a letter to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote of the Declaration of Independence and the coming struggle for freedom:

“I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means.”

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association

The Massachusetts Transgender Equal Rights Bill to Take Effect July 1

As of July 1st, when the Transgender Equal Rights Bill takes effect, transgender people will have clear legal recourse if they face discrimination at work, in public housing, education or when they apply for credit.  This is a straightforward and perhaps simple piece of legislation that will have a monumental impact on the lives of the Massachusetts transgender community.

The issue of equal rights for the transgender community has been around for some time.  The original legislation was introduced in November of 2007.  Now almost five years later, Massachusetts joins 15 other states who have added gender identity to the non-discrimination laws in the areas of employment, housing, K-12 public education and credit.  The new law also adds “gender identity” to the Massachusetts hate crimes statutes.

Since the very beginning, the BBA has worked with the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition on this historic piece of legislation.  Among other advocacy measures, the BBA has participated at public hearings by testifying in support of the legislation both as an access to justice issue and as a diversity and inclusion issue.  As we’ve written before in Issue Spot, adding the term “gender identity” really is a basic civil rights protection.  But the acceptance of that term also signifies the recognition that diversity can be a major asset for society and businesses.

While this new law brings some protections to challenges faced by members of the transgender community, it does not expressly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in public accommodations.  Existing Massachusetts laws do provide some support for claims brought in public accommodations cases, but the lack of explicit protections in regard to discrimination in public accommodations fails to clarify how these types of cases will be resolved.  For more information about the public accommodations aspect of this issue check out this recent, insightful Boston Bar Journal article.

So while we pause to celebrate this new law taking effect we realize there’s more work to be done in this area.  Advocates plan to revisit discrimination in public accommodations during the next legislative session.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association

BMC CORI Sealing Order Preserves Access to Justice

In May, Chief Justice Charles Johnson of the Boston Municipal Court (BMC) signed BMC Standing Order 1-09, as a permanent order.  The BBA received a grateful letter from Chief Justice Johnson once he had made the Order permanent.  The Order is an excellent example of how the courts are continuing to identify ways to make the public’s experience with the judicial system easier and more efficient.

Standing Order 1-09 permits the sealing of three or more dismissals and non-conviction criminal records from two or more court divisions of the BMC.  The proposal – and now the permanent Standing Order – would apply to dismissals without probationary terms, nolle prosequi or a not guilty finding.  In 2009, Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) proposed creating a procedure for interdepartmental determinations of motions to seal criminal records.  That year, GBLS brought this proposal to the attention of our Delivery of Legal Services Section and the BBA Council for the BBA’s support.  It was a no-brainer.  Since then the BBA has been working with Chief Justice Johnson’s office and urging the court to adopt the Order.  This started out as a one year pilot program and was extended twice before being made permanent in May.

So how does Standing Order 1-09 actually affect real people?  Here’s just one example…Imagine Jane Doe who lives in Roxbury has 6 charges that can be sealed in 4 divisions of the BMC – Dorchester, Roxbury, South Boston and Brighton.  She can file a single petition in the Roxbury division of the BMC to seal all her eligible BMC cases.  This means she can avoid paying a babysitter, save on bus and subway fares, and doesn’t have to lose hours at her minimum wage, part-time, graveyard shift job at a nursing home. Jane is stuck in this job that provides no vacation days because of her Criminal Offender Record Information and lives paycheck to paycheck.

Standing Order 1-09 allows multiple motions from different districts to be heard in one of the courts with jurisdiction over a case to be sealed.  This saves people like Jane Doe a great deal of time, energy and money, as well as giving people peace of mind.

Prior to Standing Order 1-09, the sealing process was cumbersome at best.  In addition to needing to travel to each district to have a record sealed, the former statute required two hearings before any individual motion to seal could be decided.  That meant that individuals would have to travel to each court twice to have the motion decided.

Thanks to GBLS for bringing this to our attention.  This was unnecessary and was not the best use of the court’s time and resources.  Many people seeking to seal their records are indigent and cannot afford a lawyer.  The BMC’s – thank you, Chief Justice Johnson– willingness to implement this innovative approach to case management and access to justice is to be commended.  This Standing Order promotes judicial efficiency and will save pro bono, legal services and other attorneys many hours of time, thereby permitting them to help more indigent clients.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association

Con Con: No News is Good News

On June 6th, the MA Legislature convened a constitutional convention for the fifth time since the current legislative session began in January 2011.  During each two-year legislative session, members of the House and Senate meet jointly to consider proposed changes to Massachusetts’ Constitution.  The constitutional convention is presided over by the Senate President.  Senators and Representatives meet in the House Chamber to debate and vote on various proposals.  In order for a proposal to get on the constitutional convention’s agenda, proposals must be reported out of legislative committees with either a favorable or unfavorable recommendation.

Recent constitutional conventions – May 11, 2011, July 13, 2011, October 12, 2011 and March 14, 2012 – have recessed quickly without action on any of the pending proposals on the agenda.  At the constitutional convention on June 6th, House and Senate members agreed to recess for three more months indicating little appetite on the legislature’s part to debate or consider any of the amendments on the agenda.  Since constitutional amendments must win approval from two consecutive Legislatures before they advance, it is unlikely that we will see any changes to the state constitution soon.

The current constitutional convention’s agenda consists of 19 amendments – including a proposal for a two-year state budget process, a call for term limits for judges, three proposals that would prohibit eminent domain takings and four proposals that would permanently abolish the Governor’s Council.  Each of these proposals would be a drastic change to the state constitution.

The proposal relative to term limits for judges would require a judge to go before the Governor’s Council every seven years to be eligible for reappointment.  Whether this proposal is politically motivated or considered by some as sound policy is irrelevant.  Massachusetts needs its judges to be independent and impartial.  We want our judges to make fair decisions based on the facts and not on whether they might be up for review and reappointment.

The Governor’s Council – as we’ve written about in Issue Spot – continues to be a topic of much debate.  Some legislators have supported an amendment to abolish the eight-member Governor’s Council and transfer its functions to an independent commission.   Councillors are elected every two years, one each from eight districts.  Among other things, the Governor’s Council is tasked with vetting the governor’s judicial nominees and appointees to the state parole board.  Today, the primary function of the Governor’s Council is to review judicial nominations.  Many recent judicial nomination hearings have made headlines for their contentious nature and close votes.

Whether abolishing the Governor’s Council is a good idea or a bad idea, the Legislature would have to advance the proposal to the next legislative session in order for this amendment to succeed.   In fact, there is no indication that any of the amendments before the constitutional convention will be approved this session.  The process for amending the state constitution is deliberately arduous to preserve fundamental principles and prevent arbitrary changes.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association

Cleaning Up Loose Ends

As of this writing, Massachusetts has just 23 days to finalize the $32.4 billion state budget.  With differences between the House (H  4101) and Senate (S 2275) versions of the budget, now is the time for negotiations conducted by the recently named budget conference committee. Serving on that committee are the House conferees Representative Brian Dempsey, Representative Stephen Kulik and Representative Viriato deMacedo, and Senate conferees Senator Stephen Brewer, Senator Jennifer Flanagan and Senator Michael Knapik.  As you may recall, the House budget was finalized in April and the Senate’s version was finalized at the end of May.  Once the conference committee has agreed on the details of the budget, it will be reviewed by Governor Patrick before he signs it.  The goal is to get this all done by July 1st.

Just for the record, the BBA has a particular interest in line item 0321-1600 – Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC).  MLAC’s request for fiscal year 2013 was $14.5 million – check out MLAC’s fact sheet.  Both the Governor and the House proposed funding MLAC at $12 million, while the Senate only appropriated $11.5 million.  The BBA will be working with our legal services partners to secure at least the $12 million provided by the Governor and the House.

*             *             *

An update on another conference committee the BBA is watching with interest… For the past six months, the crime bill conference committee has been meeting to settle differences between a habitual offender sentencing reform bill that the House approved and a much larger crime package passed by the Senate.  Both sides have expressed optimism that a compromise bill will be ready before the end of July.

Among the issues still being negotiated and discussed by the crime conference committee are the list of crimes that would trigger a “three-strikes” elimination of parole, a reduction to the size of school zones that carry increased penalties for drug crimes and a reduction in mandatory minimum sentences.

While Massachusetts has a year round Legislature, formal sessions end on July 31st.  But, the Legislature will continue to meet about twice a week through December in informal sessions. There’s a push to get this crime bill (and many other bills too) completed by the end of July because it can be challenging to advance a major piece of legislation during an informal session.  During an informal session, if even one member of the Legislature raises an objection, this brings the informal session to a halt – thereby blocking the progress of any bill being considered.

We expect a lot of activity over the next few weeks as the Legislature works to complete a number of its priorities.  In addition to the work on behalf of MLAC and working to push for mandatory minimum sentence reform for nonviolent drug offenses, the BBA will continue to try to get our other bills over the final finish line for this session.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association

Fisher Decision Will Affect Diversity at Every Level

In August, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, an affirmative action case challenging the admission policies and practices of the University of Texas at Austin.  The Supreme Court granted certiorari on the question of whether the Supreme Court’s decisions interpreting the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, including Grutter v. Bollinger, permit the university’s use of race as a factor in undergraduate admission decisions.

In Fisher, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas held that, under the Supreme Court’s decision in Grutter, the university had a compelling interest in attaining a diverse student body.  The District Court concluded that the university’s admissions program was narrowly tailored to serve that interest.  On appeal to the Fifth Circuit, the three judges on the panel all voted to affirm the district court ruling, relying on the Grutter decision.

The BBA’s Diversity & Inclusion Section has asked the BBA to weigh in on the issues raised in Fisher.

This isn’t the first time the BBA has been asked to take a position on race-conscious admissions policies.  The BBA was an amici in Grutterarguing that not having race-conscious admissions policies would harm efforts to diversify the legal profession.  Grutter involved the use of race-conscious admissions policies at the University of Michigan Law School. The BBA’s amicus brief in Grutter urged the Supreme Court to uphold race-conscious admissions policies as vital to integrating the legal profession.

The issues raised in Fisher and in Grutter are important to the BBA.  A diverse and inclusive legal community is central to the BBA’s mission — to advance the highest standards of excellence for the legal profession, facilitate access to justice, and serve the community at large. The BBA has consistently taken the position that race-conscious admissions policies are necessary to ensure that the legal community reflects the growing diversity of our population.  A legal community that accurately reflects the composition of the people it serves instills confidence and helps ensure that every person has equal access to justice.

Diversity as a concept is broader than just race and gender.  In the context of the BBA, valuing diversity means recognizing the unique professional contributions that different individuals can make, and creating an environment that maximizes the potential of all members.  The BBA has made diversity a part of its institutional culture in recent years, but we can do more.  Diversity is now an ongoing discussion and not a just an agenda item.

The Fisher decision promises to have serious implications for affirmative action policies, and ultimately our ability to integrate the legal profession.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association