Posts Tagged: child support guidelines

Our Policy Agenda Reflects Our Range

It should come as no surprise that a one-size fits all approach to policy and advocacy doesn’t work for the BBA.  The universe of issues on which the BBA could take a public position is limitless.  In some ways, these issues exist on a continuum as illustrated below (click on the image to enlarge it).  As issues move along that scale from technical to policy to political, the Council’s role increases.

Our ability to be a leader on things that are timely, important and that resonate with our membership requires a process that is both flexible and practical.  The primary consideration for determining whether or not the BBA will speak is how central the issue is to the three main tenets of our mission: access to justice, the administration of justice, and improving the quality of Massachusetts’ laws.  The BBA is vocal on those issues that are central to our mission and more inclined to reserve judgment on issues that don’t clearly affect the practice of law or the legal profession.

When the BBA does speak, the organization speaks on behalf of its more than 10,000 members unless explicitly stating otherwise. The manner in which we make our position known varies.  We file amicus curiae briefs with the courts (see our amicus history), testify at public hearings on legislative issues, provide technical comments on proposed court rules, participate in official legislative task forces (see alimony), and meet with and write letters to key policy makers (see our NDAA letter to President Obama).

The BBA’s Council agenda for September reflects the breadth of issues the BBA considers at any given time.  Here’s a look at three items that are taking distinctly different internal paths at the BBA.

Section Comments on Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines

As we noted last week, the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines are undergoing a federally mandated quadrennial review. These Guidelines clearly affect the quality of our laws and the practice of law.  These Guidelines and any changes to them is practice specific, directly affecting family law attorneys and their clients. Therefore, the BBA relies on the expertise of its Family Law Section and its Delivery of Legal Services Section (which is composed of many civil legal aid providers with experience in Probate and Family Court matters) to spearhead the BBA’s response. The Family Law Section solicited input from its membership and drafted comments and suggestions to be submitted to the Court. Though the comments still need to be reviewed by the BBA Council, the heavy lifting is done by our members at the section level.

Update on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

Back in August, the BBA filed an amicus brief in the Fisher case urging the Supreme Court to uphold race-conscious admission criteria.  This issue originated in the BBA’s Diversity & Inclusion Section.  Because of the BBA’s longstanding position that race-conscious admissions policies are vital to integrating the legal profession, we felt compelled to weigh in.  The BBA’s Amicus Committee and a small group consisting of BBA Council members worked under an accelerated timeline to draft, recruit signatories and file the brief. The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the case on October 10th.

Massachusetts Drug Lab

Last month news broke about egregious breaches in protocol at the Massachusetts drug lab, jeopardizing thousands of state and federal cases. The problems uncovered at the state lab clearly affect the administration of justice.  This is so closely tied to our work in sentencing reform and touches on principles the BBA formulated in its Getting it Right: Improving the Accuracy and Reliability of the Criminal Justice System in Massachusetts. The BBA’s Council will determine if – and when – the BBA should develop a public policy position regarding the issues raised by the breaches.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
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