March 15, 2012

ACCESS TO JUSTICE NEWS AND UPDATES

Commission Meeting Today (Thursday)

The next meeting of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission will take place at 3:00 p.m., Thursday, March 15, 2012, in the Fifth Floor Conference Room of the Social Law Library at the Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Square, Boston.

The Agenda for the meeting will feature a discussion of the recently released Boston Bar Association Task Force report, “The Importance of Representation in Eviction Cases and Homelessness Prevention: A Report on the BBA Civil Right to Counsel Housing Pilots.” The full report can be found on the BBA’s website, www.bostonbar.org. 

Another topic on the agenda is consideration of the Commission’s “Objectives for 2012” and a discussion of whether to undertake a planning process for future years. 

There will also be reports on the new Access to Justice Fellows program, improving the notices sent by DTA, the role of law libraries in helping self-representing litigants, the development of a statewide pro bono website and the progress being made by the Trial Court’s Access to Justice Initiatives. 

The next meeting of the Commission will be on May 31. 

District Court Makes Limited Assistance Representation Standing Order Permanent

Chief Justice Lynda M. Connolly has amended Standing Order No. 1-11 (Regarding Limited Assistance Representation and Substitute Counsel), implementing the LAR project in the District Court Department on a permanent basis effective January 25, 2012.  She noted that there had been no reported difficulties associated with the pilot project, and that the LAR provisions were designed largely for the benefit of litigants who might not be able to afford full representation or who might feel that full representation is unnecessary.  “It is hoped that over time litigants will begin to take advantage of this opportunity in increasing numbers.”

A Little More Right to Counsel

The SJC, in Adoption of Meaghan (January 30, 2012) has unanimously held that the well-established right to counsel before the state terminates parental rights also applies when the termination will occur as the result of an adoption commenced by would-be adoptive parents.  Extending the rationale, the Court stated “Where the petitioner is a private party, the same fundamental, constitutionally protected interests are at stake, and the cost of erroneously terminating the parental rights remains too high to require and indigent parent to risk it without counsel.”  The child was also found entitled to separate counsel.

Chief Justice Ireland Distributes Commission Mentor List to New Admittees

In a letter welcoming newly admitted lawyers to the bar, Chief Justice Ireland has begun distributing a list of many resources available to help a new lawyer find a mentor if one is not present on the job.  The Chief Justice notes that the list was prepared by the Access to Justice Commission.  The list includes mentoring programs of the Massachusetts Bar Association, County and Regional Bar Associations, affinity bar associations, other professional associations and additional resources.  The letter and the list are posted on the Commission’s website, www.massaccesstojustice.org.

Justice Gants Speaks to Walk to the Hill Crowd, January 26

SJC Associate Justice and Commission Co-Chair  Ralph.D. Gants delivered the keynote address when hundreds of lawyers gathered at the State House on January 26 to support MLAC’s request for an appropriation from the legislature.  Noting the large “IOLTA gap” – revenue down nearly 80% -- he asked everyone to join together in asking for help.  Help is warranted because legal services::

Ø  ensure that the promise of “equal justice for all” is more than a promise,

Ø  is a sound investment, returning more money to the state than it costs,

Ø  saves the courts time, expense and the burden of figuring out, and

Ø  provide the essential infrastructure, training and advice with which the vast majority of Massachusetts residents understand, enforce and defend their rights.

“But ultimately the questions you must ask of our elected representatives are a variation of the questions asked by Hillel at the beginning of the modern era: What kind of a Commonwealth would we be it we did not protect the rights of those in need by providing them with adequate legal services?  And if we do not protect the rights of those in need, who will ?  And if not now, when?” 

FUNDING NEWS

Pro Hac Vice Rule Out for Comment

In December the Commission submitted to the SJC a proposal for a new rule establishing a pro hac vice fee of $300.  In February the Court published a slightly reworded version of the rule for comments.  The comment period has now run, and the Court will take the proposal and comments up this spring.

The proposal mirrors similar rules in more than forty states and follows eight other states that dedicate proceeds of a pro hac vice fee to support for legal assistance to the poor.  There is no data on the number of pro hac vice appearances that are filed each year, so the potential returns from the fee cannot be estimated.

MLAC Receives $1.0 Million Supplemental Appropriation for FY 2012

With strong leadership in both houses of the legislature, a supplemental appropriation of $1.0 million has been passed for MLAC for FY 2012.  The Governor signed the bill. Since MLAC’s original appropriation was $9.5 million, legal services programs will receive $10.5 million in total for the fiscal year that ends in June.  

MLAC Seeks $14.5 Million for FY 2013; Governor Proposes $12.0 Million

Governor Patrick has released his proposed budget for FY 2013.  It contains a request that the legislature appropriate $12.0 million for MLAC, an increase of $2.5 million over this year’s original appropriation and $1.5 million over the total funding MLAC has actually received. 

MLAC itself is seeking $14.5 million, which would partially offset the historically low level of IOLTA revenue.  The IOLTA picture is unlikely to improve in the next year or two; the Federal Reserve has announced its intention to keep interest rates near zero for several more years.  

President Obama Requests $402 million for 2013; LSC Seeks $470 million.

The President’s budget essentially restores funding to the 2011 level, and would bring about $1.0 million in grants back to Massachusetts.  In addition, the President urges Congress to lift the 1996 restriction on the use of class actions by recipients of LSC money. 

What is Legal Aid Worth?

An MLAC analysis prepared during the legislative effort has some startling estimates.  To start with, MLAC data showed that representation of clients brought $27.7 million in new benefits during FY ’11.  Food stamps, disability and unemployment benefits accounted for most of the federal cash infusion to the state.  Another $10.4 million was won for clients, mostly in state unemployment, utility arrearage forgiveness and child support cases. 

MLAC grantees also saved the state an estimated $15.1 million, mostly in preventing homelessness and the related charges for the emergency shelter system, but also in medical and court costs avoided through representation of domestic violence victims. 

All together, the FY ‘11 value of the legal services provided gave a $53 million boost to the state’s economy.  This was no flash in the pan.  For FY ’10, a comparable analysis showed the total of revenues brought to clients and savings to the state was $77.7 million.  In each year, the state appropriation for MLAC?  $9.5 million.  The report is available at http://www.mlac.org/research.html

 

NEWS FROM OTHER STATES 

Access to Justice Commissions – Many Models, One Goal

The ABA’s Access to Justice Support Project (www.ATJsupport.org) reports on Commission activities across the country.  The January 25 report reveals quite a range of projects:

Ø  CA: Hearings on effects of underfunding the courts and the legal services programs

Ø  NY: Chief Judge’s Task Force Report documents negative impact of unmet need on the courts, businesses, government and vulnerable people.

Ø  TN: Supreme Court launches website, www.JusticeForAll.TN, with downloadable forms, resources on self-representation, and access by email to a volunteer lawyer who will answer questions.

Ø  TX: Presentations for judges and for clerks on what they can ethically do to help solve the problems pro se litigants face.

Ø  DC: Commission, bar and legal services programs proposed and D.C. Courts adopted  changes in the Code of Judicial Conduct to state that judges should “make reasonable accommodations that help [self-represented] litigants” . . . .

Ø  NM: Commission recommended and Supreme Court adopted revision to class action rules to provide that residual class action funds may go to legal aid, IOLTA or Bar Foundation.

Ø  WI: Appointed a special committee to study costs and benefits of providing counsel in some civil legal matters where basic human needs are at stake.

Ø  ME Access to Justice Symposium, “Changing Maine: Serving the Legal Needs of Maine’s Growing Aging and Immigrant Population.” 

Texas Remarks Inspire

Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan L. Hecht presented a “Legislative Hero” award to state Senator Robert Duncan on February 16.  His remarks included reference to the basic need of an increasing number of people for help with legal needs and the importance of a strong legal services infrastructure to support pro bono efforts as two reasons the state legislature appropriated $20 million in 2009 and $17 million in 2011 for legal aid programs.  He continued:

“Legal services make economic sense; the financial consequences of unresolved legal problems – domestic violence, deprived children, denied veterans, forsaken elderly, and on and on – are a far more burdensome expense than the cost of providing legal services to address them.  But even more important than economics, basic legal services for the poor is essential to the integrity of the rule of law.  That is why the Supreme Court of Texas – myself and all my colleagues unanimously – support legal services heart and soul.  A legal system too expensive for those who need it is a failure.  We do not intend to preside over such a system.  This is not a partisan issue.  It is not Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal.  This past session, Members of the Legislature, from the most liberal to the staunchest conservative, supported efforts to preserve legal services.” 

Language Access in the Courts

After hearing from the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators that its original proposal was an unfunded mandate and too expensive, the ABA modified its proposed “Standards for Language Access in the Courts” and the Standards were adopted by the ABA.  The Conferences supported the revised Standards, which are now aspirational.  The Conferences will convene a national summit in October 2012 in Houston, Texas, to bring together “chief justice-led state teams composed of representatives from all three branches of government and the state bar to develop state specific strategies for improving access to justice for limited English proficient individuals.”  Resolution In Support of Standards for Language Access in the Courts per A.B.A. Resolution 113, adopted December 8, 2011. 

Richard Zorza’s Access to Justice Blog

Richard Zorza is one of the most interesting analysts of access to justice issues.  He looks into the future with real insights.,  He’s particularly wise about technology, the courts, self-represented litigants and legal services.  Richard works as a consultant on technology issues for LSC, the Self-Represented Litigants Network, the National Center for State Courts and others.

Take a look at his blog by going to http://accesstojustice.net/ .  You can subscribe by clicking on the button under Email Subscription (it’s free).  All the past posts are there to browse.

Here is a brief description of several of his recent posts:

 

February 1: The Texas Access to Justice Commission, while advocating for the creation of more court forms for use by self-representing litigants, did a survey of the states regarding the availability of court forms.  Richard put the survey data in his blog.  He also published the results of interviews with people in 22 states involved in promulgating state forms on such questions as harm to the public, impact on lawyer income, availability to all or just the poor, impact on judicial efficiency and economy and the role of state bar associations in support of efforts to help pro se’s.

 

February 28:  Richard has developed principles to guide “triage” in a future justice system – a system for getting people with problems into the system and to the help they need as efficiently and quickly as possible.  Major headings include Universality, Consistency and Predictability of Triage Outcomes, User Focus, Control, Support and Choice, Comprehensiveness of Problems and Services, Cost Benefit and Impact Maximization, and Transparency.

March 5:  Bloomberg Editorial Board Endorses Forms, Self-Help Services, Unbundling.

March 7: Claudia Johnson on Lay Legal Self-Help Support in the Small Claims Context.

March 13:  Interesting Points in DOJ Language Access Letter to North Carolina Courts.  The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice has written the North Carolina Chief Justice regarding alleged violations of the civil rights of ethnic groups for whom English is a second language.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

 

 UPDATE OCTOBER 20, 2011


ADAMS PRO BONO PUBLICO AWARDS AND 

PRO BONO RECOGNITION PROGRAM

The SJC's Adams Pro Bono Publico Awards will be given out and the Court's new Pro Bono Attorney Recognition Program will be inaugurated at a ceremony in the Adams Courthouse on Wednesday, October 26 at 4:00 p.m.  All are invited to attend and congratulate the award winners and honored firms.  If you plan to come, contact Carol Lev at             617-557-1074                  617-557-1074                  617-557-1074       or at carol.lev@sjc.state.ma.us.

Receiving the Adams Pro Bono Publico Awareds are:

     Kerry Elizabeth Doyle

     Donal Eoin Reilly

     Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, PC

The new SJC Pro Bono Recognition Program, proposed by Commission Co-Chair Justice Ralph Gants and to be administered by the SJC's Standing Committee on Pro Bono, honors firms which certify that they more than met the pro bono standard set in Rule 6.1.  The firms being honored, and the details of the program, can be found at http://www.mass.gov/courts/sjc/pro-bono-recognition.html.  


COMMISsIONER TRANSITIONS

Several members of the Access to Justice Commission have made important changes recently.

Robert B. Foster has been nominated by Governor Patrick to serve as an Associate Justice on the Land Court.

Jacquelynne J. Bowman has been appointed Executive Director of Greater Boston Legal Services, succeeding Bob Sable, who has retired.

Navjeet K. Bal has left her position as Commissioner of Revenue and is now at Nixon  Peabody LLP.


CHIEF JUSTICE IRELAND SPEAKS ABOUT ACCESS TO JUSTICE

In his first annual address to the Massachusetts Bar Association on October 13, 2011, Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland had some very supportive things to say about the work of the Commission and the commissioners.  Analogizing to creation of the Business Litigation Session to meet the needs of business, he declared it a duty of the judicial branch to make courts more welcoming to those who have been historically under-served -- "people of color, immigrants, the poor and the disabled:."  He tasked the Commission to provide "leadership to the many entities involved in expanding access to justice" under the leadership of co-chairs Justice Ralph Gants and Attorney David Rosenberg.

Among the access to justice initiatives he cited favorably were:

Innovative pro bono programs,

Limited assistance representation,

Justice Fein and the access to justice initiative,

Courthouse information desks,

Trial Court law libraries.

SJI grant to the Trial Court to translate small claims court forms,

Probate and Family Court financial statement now in Spanish and Portuguese,

Judicial Institute Training for court staff on serving unrepresented litigants, and

A judicial conference convened by Justice Cynthia Cohen on managing cases involving unrepresented parties


SECOND INTERIM REPORT OF THE SPECIAL PLANNING COMMITTEE

The Second Interim Report of the Special Planning Committee was approved by the Commission at its meeting September 15, 2011.  The Committee issued its First Interim Report in May and took comments over the summer.  The Second Interim Report is the revised version and can be downloaded here

The Report recommends:

That a Commission goal be that ongoing, careful and comprehensive planning become a regular feature of the delivery system.

That the intake, screening and hotline functions in each region be examined, that best practices be developed and that resources be shifted to extended advocacy.  The providers' intake system task force is asked to undertake this examination and to report its plans within six months.

That there be a concerted statewide effort among the providers to assess steps that can be taken to increase systemic advocacy.  Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and the providers' Advocacy Coordination Committee are asked to undertake this effort and to report on their plans within six months.

That each region determine its allocation of regional resources among a range of extents of service, the spectrum of substantive areas and the variety of population groups, and then question whether that allocation maximizes impact on basic human needs, on escaping from poverty or on the quality of individual lives.

That providers utilize volunteer resources and allied professionals more effectively.

That technological innovations be more effectively employed.

That evaluation of program practices and initiatives be improved and that the results of evaluations be shared.

That the providers and the Commission continue to pursue new resources through the Commission's Revenue Enhancement Committee.

That the Planning Committee follow up on developments in the regions and in the delivery system as a whole.

The comments to the First Interim Report are also available.  The first eleven are here.

1.  Ann Leavenworth                                                               2

2.  Leonard Spinner                                                                4

3.  Richard McMahon and Susan Nagl                                    5

4.  Bob Sable                                                                         7

5.  Samantha Morton                                                            11

6.  Toni Wolfman                                                                  15

7.  Will Ogburn                                                                     17

8.  Sheila Casey, Ken McIver and Jay McManus                  19

9.  Kathy Boundy                                                                 30

10. Gordon Shaw                                                                 35

11. Jeff Leukens                                                                   38

 Two comments were submitted in .pdf format and are linked separately.

12.  Jon Mannina

13.  Georgia Katsoulomitis


 PRO BONO OPPORTUNITIES

The Commission sponsored a Forum in the spring of 2011 to encourage lawyers not working in private law firms to become involved in providing pro bono services.  The brochure prepared for that Forum lists a number of providers who are seeking pro bono volunteers from the ranks of in-house counsel, government and academic lawyers and others.  

The brochure is available here.  We will try to keep the listing up to date.


LEGAL SERVICES CORPORATION FUNDING UPDATE

Funding for Legal Services Corporation grantees for 2012 (the federal fiscal year 2012 began October 1, 2011) continues to be uncertain.  The House Appropriations Committee endorsed a plan in July that would cut LSC by 26% (to $300 million).  The appropriations subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Committee adopted a proposal for a 2% cut (to $396 million).  Neither house has finished the relevant appropriations bill, however, and the federal government is once again running on a continuing resolution.  It seems likely that final appropriation decisions will not be made until the debt ceiling super-committee process has determined whether agencies like LSC are to be cut for FY 2012.


POVERTY IN AMERICA IS ON THE RISE

In September, the United States Census Bureau released official poverty figures for 2010.   The report on income, poverty and health reported that 46.2 million people lived under the federal poverty level.  That's 15.1 percent.  LSC promptly noted that at the 125% of poverty level which most LSC grantees use for eligibility, the same report finds 60.4 million Americans eligible for services, up 3.6 million over 2009.  (The 125% level is $13,613 for an individual and $27,938 for a family of four.)  That means that one in five Americans is eligible for legal assistance from an LSC program.

Of course, those programs can't begin to serve that many people.  LSC grantees close less than a million cases a year, and their funding is going down (see above).  Legal Aid programs in Massachusetts, and across the country, are laying attorneys off and cutting expenses to make ends meet.


IT HAPPENED IN TEXAS

This summer the Texas legislature did the unexpected -- for the second time in three years the Legislature made a special appropriation to civil legal aid to make up for the dramatic decline in IOLTA revenues since interest rates declined.  The bill provided $17.5 million.  Governor Rick Perry signed the bill, including the civil legal services funding, on July 19.


WORKING GROUPS

The Commission does much of its work through its six Working Groups.


UPDATES

Updates regarding access to justice in Massachusetts will be posted on this website periodically.


OTHER COMMISSIONS

For information about the growing number of access to justice commissions, visit the ABA's Access to Justice Support Project at www.ATJsupport.org.

 



Access to Justice Update June 26, 2011

At its meeting May 26, 2011, the Commission heard reports from its Special Planning Committee and Revenue Enhancement Committee.   The Commission adopted the Planning Committee's Interim Report, including the recommendation that the Interim Report be circulated for comments during the summer.  Comments are due to Gerry Singsen at gerrysings@aol.com by July 29.  For a copy of the Interim Report, please contact Gerry.

The Revenue Enhancement Committee's Progress Report included updates on the Attorney Registration Access to Justice Fee Add-On and the IOLTA Committee's preparation of Class Action Residual Toolkits.  It also included recommendations, adopted by the Commission, to move forward with drafting a proposal to the Supreme Judicial Court to implement a pro hac vice fee and to work with Project Directors, Mass Law Reform, other statewide support programs, the regional delivery system and MLAC to cause legal services advocates to routinely claim attorney's fees in appropriate cases.



Access to Justice Update  May 6, 2011

The next meeting of the Access to Justice Commission will take place on Thursday, May 26, at 3:00 pm in the Fifth Floor Conference Room of the Social Law Library in the John Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Square, Boston.  The agenda for the meeting features reports and recommendations by the Commission’s Special Planning Committee and Revenue Enhancement Committee.

 

IN-HOUSE COUNSEL PRO BONO FORUM

Sponsored by the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission

 


John Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Square, Boston

 

MONDAY, MAY 16, 2011, 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm

On Monday, May 16, the Commission is sponsoring a Forum discussing the important but sometimes overlooked role of corporate and other in-house lawyers in providing pro bono services for the poor.  Two expert panels will address the possibilities and rewards of in-house pro bono programs.  The panels will be followed by a Pro Bono Fair with representatives of various court initiatives and legal service agencies.  ALL ARE WELCOME

For more information, or to RSVP, please contact Susan Finegan at SFinegan@mintz.com.

The Panels:

 

The Value of Corporate Counsel Participation in Pro Bono

Marc Gary,  Executive Vice President and General Counsel,

Fidelity Investments

Esther Lardent, President and Chief Executive Officer, Pro Bono Institute

 

How to Start and Sustain an In-House Pro Bono Program

Kathleen McGrath, Senior Corporate Counsel, Liberty Mutual

William O’Brien, Pro Bono Chair, Association of Corporate Counsel – Northeast Chapter

Eve Runyon, Director, Corporate Pro Bono (a joint project of the Association of Corporate Counsel and the Pro Bono Institute)

Dorothy Varon, Assistant Vice President and Counsel,  Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company

LSC FUNDING FOR FY 2011 CUT BY $15.8 MILLION

The budget deal worked out between the two houses of Congress and President Obama to fund the federal government for the last five months of federal fiscal year 2011 (through September 30, 2011) included $404,190,000 for the Legal Services Corporation, a reduction of the LSC appropriation that totals $15.8 million.  The cut in grants for direct services to clients came to 4% (Corporation management, Inspector General and two small grant programs were cut only 0.2%).   

Unlike many of the cuts announced in the compromise, this reduction is real money in this year’s expenditures.  Local legal services programs in Massachusetts will be cut about $243,000, which will translate into hundreds of low income families being turned away without legal help during the balance of the year. 

This loss of funding comes on top of the drastic reduction in funding caused by low interest rates on IOLTA accounts.  MLAC reports that programs if funds MLAC have seen their number of attorneys drop by nearly 25% and that more layoffs of attorneys, paralegals and other staff are in progress.  At the same time, the number of people eligible for services from those MLAC-funded programs grew by 91,000 between 2007 and 2009.

Attempts by House Republican leaders to cut more deeply failed.  The House voted 259 to 171 not to eliminate LSC funding entirely, and the House vote to cut $70 million did not make it into the final bill.

LSC FUNDING FOR FY 2012 UNCERTAIN

For federal fiscal year 2012 a serious battle seems inevitable.  The Corporation has requested $516.5 million for FY 2012 (a 28% increase).  President Obama’s budget proposal includes $450 for LSC and the House will probably have another vote to eliminate LSC entirely.


UPDATES    March 2011

Funding Update:  Legal Services Corporation

The Senate Appropriations version of the Appropriations Bill for the rest of FY 2011 has funding for LSC at the FY 2010 level, /$420 million.  The House has already passed its version of the bill, with LSC at $70 million less.  LSC estimates that if the House version prevails, it will result in lay-offs for 370 legal aid attorneys and 80,000 fewer cases being handled by LSC-funded legal aid programs.

Next Commission Meeting March 23

The next meeting of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission will take place at 3:00 PM on Wednesday, March 23, 2011, in the Fifth Floor Conference Room of the Social Law Library in the Adams Courthouse, Pemberton Square, Boston.  The meeting is open to the public.  The major discussions on the agenda concern a report on the plans of the Working Group on Websites and Technology and a presentation on pro bono opportunities and challenges by Esther F. Lardent, President and CEO of the Pro Bono Institute.  Ms. Lardent was the founding director of the Volunteer Lawyers Project and is considered by many to be the nation's foremost expert on pro bono service to low income people.

The following meeting of the Commission is scheduled for May 26

Cruz Reynoso In Boston

Suffolk University Dean Camille A. Nelson has invited people interested in access to justice to a unique and compelling presentation.  The film, "Cruz Reynoso: Sowing the Seeds of Justice", will be screened at 12:00 pm on Wednesday, March 23, at Suffolk University Law School, 120 Tremont Street in Boston.  If you plan to attend, RSVP to Lou Brum at lbrum@suffolk.edu or 617-573-8157.  The event will finish in time for you to attend the Commission meeting at 3:00. 

Both Justice Reynoso and the filmmaker, Abby Ginzberg, will be present for the screening and will participate in the discussion that follows the film. 

Cruz Reynoso was the Executive Director of California Rural Legal Assistance in the late '60s and early '70s, when CRLA established many of the principles of community-based, impact advocacy that inspired the OEO legal services movement.  Reynoso and Gary Bellow worked together to establish basic rights for California's farmworkers, overcoming massive political and economic resistance.  Their battles with then-Governor Ronald Reagan, and his aide Ed Meese, set the standard for high quality representation and set the stage for President Reagan's eight year attempt to defund the Legal Services Corporation.  Reynoso later became the first Latino appointed to the California Supreme Court, a position he lost in a recall election which centered on his opposition to the death penalty.

Letters to Senators Brown and Kerry

Commission co-chairs Justice Ralph Gants and David Rosenberg have written to Senators Brown and Kerry to urge that they oppose the reduction of funding for the Legal Services Corporation proposed by the House of Representatives for FY 2011.  In their letters they note the dire consequences for low income families if representation is not available to help with critical legal problems, and they also point out that providing timely representation saves money for the taxpayer in the long run.

Commissioners Appointed to Three Year Terms

The Supreme Judicial Court has reappointed six Commissioners to full three-year terms as their initial one-year appointments expired.  The Commission’s members were all appointed last year, and the terms were staggered.  The reappointed Commissioners were Ann Leavenworth, Sue Marsh, Judge Kathryn Hand, Richard McMahon, Allan Rodgers and Jay Thiel.  In addition, the Court appointed a new Commissioners, Susan Finegan from Mintz Levin.


UPDATES    February 27, 2011

FUNDING NEWS

Legal Services Corporation:

The next week or two will be critical in setting the final funding for LSC grantees in the current year.  (LSC’s fiscal year begins October 1; LSC grants begin January 1.)   The last Congress including annual funding for LSC at $420 million in an omnibus Continuing Resolution that was set to expire March 4. 

On February 19, the House of Representatives adopted a proposed Continuing Resolution for the rest of the year which included major cuts in many programs.  LSC was cut $70 million, to $350 million.  This 17% cut would have to be absorbed by grantees during the remaining ten months of the calendar year, so it would effectively be a 20% cut.  The four LSC grantees in Massachusetts are Merrimack Valley North Shore Legal Services, Volunteer Lawyers Project, New Center for Legal Advocacy and Massachusetts Justice Project; together they stand to lose about $1 million if the House Continuing Resolution becomes law.

The Senate will take up its version of the Continuing Resolution next week.  Legal aid supporters are being urged to let their senators know that they should keep LSC at its current level for FY 2011.  If the Senate stands firm at $420 million, the final figure will be determined in conference and submitted to the President, who could veto the measure if it cuts too deeply.

When a similar scenario played out in late 1995, President Clinton and the Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich could not reach an agreement and the federal government “shut down.”  Various government agencies are making contingency plans for another shut down.  Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee is considering a two-week extension of the Continuing Resolution to allow more time for negotiations.

Massachusetts

On February 22, hundreds of lawyers took time out of their busy days to “walk” to Beacon Hill and urge state legislators to support Governor Patrick’s proposal to level fund the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation at $9 million for fiscal year 2012.  With IOLTA earnings at low ebb because of low interest rates and the slow economy, the state appropriation is particularly critical this year.

The assembled lawyers were greeted by leaders of the Equal Justice Coalition, Massachusetts Bar Association and Boston Bar Association.  For the first time in the history of this annual event, the keynote address was delivered by a sitting justice of the Supreme Judicial Court.  Associate Justice Ralph Gants, co-chair of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission, inspired the crowd to work hard to achieve “justice for all” and reminded the legislature that “we can only provide justice for all if we pay for justice for all.”  Justice Gants’ remarks are attached to this update.

OTHER NEWS

Lonnie Powers, MLAC Executive Director, writes in the current online edition of Nonprofit Quarterly (February 23, 2011), that the current funding challenges are the latest instance of cyclical rises and falls in the support for legal aid.  The cycles are driven by hard economic times and by shifts in political ideology.  Even though this history suggests that the crisis will pass, an unfortunate aspect of the history is that funding tends to be cut just when troubles in the economy increase the demand for legal aid services.   He concludes that legal aid would do well to find fund sources that are not tied to the nation’s economic well-being and to do a better job of explaining to political opponents the ways that legal aid contributes to civic health.  “Tied to the Railroad Track Once Again: The Perils of Legal Aid Funding,” Nonprofit Quarterly (February 23, 2011, http://bit.ly/h0x8QvThe Supreme Judicial Court has appointed six members of the Access to Justice Commission to full three-year terms on the Commission.  Anne Leavenworth, Sue Marsh, Justice Kathryn Hand, Richard McMahon, Allan Rodgers and Jay Thiel had initially been appointed to one-year terms when the Commission was reconstituted in February 2010.

The Court also appointed a new Commissioner, Susan Finegan of Mintz Levin, to a three-year term.  Commissioner Finegan has been working with the Commission on the delivery of legal services through pro bono. 

The Commission is planning to sponsor a May 16 gathering of General Counsels to corporations and other institutions.  The meeting’s purpose is to encourage more pro bono work by in-house lawyers.  New Commissioner Sue Finegan is taking the lead in planning the session, which will be held at the Adams Courthouse. 


 February 15, 2011 Access to Justice Update

The reconstituted Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission reached its first anniversary on February 15, 2011.  It’s been a very busy year.  You can review some of the new Commission’s accomplishments in the brief summary at the end of this Update, or on the Commission’s website at www.massaccesstojustice.org. 

The next meeting of the Commission is scheduled for Wednesday, March 23, at 3:00 in the conference room of the Social Law Library in the Adams Courthouse.  The meeting is open to the public.  Among the agenda topics in March will be discussions of plans to improve technology and websites used in the state’s justice community and an exploration of the Commission’s role in advancing pro bono services for low income families and individuals.

FUNDING NEWS:

 State Funding: The Walk to the Hill on Tuesday, February 22, at 11:00.  The annual gathering of lawyers to urge legislators to support the appropriation for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation takes place in the State House next Tuesday.  It was postponed from February 2 due to snow.  Speakers include the Commission’s co-chair, Justice Ralph Gants.  The Governor’s budget for FY 2012 keeps MLAC at $9.0 million, a very positive outcome in a year of budget cutting.   Drop in on your legislative representatives and be back at your desk by 1:30.  Read more: http://www.equaljusticecoalition.org/walk2011.html

Federal Funding: Immediate Action Requested.  The Legal Services Corporation’s appropriation for FY 2011 (which began last October) is under attack.  Last fall the Congress failed to pass the normal appropriation bills for the year, so the federal government is running on a massive Continuing Resolution.  Some House Republicans have proposed cutting LSC’s portion of the Continuing Resolution by $70 million (from $420 million to $350 million).  Since the grant years began January 1, the effect of such a cut would be magnified by the need to absorb it during just nine or ten months. 

On Wednesday a more radical proposal, which would have eliminated LSC entirely, was voted down in a bipartisan vote,  259 to 171.  But the $70 million cut will probably be closer, and may come this week.   Supporters of LSC are urging everyone to contact their Congressmen and Senators and urge votes in support of LSC funding.

Eventually, Congress will turn to Fiscal Year 2012.  The Obama administration has proposed funding LSC at $450 million for FY 2012, an increase of $30 million.

Other States: Many states face budget deficits deeper than Massachusetts’.  Some of these states are nevertheless talking seriously about major increases in state funding for civil legal services.  The Maryland Access to Justice Commission has issued a report calling for a right to counsel in civil cases; they estimate the cost at more than $100,000,000.   

Jonathan Lippman, the Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, has proposed increasing his court’s budget for civil legal aid by $100,000,000 over the next four years to assure that counsel is provided in cases involving basic human needs.  Legal Aid programs in the Empire State currently spend about $200,000,000 per year.  The Governor’s budget, however, does not include  a comparable increase. 

Also without a budget provision, the New York courts have published new procedures designed to ensure that homeowners facing foreclosure have the help of a lawyer.  Chief Judge Lippman commented that loss of a home was so consequential that the ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright should be extended to cover foreclosures.

OTHER UPDATES

As the result of a collaboration between the Commission’s Working Group on Websites and Technology, the Law Libraries of the Trial Court and Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, the MLRI website devoted to providing legal information to self-representing litigants, the MLRI website www.masslegalhelp.org now includes the option to “ask the librarian.”  Someone who wants help understanding a topic just clicks on the link and opens an instant message window to one of the Trial Court’s librarians, who will guide the consumer to the desired information.

The Massachusetts Bar Association adopted a resolution on January 21 endorsing the expansion of medical-legal partnerships in the Commonwealth.  Among actions expected to follow the resolution is formation of a statewide pro bono panel to build pro bono capacity for MLP sites.

Access to Justice Headlines:  The ABA’s Resource Center distributes email updates on Access to Justice developments across the country.  The February edition, which includes three reports of activities in Massachusetts is attached for your information.  If you would like to receive this publication directly, send a request to Robert.Echols@comcast.net.

The Legal Services Corporation has hired James Sandman to be its new President.  A lawyer at Arnold and Porter for 30 years (managing partner 1995-2005), Sandman most recently has been serving as general counsel and chief legal officer for the District of Columbia Public Schools.  Sandman’s list of accomplishments includes many public service offices and a major commitment to enhancing pro bono services to the poor.  For a full biographical sketch, see www.lsc.gov/press/pressrelease_detail_2011_T274_R0.php

Citing economic pressures, Citizens Bank has implemented a reduction of its IOLTA account interest rates despite requests from throughout the legal community to maintain their leadership rate at 1%.  They did increase the new rates above their initial plan, and delay the effective date of the new rate, but the impact of the cut will be a significant drop in total IOLTA revenue, creating further economic pressures on the legal services programs that rely on IOLTA.

 

Update for November 17:

BERKMAN TECHNOLOGY REPORT RELEASED

The Special Advisor for Access to Justice Initiatives in the Trial Court, Hon. Dina Fein, has released the long-awaited Report of the Berkman Center on “Best Practices in the Use of Technology to Facilitate Access to Justice Initiatives” has been released to the access to justice community.  The Report’s main topics relate activities in other states to provide clear, simple and up-to-date web content, facilitate completion of court forms online, employ better case management approaches, utilize e-filing and offer “human assistance.”  The Report was prepared for the Trial Court as part of the work of the Special Advisor for Access to Justice Initiatives.

 LSC TECHNOLOGY INNOVATION GRANT

Equally long-awaited, the Legal Services Corporation is expected to finally announce the Technology Innovation Grants (TIG) this month.  The awards can be expected by Thanksgiving, according to LSC Board Chairman John Levi in a speech at the Civil Caucus on November 10 at the annual conference of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.  Earlier in the month LSC announced that all applicants who were not receiving grants had been notified.  The application of the Massachusetts Justice Project, supported by the Trial Court and the Commission, was not rejected, so it appears highly likely that a TIG grant to support development of online interview protocols, uniform forms and e-filing is coming to Massachusetts.  Because of the delay, the process for awarding the next round of grants begins in January.


ACCESS TO JUSTICE FEE ACCUMULATES $302,000 IN FIRST TWO MONTHS

The Access to Justice Fee, an add-on to the annual attorney registration fee, accumulated more than $300,000 during the first two months of contributions.  At this rate, contributions will total nearly $1 million during the first twelve months.  Attorneys are free to "opt out" of the fee, and many are doing so, but the rate at which attorneys are choosing to help support legal assistance for low income residents is heartening.


COMMISSION ASKS CITIZENS BANK NOT TO LOWER IOLTA RATES

At its meeting November 17, the Commission adopted a letter to the President of Citizens Bank asking the Bank to rescind its plan to withdraw from its long-standing position as an IOLTA "leadership bank."  Citizens has announced its intention to abandon the 1% leadership rate in favor of rates as low as 0.3%.  Citizens is the largest IOLTA depository bank in the Commonwealth.  If it implements the lower rates, Citizens will take about $2 million away from IOLTA revenue.  The letter noted Citizens' advertising claim to "good citizenship" and questioned whether abandoning the legal needs of the poor in this time of hardship was consistent.


COMMISSION SUPPORTS MBA RESOLUTION ON LIMITED ASSISTANCE REPRESENTATION

On November 17 the Commission also adopted a letter urging the Massachusetts Bar Association to adopt a resolution supporting Limited Assistance Representation programs in the Trial Court.  The resolution passed on the following day.


Updates for November 1:

Medical-Legal Partnership Annual Statewide Conference.


The Medical-Legal Partnership | Boston is sponsoring its second annual Network Conference for Medical Legal Partnership in Massachusetts on Monday, November 1 at the Hogan Campus Center at Holy Cross in Worcester.  The all-day conference, expected to draw more than one hundred participants, features reports on developments of new and enlarging MLPs around the state, examinations of the roles of lawyers in producing health and medical personnel in improving access to justice, and thoughtful explorations of what may lie ahead for MLPs in the access to justice effort.  See www.mlpboston.org.

Brooke Courthouse Information Center

The Trial Court Access to Justice Initiative has opened a public information center at the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse.  Open daily from 8:30 am to 1:00 pm, volunteers greet court users and assist them with navigating the courthouse, obtaining basic information and finding legal resources.  The volunteers include retired judges, law and college students and lawyers.  Credit for the project goes to a Task Force lead by Worcester Housing Court First Justice Diana Horan and Boston Municipal Court General Counsel Cynthia Robinson Markey, and the leadership of the Trial Court’s Special Advisor on Access to Justice Initiatives, Hon. Dina Fein, and the Deputy Advisor Sandy Lundy.  Retired District Court Judge Joseph Dever is providing oversight and recruiting volunteers. 


Counsel Being Provided to Youths Facing Revocation of a Conditional Grant of Liberty.

After lengthy negotiations involving the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, the Center for Public Representation, the Department of Youth Services and the Committee for Public Counsel Services, DYS-committed youths facing revocation of their conditional grant of liberty will be provided with state-assigned counsel for their administrative hearing appeals.  Three CPCS- funded attorneys began taking cases in the Metro region in October and should go statewide within the year.  Special credit goes to Barbara Kaban, Josh Dohan and the DYS leadership.  The need for counsel in these proceedings was high-lighted in an Access to Justice Commission Report in 2007 and developed by the Boston Bar Association’s Task Force on the Civil Right to Counsel.


Commission Writes Bar Leaders in Support of Limited Assistance Representation

On October 1, 2010, the Commission’s co-chairs wrote to bar leaders in Massachusetts urging them to help with the implementation of Limited Assistance Representation by educating their members, providing website and written materials, including LAR certification data on bar referral panels and maintaining lists of qualified bar members.  The letter notes that LAR is in operation in the Probate and Family Court, for civil cases in the Boston Municipal Court and in the Housing Court November 1.

 

Cy Pres Awards Boost Hard-Up Legal Aid, Pro Bono

Several legal aid programs in Massachusetts have received portions of $1.8 million in unclaimed settlement funds distributed to 111 programs in a nationwide class action case in the Circuit Court of Cook County, IL. Another $1.8 million was distributed to legal aid and pro bono programs in Illinois.

In Texas, a similar cy pres award resulted in $2.6 million for legal aid programs serving people with disabilities.

The Indiana Supreme Court has adopted  a rule requiring that 25% of unclaimed class action residuals go to pro bono programs along with IOLTA funds.

LSC Update

Action is stalled on several fronts at LSC.  In Congress, a “continuing resolution” holds LSC funding for FY 2011 (which began October 1) at 2010 levels.  Congress will resume discussion of their differences over many funding bills, including LSC’s, after the mid-term elections.  At LSC, the Inspector General has issued a draft report on the TIG (Technology Innovation Grants) program, LSC management has responded and the IG is reviewing the response.  Meanwhile, grant awards for this year’s TIG grants are on hold, including one being sought by the Massachusetts Justice Project in conjunction with the Trial Court and the Access to Justice Commission.

All eleven members of the LSC Board appointed by President Obama have now been confirmed by the Senate, and they held their first meeting  on October 18-19.  One of the members, Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow, is Vice-chair of the Board and chairs the Board’s Governance and Performance Review Committee, which is developing short and long-term research agendas for LSC.

 

Updates for September 28:

Access to Justice Fee

The addition of the $51 Access to Justice Fee to the annual registration fee for attorneys has been implemented effective September 1.  Attorneys are given the option of opting out of paying the fee and whether an attorney opts out is kept confidential.
 
Language Access Plans

The Executive Office for Administration and Finance issued Language Access Guidelines to guide executive branch agencies in their development of Language Access Plans to meet the needs of limited English proficient individuals.  The agencies have until November 28 to develop their plans.  See ANH Administrative Bulletin #16. http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=afterminal&L=3&L0=Home&L1=Budget,+Taxes+%26+Procurement&L2=Administrative+Bulletins&sid=Eoaf&b=terminalcontent&f=anf_adminbulletin16&csid=Eoaf
 
MBF Grants
The Massachusetts Bar Foundation has awarded $4.5 million in IOLTA grant funding to 97 organizations for 2010-2011.  Because the MBF held significant amounts of funding in reserve in prior years, this year's grant total was only cut 10%. 
 
Housing Court Adopts Limited Assistance Representation

The Chief Justice for Administration and Management has approved the request of the Housing Court, and issued a standing order instituting a program for limited assistance representation.  It will take effect November 1. http://www.mass.gov/courts/housing-standing-order1-10.html MCLE is offering a training in limited assistance representation today (September 28).
 
Nationally, Civil Legal Services Salaries Lowest in Public Sector

The National Association of Law Placement's 2010 Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary Report shows first year law firm associates earning median salaries between $72,000 and $160,000 depending on firm size while Public Interest lawyer medians range from $42,000 (civil legal services) to $50,000 (local prosecuting attorneys).  www.nalp.org/assoc_pi_sal2010
 
Legal Services Corporation

FY 2011: The Federal fiscal year begins on Friday (October 1) but appropriations bills are stalled.  Once again, Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution to fund agencies including LSC.  LSC's FY 2010 appropriation was $420 million.  The House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees LSC funding has approved $40 million and would lift the class action restriction.  The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved $430 and continues restrictions on LSC funds but lifts their application to non-LSC funds in most instances. 
 
The Senate proposal also bars even the $10 million increase until the LSC Board Chair and President certify that LSC has completed implementation of recommendations made by the Government Accountability Office and the LSC Inspector General.  These recommendations concern internal control procedures at LSC.  Because of the turmoil around LSC's internal controls (including planning and follow-up of grant oversight procedures) LSC has convened an independent, "blue-ribbon" Fiscal Oversight Task Force.  The Task Force will gather information, deliberate and issue recommendations by March 1, 2011.
 
FY 2012: The LSC Board on September 21 voted to request $516.5 million for FY 2012, the same level that they sought last year.
 
Recent Activities of Other Access to Justice Commissions

The ABA supports the Access to Justice Support Project, which publishes newsletters providing information about the activities of Commissions and similar entities around the country.  To review these updates or to subscribe to the newsletters (free), go to www.ATJsupport.org
 
Among recently reported activities:
    Governor addresses annual Access to Justice and Bar Leaders Conference in Washington state.
    250 attended Hawaii's annual Access to Justice Summit.
    Larry Tribe declares civil justice system in crisis and plans work on LSC funding and restrictions.
    The American Medical Association joined the American Bar Association in adopting a resolution encouraging formation of more medical-legal partnerships.  Legislation to that end was introduced in Congress.
    The Tennessee Supreme Court has adopted four goals recommended by the Tennessee Access to Justice Commission and will convene a statewide pro bono conference to further the goals.
    
Civil Gideon

The ABA adopted a Model Access Act and a related Basic Principles of a Right to Counsel in Civil Legal Proceedings during it annual meeting in August.  These documents carry forward the ABA's 2006 commitment to seek a right to counsel in basic areas of human need.
 


Updates for July 15


Access to Justice Fee

On June 28 the Supreme Judicial Court adopted an amendment to Rule 4:03(1) of the Rules of the Supreme Judicial Court providing for a $51 voluntary annual fee whose proceeds shall be remitted to the IOLTA Committee for distribution to MLAC and the Massachusetts and Boston Bar Foundations "for use in the administration of justice and the provision of civil legal services to those who cannot afford them."  Any attorney who does not wish to pay the voluntary fee can opt out of the fee by saying so.  The decision to opt out will be kept confidential by the BBO.  The rule change takes effect September 1, 2010.


The Access to Justice Commission considered a similar amendment during 2008-2009 and proposed it to the Court last year.  This spring the Court issued a draft of the amendment for comment.  The amendment provides for the Board of Bar Overseers to remit the fees collected at least quarterly to the IOLTA Committee, which should mean that funds will reach MLAC and the Bar Foundations by January.


House Subcommittee Approves $20 Million Increase for LSC, and Lifts Class Action Bar

On June 29 the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies approved a $440 million FY '11 budget for the Legal Services Corporation.  If approved by the full Appropriations Committee, the House and the Senate, and then signed by the President, this would be a 5% increase over the current year's $420 million and would translate into an increase of about $300,000 for the state's four LSC grantees starting January 1, 2011. 

Last year's appropriation removed the 1996 restriction on LSC grantees claiming or collecting attorneys fees.  The House Subcommittee bill now would remove the 1996 bar on grantees instituting or participating in class action litigation.  Other 1996 restrictions would remain in place, however, such as those on prisoner litigation, representation of some classes of aliens and many forms of lobbying.  Also left in place is the "entity" restriction which applies the other restrictions to all activities of an LSC grantee, not just to the grantee's use of LSC funds.  Many of the remaining restrictions would be eliminated under Senator Harkin's proposed reauthorization of the Legal Services Corporation Act of 1974 (which was last reauthorized in 1977).

The LSC press release can be found at http://www.lsc.gov/press/pressrelease_detail_2010_T261_R17.php

AMA Supports Medical-Legal Partnerships

At its Annual Meeting in June the American Medical Association embraced the legal profession . . . in a limited way.  A policy was adopted urging physicians to form "medical-legal partnerships" with lawyers through which the lawyers  address the legal situations that contribute to poor health.  These partnerships have been spreading across the country in the last several years, usually involving a legal services program as one of the partners.  The movement is based in Boston at the Boston Medical Center.  For more information, see the websites of the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnerships,  http://www.medical-legalpartnership.org/, and of the original program, the Medical-Legal Partnership | Boston, http://www.mlpboston.org/.

 

Massachusetts Budget: Courts Cut, MLAC Level Funded

On June 30, Governor Patrick signed the budget for FY '11, including several appropriations that affect access to justice.  In addition to the $17.5 million cut in the Trial Court budget proposed by the legislature, the Governor vetoed another $11.4 million for a total cut of almost $29 million.  Many observers, including bar associations and the Access to Justice Commission, had urged that the deeper cuts be avoided.

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, strongly supported by bar associations and the Equal Justice Coalition's "Walk to the Hill" managed to avoid a cut. 


Updates for June 16

Guide for Court Staff:  The Special Advisor on Access to Justice Initiatives in the Trial Court, Hon. Dina Fein, reports that the manual "Serving the Self-Represented Litigant: A Guide By and For Court Staff", prepared by the Steering Committee on Self-Represented Litigants chaired by Hon. Cynthia Cohen, has been made available to Trial Court staff and is expected to be posted on the Trial Court's website in the next few days.  The Trial Court's Judicial Institute is planning a series of training programs for the fall.


Larry Tribe Announces Research Grant Program: 

The internal Department of Justice newsletter, "Main Justice", carried the following story:

Tribe: ‘Endless Opportunities’ for Access to Justice Initiative

By Ryan J. Reilly | June 14, 2010 3:23 pm

Laurence Tribe, the Harvard University law professor who took leave of absence to become senior counselor at the Department of Justice focusing on indigent defendant issues, made his public debut on Monday at the National Institute for Justice conference in Arlington, Va.

Tribe — whose students have included PresidentBarack Obama, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski — announced that the initiative would be partnering with the NIJ to issue a new grant solicitation for access to justice related research.

Tribe joined the Justice Department in March to focus on the issue of access to counsel for the poor, which Attorney General Eric Holder hadcalled a “very serious problem.” But The New York Times reported that he had been given a “small staff, a limited budget, little concrete authority and a portfolio far less sweeping than the one he told friends he had hoped to take on in Washington.”

But during his speech on Monday, Tribe said the Access to Justice initiative, if backed by proper research, “could potentially transform the entire field and help narrow the gap between our aspirations of justice and the justice we actually deliver to our citizens. Narrow the gap between rhetoric and reality. There are truly endless opportunities.”

Tribe said he was happy to be working for an administration that had respect for scientific inquiry.

“I believe one of the greatest threats to progress is the casual, even contemptuous attitude towards evidence and reality that some people in positions of power have at times displayed,” Tribe said. “An attitude that has spread a brazen sense of willingness to censor and manipulate evidence for political gains. I am deeply grateful to serve for a president and in an administration that has respect for evidence-based reality.”

He encouraged the crowd to explore through research the potential for providing adequate defense services to the lower and middle-class.

“As many of you know, reforming indigent defense is a top priority for Attorney General Eric Holder and for the Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson,” Tribe said. “Currently, public defenders are hamstrung by a lack of research that shows not only that court defenders are necessary to guard and enhance justice, but also to examine what we strongly suspect is true: that good defenders appointed early in the case can create significant savings in the criminal justice system, often resulting in a net negative cost rather than a net positive cost.

The 2010 National Institute for Justice Conference continues through Wednesday.

http://www.mainjustice.com/2010/06/14/tribe-endless-opportunities-in-access-to-justice-initiative/


Update June 

14, 2010  

The next meeting of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission will be held on Thursday, June 17, at 3:00 in the fifth floor conference room of the Social Law Library in the John Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Square, Boston.  The meeting is public.

The Agenda for the meeting includes a report on a special project undertaken by Commissioners Brent Henry and Sandra Jesse, discussion of the Working Group plans presented during the May meeting, a report by the Hon. Dina Fein, the Trial Court’s Special Advisor on Access to Justice Initiatives and a report by Consultant Singsen on the structure and funding of the Massachusetts justice community (deferred from March).  The meeting is open to the public.


Allan Rodgers, Executive Director of Mass Law Reform Institute, has announced his plan to retire at the end of the year:  

Hi all. I announced today to the staff and Board of MLRI that I plan to

retire on December 31 of this year. It's been a great experience for me

to have had most of my legal career with MLRI, and I've value all of the

colleagues with whom I've worked over the years. I turn 75 in August and
need to help MLRI get new leadership that will enable us to continue our
highly praised work. If you have any suggestions about how we can do
this well, please let us know.

Now on the Commission’s website are the memoranda of the six Working Groups of the Access to Justice Commission describing their objectives and work plans.  The Working Groups presented their plans during the May 26 meeting of the Commission.   The six Working Groups are the Delivery of Legal Services Working Group, Website and Technology Working Group, Administrative Justice Working Group, Probate and Family Court  Practice Working Group, Housing Court Practice Working Group and the District  Court / Boston Municipal Court Practice Working Group.


The Commission’s letter to Senate President Murray urging that the budget of the Trial Court not be so deeply cut, is also now available on the website.  Identical letters were delivered to the Governor, Speaker DeLeo, Senators Panagiotakos and Creem and Representatives Murphy and O'Flaherty.



UPDATE MAY 20, 2010

1.  The Senate Budget joins the Governor and the House in scheduling MLAC for an appropriation of $9.5 million.  This is the same level as this year and represents a victory given the difficult economy.  Because IOLTA revenue remains low, MLAC grantees are using up their reserves and facing lay-offs this year.  The LSC-funded programs (New Center for Legal Advocacy, Mass Justice Project, Volunteer Lawyers Project and Merrimack Valley North Shore Legal Services) have received modest increases in the last two years and are not under as much financial stress.

Funding for the Committee for Public Counsel Services was much less generous, down $35 million from the current year's spending rate.

 
Funding for the Judiciary is cut by more than $8 million, to $744.2 million.
 
2.  The Massachusetts Bar Association has released a report by its Crisis in Court Funding Task Force.  Dated May 2010, the report notes that the Trial Court has lost 740 positions since July 1, 2007 (9.7%).  The crisis is blamed for raising new impediments to justice, increasing physical danger to the public, harming children and families, hampers the work of judges, leads to increases in fees and allows courthouses to decay.
 
3.  The Mass Bar presented its Daniel F. Toomey Award to Judge Dina Fein, the Trial Court's Special Advisor on Access to Justice Initiatives.  A report of the award on the MBA's website quotes MBA President Valarie Yarashus as saying "Her judgment is extraordinary, and she knows how to turn goals into action."

The MBA report continues: "Fein explained her role as the special advisor on Access to Justice Initiatives and as a member of the Access to Justice Commission. She said it's important to "examine the work of the courts through the access to justice lens" and make as many improvements as possible without significant spending.

Already, she said, the Access to Justice Initiative is using a survey of court personnel last year to create a manual that helps explain to clerks the difference between providing legal help and legal advice, making uniform, multi-lingual forms that will be available online, planning for a pilot self-help center in the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse in Boston and expanding Limited Assistance Representation programs in the Trial Courts."
 
4.The ABA Resource Center for Access to Justice (www.ATJsupport.org) reports that four additional states have created Commissions in the past year: Wyoming, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.  In addition, New York's Chief Judge, Jonathan Lippman, has appointed a task force to find ways to get services to those that current funding cannot reach.  Former LSC President Helaine Barnett is to head the task force.  Hearings on barriers to access or statewide conferences were held in Arkansas, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Colorado and Mississippi.
 
5.  The proposed $50 add-on to the annual Massachusetts attorney registration, with a right to opt-out if an attorney prefers not to make a contribution for access to justice efforts, is pending before the Supreme Judicial Court.  Meanwhile, other states are taking similar steps to support legal assistance programs.  Minnesota imposed a temporary $25 increase on top of the current $50 portion of each annual registration fee that already goes to legal services.  Texas shifted it's $150 suggested contribution on top of bar dues from an opt-in to an opt-out.
 
6.  A Maryland court has made a cy pres award of $2.4 million of unclaimed funds in a class action case to legal services programs in the state.  Initially, a $7.6 million fund was set up to repay Cellular One customers for violation of a state law on late fees; the small amounts available to individuals meant that many eligible claimants did not bother to pursue their rights.  Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure 23 was amended last year to explicitly authorize similar cy pres awards to legal services programs or the IOLTA program in Massachusetts.
 
7.  The Mass Bar Association's Lawyers Journal ran a front page article in the May 2010 issue describing the reconstituted Commission and the work of the Trial Court Special Advisor.  "Justice Can't Wait" was written by Bill Archambeault, and can be read online at http://www.massbar.org/media/740887/mlj_may2010_web2.pdf
 


UPDATE APRIL 20, 2010'

1.  At the March 23 meeting of the Access to Justice Commission, each Commissioner was asked  to answer the question: “In the next two or three years, what is one specific thing I want the Commission to accomplish.”  The answers are attached.

2.  The next meeting of the Access to Justice Commission will take place on Wednesday May 26 at 3:00 p.m. in the 5th Floor Conference Room of the Social Law Library at the John Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Square, Boston.  The meeting is public. 

A

t the meeting, each of the Commission’s Working Groups will outline the goals they plan to achieve during the next two to three years, the strategies they will use, the timetable for their projects and an initial look at who might be joining their working group.  


3.  

  So far in the legislative process, MLAC’s funding is proposed to remain unchanged for FY 2011 at the same $9.5 million as in FY 2010.  Prisoners Legal Services (formerly Mass Correctional Legal Services) is in the budget for $840,000 and Mental Health Legal Advisors for $707,599.  The Governor’s budget proposes funding for CPCS that’s almost identical to the FY 2010 appropriation.  However, CPCS overspent its budget by nearly $35 million in FY 2010 in order to fulfill its constitutional obligations.

4.  

 Harvard Law School is very much in the access to justice news.  Harvard Law Dean Martha Minow is now Vice Chairman of the Legal Services Corporation Board, distinguished Professor Larry Tribe is the Special Advisor on Access to Justice to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder,  former dean and current Solicitor General Elena Kagan is on the short list of candidates for nomination to the Supreme Court and Harvard Law Graduate, President Barack Obama, is the one who will make the nomination.


5.  The comment period has ended regarding the SJC’s proposal for a $50 add on to the annual attorney registration fee.   The Court has not indicated how quickly it will act on the proposal.


6

.  LSC has approved the Letter of Intent from the Massachusetts Justice Project on behalf of a consortium of legal services programs for a $250,000 Technology Innovation Grant to add new content to the consumer oriented website www.masslegalhelp.org.  The Commission supported the application.  Next step: the full grant application, due May 21.

7.  

MLAC’s Annual Meeting is scheduled for 4:00 to 6:00 on Tuesday, May18, in the Conference Suite on the second floor of the Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Square, Boston.

 


 

 

 

 

 
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