Reflections on My Year as BBA President

Last week I chaired my final Council meeting as President of the Boston Bar Association. It is hard for me to believe that the year is already up. When I look back on the past twelve months, however, I am equally surprised by just how much has happened.

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Principal for a Day

It has been an honor to represent the BBA this year. One of the most rewarding aspects of serving a term as president is the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of the people who came before me and advance their hard work. And it is especially satisfying when the work is something that I am truly passionate about, like civil legal aid.

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Honoring the Task Force at the Annual Meeting

Early in my presidency, the BBA released Investing in Justice: A Roadmap to Cost Effective Funding for Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts. Past BBA Presidents J.D. Smeallie and Paul Dacier devoted much of their respective terms to making sure that the report’s research was thorough, compelling and accurate. It was exciting for me to take the BBA helm as the report was wrapping up. After many (many!) meetings – with media, with legislators, with fellow attorneys at Walk to the Hill – using the report as the cornerstone of our position, I am proud to have played a role in securing an additional $2 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, particularly in a year when level funding or funding cuts were the norm.

Similarly, when the Boston Marathon trial began, I was able to use the report from the 2013 BBA Death Penalty Working Group to convey a position against capital punishment that was rooted in data and focused on the fair administration of justice. Being the voice of the BBA during this intense and highly emotional trial was a challenge, and I’m extremely proud to have contributed to the civil and thoughtful discussions on this important issue.

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With Chief Justice Roberto Ronquillo and Justice Georges at Boston Municipal Drug Court

I’ve had so many great experiences in my role as BBA President – from sitting in on a session of the Boston Municipal Drug Court in Dorchester, to serving as Principal for a Day at Mary Lyon Pilot High School in Brighton, to attending individual and highly informative meetings with the leadership of our judiciary – there simply isn’t space to list them all.

At the end of the day, I think the best part of my year has been working with such a strong team of volunteer leaders and staff. There is excellence at every level of the BBA. As I hand the baton to my successor, Lisa Arrowood of Arrowood Peters, I look forward to future experiences at 16 Beacon Street. I hope to see you there with me.

Honoring Volunteerism as Something We Do FOR Our Families, Not TO Our Families, at the BBA Law Day Dinner

Last night, I had the honor of hosting the BBA’s annual Law Day Dinner at the Seaport World Trade Center. The event is always enjoyable for me; it’s a rare opportunity to see so many of my colleagues and friends in a lively, social setting. But last night was even more special for several reasons.

First, I had the chance to recognize three talented and dedicated professionals who have made remarkable contributions to public service and have unwaveringly worked to improve the lives of people in need.

Second, I was thrilled to have our new Attorney General, Maura Healey, there with me to give the keynote speech. I came to know Maura through her service on the BBA Council, and I can tell you that she is every bit as engaging, fair-minded and thoughtful in the board room as she is on the big stage.

During her keynote, Maura delivered a heartfelt and moving tribute to the BBA, claiming that she “grew up” at 16 Beacon and attributed many of her core values to what she had learned as a bar member. It was a reminder of why I chose to become involved in the bar myself.

Finally, it was wonderful to be able to share part of the evening with my beautiful daughter Skye, who is five years old.

People often wonder why working parents take on volunteer roles, such as my role with the BBA, in addition to their roles as parents and professionals.

My answer is that doing bar association work makes our community a better place.  This work becomes more important, not less important, when you have a child.  Volunteerism is something we do for our families, not to our families, and I believe that children fundamentally understand this.

Skye and I often look at select pictures in the newspaper and talk about what is happening in the world, and how it is often up to the lawyers to make things better. A few months ago Skye spotted Tom Bean’s picture on the front page of the Mass Lawyers Weekly newspaper honoring the top lawyers for 2014.  Skye said, “That’s Tom from church!”

I said that it was Tom Bean from church, and that Tom – who was in attendance at the dinner – was being recognized for letting people decide for themselves whether gambling in Massachusetts is right or wrong by putting it to a vote.

Skye then started asking about other lawyers, like Allison Wright of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. Skye and I talked about what it must be like to be gay in Uganda, where they had laws saying who you were allowed to love, and how Allison was able to help a gay rights leader from Uganda live in the United States where he could be safe and love whomever he wanted.

It was a wonderful way for me to show my daughter that being an attorney is about helping people. And I’m so glad she could be there to see us as a community of lawyers honor three professionals who help people every day. That’s what we as lawyers do, and it’s why 1,300 of us came together last night to celebrate. I hope those in attendance found the evening to be as special and inspirational as I did.

Speaking Out Against the Death Penalty in the Context of the Boston Marathon Trial

If someone had asked me before today to name something I had in common with both Secretary of State John Kerry and Sister Helen Prejean, I would have been hard pressed for an answer. Not anymore.

This week, I had the honor of accepting on behalf of the BBA the Mass Citizens Against the Death Penalty’s Herbert and Sara Ehrmann Award. In choosing us to receive this award, MCADP highlighted the hard work and deep analysis that went into creating the BBA’s Death Penalty Report of 2013, as well as our 40-year history of opposition to capital punishment.

This is a complex and controversial issue. I understand and respect that not everyone – BBA members and nonmembers alike – will agree with the Association’s position. That aside, it was gratifying to see the careful research and thoughtful analysis of the Working Group be recognized.

I shared the honors with Professor Stephen Nathanson of Northeastern University, who received the Hugo A. Bedau Award for his book, An Eye for Eye: The Immorality of Punishing by Death.

I had the chance to meet and speak with MCADP Chairman David Ehrmann, grandson of Herbert and Sara, for whom the award is named. I was humbled to realize that the reception and award ceremony is not an annual event, but something that is given out when the board is moved by an individual’s or group’s actions. In addition to the BBA, the award has been given to John Kerry, the Archdiocese of Boston, and Sister Helen Prejean.

During the course of the evening, both Ehrmann and MCADP President James Rooney cited BBA’s 2013 Report, which was a team effort led by Marty Murphy and Judge Margaret Hinkle.  The report makes the case that the death penalty is fundamentally inconsistent with the fair administration of our system of justice, pointing out that:

  • The inevitability of error in criminal cases makes it overwhelmingly likely that reliance on the death penalty will lead to the execution of innocent defendants.
  • In practice, the death penalty has a disproportionate impact on members of racial and ethnic minorities.
  • Pursuit of the death penalty is an inordinately expensive gesture, inconsistent with the sensible allocation of resources in a criminal justice system already laboring under great financial strain.

These systemic flaws compel us to speak openly against capital punishment, even when the facts of a particular case do not appear to raise questions about innocence or discrimination.

As many of you may know, the BBA rarely comments on specific cases.  But in the case of Boston Marathon bombing, we did. And I have to say that I’m really proud that we chose to emphasize our death penalty position in the context of what is arguably the most watched trial in recent history.

In the weeks that have followed our public call for the Department of Justice to take the death penalty off the table in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I have had many conversations with people about our position.  I have given interviews with NPR and spoken to reporters of all kinds, have debated the issue with David Yas in the podcast Unbillable Boston, and have debated a Boston Herald reporter in a BBC radio broadcast.

I think what has struck me about these discussions is how receptive people are to hearing the reasons behind why we came to oppose the death penalty decades ago and continue that opposition today: reasons that are rooted in data and focused on the fair administration of justice.

Even when we’ve agreed to disagree, the discussions have been civil and respectful, which can be a challenge when emotions are running high.

We don’t yet know what the sentence will be in the Boston Marathon trial, but I’m proud of what the BBA has added to the public discourse on this issue, and I’m grateful that – in receiving this award from the oldest abolition organization in the nation – the dedicated volunteers of MCADP feel we have added value as well.

Speaking Up For Those Who Need a Voice

As I listened to her speak, I realized how easy it would be for someone to be wrongfully evicted and forced into poverty and homelessness.

Ginette sat down to film an interview this winter, sharing a personal story that would ultimately be shown to hundreds of strangers. Entering into a rent-to-own contract, she told us, was fulfilling a longtime goal of home ownership. It was her piece of the American dream.

What she didn’t realize was that her broker sold the mortgage on the house, but continued to accept her monthly payments. And the bank that now held her mortgage didn’t notify her of the change, as required by law.

Imagine her shock and bewilderment when, after paying her mortgage on time every month, she received an eviction notice from a bank she’d never heard from before. When she approached her broker with the letter, she found that he had been arrested for fraud.

Good, you might think, a happy ending. But that’s not actually true; Ginette’s civil legal encounter was just beginning. She showed up at court, where a judge delayed her hearing and referred her to Greater Boston Legal Services. Ultimately, GBLS attorneys were able to help Ginette keep her home.

“This group of men and women were here for me, so I have a roof over my head,” she said. “And that was the most important thing that anyone has ever, ever done for me.” (Watch her full story here.)

Last week, Governor Baker released his proposed budget, in which the Judiciary – including civil legal aid – was level-funded. Here’s why, even in this fiscal climate, that’s not good enough: civil legal aid to support people facing wrongful evictions actually saves money.

Every $1 invested in legal aid to fight wrongful evictions and foreclosures saves the state $2.69 in shelter, foster care and law enforcement costs. That’s what an independent economic analysis determined in our Investing in Justice Report. Whatever we invest, we get back – and then some.

It’s with that in mind that I urge you to use your voice. Let your legislators know that increasing civil legal aid is part of the solution towards fixing, not exacerbating, the budget gap.

I know that it takes courage to speak up; just as it took courage for Ginette to share her story on camera. I’ll speak up for her and others like her.

Will you?

A Win for Access to Justice: Supreme Judicial Court Adopts Ruling Urged by BBA

It’s always a great feeling when the BBA weighs in on an issue and the Court is in agreement, but it’s especially gratifying when the issue at hand will have an immediate and beneficial impact on improving access to justice.

In a decision with potentially far-reaching implications for disputes involving the guardianship of minor children, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled this week that indigent parents are entitled to a court-appointed attorney whenever their children may be taken from them.

This position was urged on the Court by an amicus brief to which the Boston Bar Association signed on.  As noted by Justice Francis X. Spina on behalf of a unanimous Court, “[T]here is every reason, given the fundamental rights that are at stake, why an indigent parent is entitled to the benefit of counsel when someone other than the parent … seeks to displace the parent and assume the primary rights and responsibilities for the child.”

The Court took the position, as the amicus brief argued, that this right to counsel — which already applied in adoption cases and when the state seeks to remove a child from a parental home — ought to be extended to privately-contested guardianship matters as well.  In the case before the Court, a mother was not represented by an attorney when her grandmother, who had her own attorney, won guardianship of her child.

The BBA agreed to join the brief in support of a right to counsel in large part because of its longstanding commitment to the principle of access to justice for all.  The amicus brief directly cites three BBA task force and working group reports, including most recently Investing in Justice, the report of the BBA Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts.

The BBA’s Amicus Committee is chaired by Mark C. Fleming of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP.  The BBA’s policy for filing amicus briefs and procedures for submitting amicus brief requests are available here.

Q&A with the Court Management Advisory Board: Glenn Mangurian Covers the Latest Report

The Legislature created the Court Management and Advisory Board (“CMAB”) in 2003 as an independent group of professionals who could bring management expertise, knowledge and experience to bear on the challenges facing the court system. The CMAB reports it findings to the Justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, leaders of the Legislature as well as the Chief Justice and the Court Administrator of the Massachusetts Trial Court.

BBA Week spoke with advisory board member Glenn Mangurian about the most recent report.

Q:       What are the main findings of the Advisory Board’s report?

Mangurian: Over the past 11 years, the Massachusetts Trial Court has been on a difficult but essential journey as it seeks to transform itself from an unevenly-performing, decentralized, often autonomous set of “islands of justice”, managed according to anecdote, intuition and habit, to a consistently high-performing system, managed according to modern best practice disciplines.

The Massachusetts Trial Court is on the move and headed in the right direction.  The Trial Court is addressing the consequences of the fiscal crisis of 2008-2012, and implementing and adapting to the structural changes made by the 2011 court reform legislation. Court management is “under the spotlight”. This focused attention to management “raises the bar” on execution excellence and follow-through at all levels.

The Trial Court must confront additional challenges such as the growing importance of specialty courts to address evolving judicial needs of the public and the scarcity of resources. Regardless of court funding levels, the public expects to be treated with respect and dignity in our courts, and to have its business handled in an expeditious and orderly manner.

The Trial Court “has a lot on its plate” for the next five years. The recent partial restoration and relative stability of the essential funding of the Trial Court is having a significant impact on court management and is important to further court management improvements.

Q:       What do you see as an important call to action as a result of these findings?

Mangurian: The 21st century Trial Court requires increased cross-disciplinary teamwork, active learning and innovation, and expansive talent and leadership development.  To assist the Trial Court in solidifying the progress made to date and preparing for the management challenges that lie ahead, the CMAB believes the Trial Court should focus leadership responsibility and overall accountability in three areas:

  • Knowledge management and decision analytics

The Trial Court should concentrate significant management attention on policy development, best practice sharing and training related to all aspects of evidence-based, data-driven decision-making.

  • Experience of court users

The Trial Court should work to improve the experience of court users having a wide range of perspectives, issues and concerns, and to measure the courts’ performance in this regard over time.

  • Talent development

The building of the Trial Court’s leadership capacity and human capital is of critical importance to the quality, strength, flexibility and resilience of our justice system. Because of an aging workforce and the prospects of increased retirements, there is a growing need to cultivate the next generation of court leaders to ensure continued judicial excellence into the future.

In addition the CMAB recommends the SJC establish a regular and recurring schedule of strategic and operational oversight meetings with the Chief Justice of the Trial Court and the Court Administrator.

Q:       How would you encourage BBA members to use this information?

Mangurian: The BBA has long been an advocate for the judicial funding. The Court Management Advisory Board thanks you for your support of the Trial Court.

We encourage all members to read the report. The report can be accessed here.

The document should serve as a catalyst for conversations among members and with employees of the Trial Court. The CMAB is planning an open discussion with the BBA on the report and work of the CMAB. Stay tuned for the specific date, time and location.

Why I Walk to the Hill

I was a special education teacher before I became an attorney.  My personal experiences in this field opened my eyes early on to the reality that there is a critical need for advocates in all areas of our community.  I was moved by a particular case involving a child with special needs who had been placed in a detention center where he was denied the special education services he needed.  He had no voice, no resources, and no hope.  My opportunity to advocate for this child, and improve his situation, led me on the path I so passionately walk today.  I hope you will walk with me.

There’s no other way to say it. We have an access to justice crisis in Massachusetts. As the BBA’s Task Force on Civil Legal Aid stated, nearly two-thirds of people who seek civil legal aid are turned away because the organizations that provide free legal services don’t have the resources to help. That’s astonishing.

Who are these people being turned away? They are people fighting to protect their home and family from wrongful evictions or foreclosures. They are people who need to escape domestic abuse. They are parents trying to get special education services for their child.

As a former special education teacher and former president of Greater Boston Legal Services, I know firsthand how inadequate legal aid funding hurts honest, hard-working people. That’s why on Thursday, January 29th, you’ll find me – along with many others – participating in Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. I plan to visit my state representative and senator, and tell them both that a turn-away rate of 64% has to change.

You might think, “But there’s a fiscal crisis, right? How can we call for a funding increase now?” Here’s something not many people may know: investing in civil legal aid pays for itself, as this week’s Issue Spot explains in detail.

Have you found a reason why you should Walk to the Hill? Meet up with other BBA Members at our 16 Beacon Street office before the event.

I hope to see you there!

My Visit to the Drug Court

I’d been in a courtroom hundreds of times, but I had seldom heard applause. That changed on the day I sat in on sessions at the Boston Municipal Drug Court in Dorchester.

One round of applause was a reaction to a young man’s acceptance into a detox program instead of prison. The surprise wasn’t the applause itself, but its source: joining in was a judge, a prosecutor, a defense attorney and a probation officer. All were clearly rooting for this man’s future success.

Massachusetts has 19 drug courts – 18 for adults and one for juveniles. These specialty courts are intended to address the issues underlying criminal behavior. The idea behind it is: if we can successfully treat the addiction, we can reduce the number of crimes – theft, for example – that were committed to support it.

Drug courts provide intensive, supervised probation and treatment, as well as regular drug testing with progress monitored by a supervising judge. Participants meet with the same judge over time, creating an ongoing relationship that can increase chances of success.

Indeed, Judge Serge Georges – whom I observed at the drug court in Dorchester – knew each probationer he saw well. He knew their stories. He shook their hands. He asked after their family members. He treated each with dignity, and praised them for doing well. And this kind of attention and treatment is happening all across the state; you can read more compelling personal stories in Sarah W. Ellis’ article in the new Boston Bar Journal.

The BBA is a long-standing supporter of funding for specialty courts, including drug courts, and my visit only reinforced that position. I’d read the statistics: for every dollar invested in drug court, taxpayers save more than $3 in avoided criminal justice costs; drug courts reduce crime as much as 45% more than other sentencing options. But seeing the faces and hearing their success stories (and the applause!) had more impact than the numbers. For this, I’d like to thank Chief Justice Roberto Ronquillo and Justice Georges for hosting my visit. It was clear to me that they are both passionate supporters of the drug court, and are personally invested in its success.

Visit to Drug Court

The BBA appreciates their dedication and is proud to support the specialty courts. To learn more, and to stay on top of policies impacting drug courts, be sure to read this week’s Issue Spot.

A Look Back at the BBA’s Accomplishments of 2014

The end of another year provides us with an opportunity to pause and reflect on where we were at the start of the year and how far we’ve come. Anticipation of a new year always marries nostalgia for the past and optimism for the future.

For me, it has been a very rewarding journey. In September of 2014, I assumed the presidency of the BBA, kicking off the program year at the very successful Annual Meeting Luncheon where we welcomed Adam Liptak of the New York Times. In the few months since, I feel that we as an organization have accomplished a great deal. One of our largest projects was the release of Investing in Justice, the report of the BBA Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts. Not only were we able to share its results with our members and the legal community, but we also worked hard to spread the message in the media that there are demonstrable fiscal, economic, and social benefits to providing greater funding for civil legal aid. This has been a huge step towards changing the discussion on this issue as people begin to view legal aid not just as a charity but as an investment.

We’ve also reached out to work with the different branches of government in a number of ways. While meeting with the chief judges and justices of the courts, we learned more about their priorities and how the bench and bar can work in tandem on common goals and initiatives. We have also started conversations with members of the legislature about projects of mutual interest. For example, the BBA recently approved a proposal to expand the Housing Court statewide and is working with the courts and Legislature to make this proposition a reality. Finally, we honored Governor Deval Patrick with the Beacon Award for Diversity & Inclusion for his work in shaping a more diverse judiciary in Massachusetts.

Let’s not forget that earlier in the year, the BBA took a stand against the death penalty in federal cases, issued a report concerning the Annie Dookhan drug lab scandal via the Drug Lab Crisis Task Force, and secured a record number of 64 summer jobs for Boston public high school students through the Summer Jobs Program – among many other successes.

We are proud of these landmark moments from the past year; and we are just as proud of the smaller, daily accomplishments across the legal community that have produced substantive change in the quality of life for our fellow residents of the Commonwealth. All of us are lucky to be part of a community of truly committed and passionate attorneys in our state, and we all benefit in particular from those who dedicate their professional lives to public service.

I could tell you more about this critically valuable public service work, which is very near and dear to me as the former President of Greater Boston Legal Services. But it’s much more meaningful to hear about it straight from those who are in the trenches. We reached out to two of our closest partner organizations – the Volunteer Lawyers Project, an initiative of the BBA, and Greater Boston Legal Services itself – and asked them, “What has been your greatest accomplishment of 2014?” Their answers are uplifting reminders of how the law can serve the people, and we wish them only the best as they pursue their missions into the new year. Here’s what they had to say:

“People from communities of color are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, and their criminal records have devastating economic consequences. I am proud that the GBLS CORI & Re-entry Project helped so many clients seal their records and break the cycle of poverty, unemployment, and/or homelessness. We also had a landmark victory in 2014 in the Commonwealth v. Pon case where the SJC threw out an outdated draconian standard for criminal record sealing by judges, replaced it with a good cause standard, and, in a thoughtful opinion, gave judges modern world guidance on the factors to be weighed in deciding whether to seal records. GBLS is struggling with budget problems and lack of staff to meet client needs. We are grateful to the BBA for hosting CORI trainings and helping us recruit attorney and law student volunteers to help the CORI project stay afloat and continue its important work.” – Pauline Quirion, GBLS

“As always, VLP’s clients have reaped much benefit from our partnership with the Boston Bar Association. The list of projects and initiatives would fill several posts, but this year, we are most proud of the new initiative that will provide an attorney for the day for homeowners facing tax foreclosure in the Land Court. VLP worked closely with the Land Court judges and staff, the BBA Real Estate Section, and the BBA staff to assess the need and the services that would be most helpful to the potential clients. When it became clear that the majority of litigants needing assistance would not be financially eligible for VLP services, the BBA Real Estate Section – along with the BBA staff – stepped in to take over, and have now trained a cadre of volunteers who will assist folks on the verge of losing their homes due to unpaid taxes on a Limited Assistance Representation (LAR)/Attorney for the Day basis.” – Volunteer Lawyers Project

We are looking forward to a productive 2015; here’s to our success in helping to support and improve our community, and have a safe, happy New Year!

PILP Takes Up the Fight Against Recidivism

If you follow the public service activities of the BBA, you probably already know all about our Public Interest Leadership Program, affectionately nicknamed ‘PILP.’ PILP is just one of the ways the BBA fosters leadership and engagement in public service among young attorneys. Participants receive guidance and mentorship from BBA leaders as they plan and execute a community service project over the course of a year. The PILP classes are tight-knit groups, and past members are always proud of the experience and glad to lend a hand to the current class.

PILP is now in its eleventh cycle and at this week’s Council meeting, the current class – PILP 11 – presented their proposed idea to work on over the coming months. I’m excited to share more information about their project with you. Not only is it a great idea in its own right, but it also builds on and expands the work of a previous PILP class, meaning that it will really deepen our overall commitment to assisting the courts in a very important area: preventing recidivism.

In his recent State of the Judiciary address, Chief Justice Gants of the SJC said, “We need our sentences not merely to punish and deter, but also to provide offenders with the supervision and the tools they will need to maximize the chance of success upon release and minimize the likelihood of recidivism.” We at the BBA wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. That’s why when PILP 9, the class of 2012-2013, brought their idea to implement reentry readiness workshops for probationers in collaboration with the federal district court, they were enthusiastically supported.

Their Community Reentry Readiness Project has been a huge success. After it was overwhelmingly well-received in its first year by workshop attendees, who attended through the Court Assisted Recover Effort (CARE) and Reentry: Empowering Successful Todays and Responsible Tomorrows (RESTART) probation programs, the court requested that the BBA continue the program, which has recently started its second iteration.

PILP 11’s project proposes to bring the community reentry readiness workshops to the state courts – specifically to the Boston Municipal Court in Roxbury through “CHOICE,” an intensive supervised probation program for young adult offenders. The participants in CHOICE are between the ages of 18 and 24, and most have served a short, probation-only sentence. With the support of these workshops, we hope to intervene early in their lives and encourage them to avoid future infractions. As the presenting members of the PILP class explained, these probationers are at a turning point where they can change the path that they are on; the information and the support provided in these workshops could make the difference in which path they choose. We all have a stake in their success and, using evidence-based practices, we can promote proven efforts to achieve that success and reduce recidivism.

I’d like to applaud the current PILP class for responding to this request from the courts, which really strengthens our relationship with the judiciary, and for presenting their plan so thoughtfully and thoroughly. It’s clear that they have carefully considered the needs of these young men and women– for example, adding a workshop on student financial aid – and I’m confident that they will succeed in their endeavor.

The Council unanimously agreed to accept PILP 11’s proposal, so they will be implementing the workshops in Roxbury shortly. Look for more updates on their progress in the coming months!