Equal Justice Coalition Honors Massachusetts Legislators for Championing Civil Legal Aid

Awardees at Beacon of Justice Awards (2023)

Awardees pose at the 2023 Beacon of Justice ceremony (L to R: Senator James Eldridge, Senator Cindy Friedman, Representative Michael Day, Representative Ruth Balser, Representative Christine Barber, and Senator Joanne Comerford

On Thursday, October 19, the Equal Justice Coalition (EJC) held a special event at the Massachusetts State House to formally recognize seven legislators who have been “Beacons of Justice” on the hill. This year’s honorees were selected by a committee for their unwavering support of civil legal aid funding through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation’s (MLAC) budget line item.

MLAC is the largest funding source for civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts. In FY24, the legislature appropriated $49 million to organizations that provide legal assistance to people with low incomes who are facing critical, non-criminal legal issues including domestic violence, eviction, unemployment benefits, and more.

Beacon of Justice Awards were presented to:

  • Representative Christine Barber (D, 34th Middlesex)
  • Senator Joanne Comerford (D, Hampshire, Franklin, and Worcester)
  • Representative Michael Day (D, 31st Middlesex)
  • Senator Cindy Friedman (D, 4th Middlesex)

L to R: MLAC Board Chair Mala Rafik, Representative Christine Barber, South Coastal Counties Legal Services Executive Director Christopher Oldi, and MetroWest Legal Services Executive Director Betsy Soule

The EJC also recognized past Beacon of Justice Award recipients who are longstanding champions of civil legal aid by naming them to the Beacon of Justice Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame awards were presented to:

  • Representative Ruth Balser (D, 12th Middlesex)
  • Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem (D, Norfolk and Middlesex)
  • Senator James Eldridge (D, Middlesex and Worcester)

After years of virtual meetings, attendees enjoyed reuniting in person over coffee, tea, and desserts.

Senate President Karen Spilka kicked off the ceremony with a powerful message about what drives her and her colleagues at the State House: “Of all the motivations for getting things done in the Senate, few are as powerful as the words in our state constitution: equal justice for all.”

MLAC Executive Director Lynne Parker speaking at an event

MLAC Executive Director Lynne Parker

MLAC Executive Director Lynne Parker thanked this year’s honorees for their efforts and advocacy in support of civil legal aid. “With the support of those we are honoring today,” she said, “more people will receive legal advice and representation. More low-income individuals and families will be able to remain in their homes; more will receive the benefits and wages they are entitled to; more survivors of domestic violence will obtain the vital protections they need for themselves and their children to stay safe and free from harm; and more seniors, veterans and those with disabilities will get legal representation when they need it most.

MBA President Damia Turco speaking at an event

Massachusetts Bar Association President Damian Turco

Massachusetts Bar Association President Damian Turco, Boston Bar Association President Hannah Kilson, and MLAC Board Chair Mala Rafik also gave heartfelt remarks about the importance of promoting equal justice for all.

“I always wanted to be a lawyer to help people, but to me, the representatives we choose personify the concept of helping others,” Mala said. “I have tremendous admiration … for those of us who use their voice to stand up for their neighbors, particularly those whose voices have been stifled for so many reasons.”

The ceremony served as a reminder of the incredible impact a group of committed advocates can have on removing barriers to justice, stability, and opportunity for residents of our Commonwealth.