MLAC response to Governor’s Budget recommendation

BOSTON, January 22, 2020 – Today, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker released his FY2021 budget with a recommendation to fund civil legal aid at $24 million, the same amount of funding it received in FY20.

“We are pleased Gov. Baker recognizes the vital role civil legal aid plays in promoting equal access to justice for low-income residents of the Commonwealth,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. “Civil legal aid is essential to help people in crisis avoid homelessness and unemployment and gain access to essential benefits and services, including veterans’ benefits, healthcare, and quality education. Legal aid lawyers also support survivors of domestic violence, older adults living in poverty, and immigrants. Civil legal aid is often life changing for people, creating stability and opportunity – and delivering hope and justice.

“There remains a great unmet need for civil legal aid in Massachusetts, and MLAC will pursue additional funding. Next week, Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court, bar leaders, law students, and lawyers from around the Commonwealth will gather at the State House for the 21st Annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. We will seek an additional $5 million in funding so more people can have equal access to justice. [For more information on the Walk to the Hill, visit equaljusticecoaltion.org.]

“Civil legal aid organizations are forced to turn away more people than they can serve, due to lack of funding. This is true even though civil legal aid yields a strong economic return for the Commonwealth and its residents. Last year, civil legal aid organizations provided an economic benefit of more than $69 million. Investing in civil legal aid is just and makes good economic sense.

“With the great unmet need and the strong return on the Commonwealth’s investment in civil legal aid, we strongly urge the legislature to increase civil legal aid funding to $29 million for FY21.”

About MLAC. The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is the largest funding source for civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts, funding nonprofits that provide legal information, advice, and representation to low-income people with critical, non-criminal legal problems. www.mlac.org

WBA Selects Newest Class of Rising Stars for its Women’s Leadership Initiative

The WBA congratulates the members of its sixth Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) class!

The WLI is a program that brings together senior women attorneys and up and coming stars of the legal profession for leadership development and mentoring. The program is chaired by Erin Higgins, Partner at Conn Kavanaugh Rosenthal Peisch & Ford, LLP, and Meredith Ainbinder, Deputy General Counsel of Emerson College, along with Mary Ryan, Partner at Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP, as Senior Chair.

The 2020 Class includes women practicing in firms, government, and in-house, touching a wide variety of sectors/industries including the criminal justice system, higher education, legal services, and the financial services and biotechnology industries. With a record number of applicants this year, it is clear that the desire for leadership training and building connections with accomplished women lawyers is strong.

Congratulations to the 2020 Women’s Leadership Initiative members:

Azure Aronsson, Hogan Lovells LLP
Jessica Babine, Cornetta Babine LLC
Saraa Basaria, Todd & Weld LLP
Elizabeth Monnin-Browder, Hirsch Roberts Weinstein LLP
Margaret Caulfield, Alkermes
Meghan Cooper, Peabody & Arnold LLP
Michelle Detherage, Robins Kaplan LLP
Courtney Groh, Holland & Knight LLP
Amalia Jorns, Northeast Legal Aid
Nita Kumaraswami Klunder, Office of the Attorney General
Stephanie Lin, WilmerHale
Elizabeth McEvoy, Barrett & Singal
Maggie Morgan, Greater Boston Legal Services
Emily Musgrave, Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky & Popeo, P.C.
Rebecca Neale, Law Office of Rebecca G. Neale
Amy Sennett, Catalant Technologies
Naomi Shatz, Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein LLP
Emily Sy, State Street Bank & Trust Company
Allison Lukas Turner, Latham & Watkins LLP
Destinee Waiters, Suffolk University Office of the General Counsel
Jennifer Watson, Liberty Mutual
Whitney Williams, Middlesex District Attorney’s Office

WBA President Jennifer Saubermann remarked, “As a past graduate of the WLI program I am keenly aware of the wealth of knowledge that mentors are able to bestow to their mentees through this program, and the positive influence this can have on a woman’s career. I am thrilled that we are able to provide this experience to a new class of already accomplished women.  The WBA is very grateful to Meredith Ainbinder, Erin Higgins, and Mary Ryan, and the outstanding mentors they have lined up, for their willingness to lead a new class. Programs like the WLI are integral to changing the practice of law by fostering the growth of women into leadership positions across all areas of the law, and the WBA is proud to offer this program to its members.”

About the Women’s Leadership Initiative:
The WLI was launched in 2009 by a group of leaders in our legal community eager to give back to the next generation of promising women attorneys. WLI alumni include Attorney General Maura Healey and other high-ranking government attorneys, law firm partners, and accomplished in-house attorneys. A new class of mentees is selected biennially.

The WLI is designed to provide participants with large-scale networking, group mentoring, and one-on-one career development opportunities.  Each event leverages the experiences of accomplished women attorneys in Massachusetts interested in cultivating the next generation of women leaders.  From no-holds barred Q&A sessions to events introducing participants to leaders in the Massachusetts legal and business communities, the WLI provides participants with opportunities to work with their role models and one another, build their networks, and further their careers. 

Equal Justice Coalition recognizes four law firms and UMass Law for Support of Legal Aid

Awards recognize exceptional participation in Walk to the Hill

BOSTON, January 9, 2020 – The Equal Justice Coalition has recognized four law firms and UMass Law School for their outstanding participation in the 2019 Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid.

The award winners are:
– Morgan Lewis: Highest Participation Award
– Ropes & Gray: Exceptional Support Award
– Meehan, Boyle, Black & Bogdanow: Nancy King Award
– WilmerHale: Team Advocacy Award
– UMass Law: Highest Participation for a Law School Award.

Morgan Lewis receives award

From left: Lynne Parker, Executive Director, MLAC; Jason Frank, attorney and team captain of Morgan Lewis; Louis Tompros, Chair, EJC

The Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid is the annual lobby day for supporters of a larger state appropriation for the legal assistance organizations funded by the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. Last January, nearly 700 attorneys and law students convened at the Massachusetts State House to ask legislators to increase the state appropriation for civil legal aid. The commonwealth ultimately included an increase of $3 million, appropriating $24 million for civil legal aid in FY20.

“Private lawyers and law students are essential partners in the effort to make the case for the importance of funding civil legal aid for the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents in times of crisis,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “All people deserve equal access to justice and to the courts, regardless of their income. I’m so grateful to these lawyers, law students, and law firms for advocating for civil justice for all people.”

This year, the Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid will be on January 30. Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, bar association leaders, and law students will join hundreds of private attorneys at the State House to lobby for $29 million for civil legal aid in FY21.

About the Award Winners:
Morgan Lewis won the Highest Participation Award, with 36 lawyers from the firm attending the 2019 Walk to the Hill.
Ropes & Gray received the Exceptional Support Award in recognition of having the second largest group of lawyers attend, with a total of 32 participants.
Meehan, Boyle, Black & Bogdanow received the Nancy King for bringing the largest percentage of law firm employees to the Walk. The award is named for Nancy King, a longtime legal aid attorney in Boston who passed away in 2007.
WilmerHale earned the Team Advocacy Award, which is given to the law firm that visits the most legislative offices during the Walk to the Hill.
UMass Law received the Highest Participation for a Law School Award. Eighty students at the Dartmouth-based school traveled to Boston for the 2019 Walk to the Hill.

UMass Law receives award

From left: Louis Tompros, Chair, EJC; Kseniya Ruzanova, 3L UMass Law; Alexandria Murphy, 2L UMass Law; Kara Kocurek, 1L UMass Law; Nicholas LaFlamme, 2L UMassLaw; Lynne Parker, Executive Director, MLAC


About the EJC
The Equal Justice Coalition is a collaboration of the Boston Bar Association, Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation working to increase state funding for civil legal aid.
www.equaljusticecoalition.org
@equaljusticema
#IWalkforJustice

Our View: When you need a lawyer

Nobody wants to think about lawyers amid their New Year’s revelry and resolutions, but odds are good you’ll need legal help at some point during 2020.

If you get arrested and hauled into court, you have the right to a lawyer even if you cannot pay for one. Clarence Earl Gideon’s handwritten appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the unanimous ruling that came in his case in 1963, assured us of that.

Not so much if you have to go to court to handle a civil matter, say, to ask for help collecting unpaid child support from your ex or to fend off creditors who want to dip into your paycheck. Those who can least afford a lawyer are the ones most disadvantaged. If not for the help of legal assistance programs, justice would only come to those who can most afford it.

All of which is something to bear in mind later this month when a group of legal professionals walk to the Statehouse to call attention to funding needs for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp. The organization supports legal aid throughout the state, as well as specific programs aimed at helping people living with low incomes or who may have trouble finding a lawyer.

Last year, about 700 lawyers participated in the 20th annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. This year’s walk is scheduled for Jan. 30… Read more in The Eagle Tribune, and learn more about Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid from the Equal Justice Coalition.

MLAC Announces the Massachusetts Immigration Legal Assistance Fund

Deadline for grant applications to expand legal aid to immigrants is January 13, 2020

BOSTON, December 13, 2019—The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is pleased to announce the availability of grant funds through the newly created Massachusetts Immigration Legal Assistance Fund.

Across the Commonwealth, immigrant communities are facing a severe unmet need for legal services. MILAF will fund nonprofit, legal aid organizations so they can provide more representation to vulnerable immigrants throughout Massachusetts. MLAC is accepting proposals for funding for the next two years to address a vast array of immigrant legal assistance needs as a result of shifting U.S. immigration policy.

“The legal aid organizations that MLAC funds face an overwhelming number of requests for help with immigration cases. We are glad to be able to provide this funding to increase immigration defense capacity in every corner of the state to help more people in need,” said Lynne Parker, MLAC’s executive director. “Changing immigration policies continue to be a major concern in the low-income communities that legal aid serves. Legal advice and representation are vital to helping people understand and protect their rights.”

The fund aims to protect and defend the rights of immigrants to stay in the United States safely and with the promise of a stable future. The grant funds are intended to increase legal aid services for immigrants through direct representation, capacity building, community education, and technical assistance.

“Given its statewide scope and its experience administering specialized legal aid grants, MLAC is ideally positioned to launch this initiative,” said Marijane Benner Browne, chair of the MLAC Board of Directors. “We are proud to be able to further support the work of legal aid organizations in Massachusetts in representing immigrants in need of critical legal services.”

View the RFP. Additional information on eligibility and how to apply for MILAF grants is available here. The application deadline is January 13, 2020.

Contact Information:

For assistance with this RFP, please direct questions to Shamika Naidu, MLAC Grants Manager, at snaidu@mlac.org or 617-391-5658.

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About MLAC

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is the largest funding source for civil legal aid in Massachusetts, funding nonprofit legal aid organizations that help low-income people facing serious legal issues related to housing, domestic violence and family law, employment, disability, health care, public benefits, consumer protection, immigration, education, and elder law.

mlac.org

Rampant Errors on Criminal Background Check Reports Are Still Preventing Consumers from Securing Jobs and Housing

Boston – Passing a criminal background check is a nearly universal prerequisite to securing a job or housing, yet employers and landlords are making decisions based on inaccurate reports. Broken Records Redux: How Errors by Criminal Background Check Companies Continue to Harm Consumers Seeking Jobs and Housing, a new report from the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), finds that problems with accuracy in commercial criminal background check reports are still rampant. “Unfortunately, many background screening companies still seem to prioritize profit over accuracy, leading to reports that cost consumers’ jobs and housing,” said Ariel Nelson, National Consumer Law Center staff attorney and author of the report.

NCLC’s research reveals that background screening companies continue to generate criminal background check reports that:

– Mismatch the subject of the report with another person (e.g., listing criminal records belonging to someone else, often harming common-name consumers in particular);
– Include sealed or expunged records (e.g., listing a conviction that was legally removed from the public record);
– Omit information about how the case was resolved (e.g.., failing to report that charges were dismissed);
– Contain misleading information (e.g., listing a single charge multiple times); and/or
– Misclassify the offense reported (e.g., reporting a misdemeanor as a felony).

The background screening industry is now a multi-billion dollar industry, with about 94% of employers and about 90% of landlords using criminal background check reports to evaluate prospective employees and tenants. Yet there are still no registration requirements for background checking companies and no standardized criteria governing background checks.…Read more from the National Consumer Law Center. Read the full report here.

GBLS advocates for improved child care policies

Chanice was so buried in bills in 2017 that she took on part-time work at a taxi company in addition to her full-time job answering phones at a Boston community health center in hopes of digging herself out.

Still, she staggered under the weight of the copayments she was expected to contribute for state-subsidized child care. With more than $2,100 in overdue child care bills, the young Roxbury mother lost her day care spot for her son. Then she lost her job. After experiencing more setbacks, she became homeless.

“You can’t work without child care,” she said.

Chanice’s experience is far too common for working poor parents in Massachusetts, advocates say. Poor families in Massachusetts with state-subsidized day care still pay, in proportion to their income, the highest child care fees in the nation. Greater Boston Legal Services is petitioning the state Department of Early Education to revise its child care fee schedule and its policy of terminating parents who fall behind on payments, which they argue is illegal.

“Federal law permits disqualifying someone for fraud, but living in poverty and falling behind is not fraud,” said Sarah Levy, a senior attorney with the organization. The legal group is representing 24-year-old Chanice. Read more in the Boston Globe.

Somerville activists, legal aid seek to combat rampant wage theft

Somerville bosses have been quietly cheating employees out of tens of thousands of dollars for years now. But a coalition of labor groups, unions, the Our Revolution Somerville Labor Committee and other worker advocates are hoping to put an end to “wage theft,” includes instances where employers deny workers wages and benefits, such as a lunch break, tips, paid sick time, or when they force employees to work off the clock. Some Somerville residents hope to resolve the problem by changing city ordinances.

Ben Traslavina of Greater Boston Legal Services told a gathering of residents that Somerville’s current wage theft law is ineffectual.

“It only comes into effect if a company has been found to have criminally violated the law,” he explained. “As all of you know, prosecutions, criminal prosecutions of wage theft, are almost non-existent. It’s on the books but it’s a dead letter.”

Traslavina, who has been helping craft language that would essentially replace the existing ordinance, noted that while it’s difficult to prosecute employers, cities and towns have power.

“We do have, as a municipality, the power to decide what businesses can work in our community,” he noted…Read more in the Somerville Times.

Local undocumented immigrants fear deportation when reporting abuse, says immigration attorney

For undocumented immigrants suffering domestic violence or sexual assault, reporting it is often sidetracked by fears of deportation. A bill aiming to ease those fears when talking with local police – called the Safe Communities Act – will undergo a hearing at the State House on Dec. 2. It’s important legislation, because “it doesn’t serve the community for people to be scared,” says attorney Jennifer Ollington.

“…Our clients have suffered from domestic violence or sexual assault, either in the United States or in their country of origin,” said Ollington, an immigration supervisor and staff attorney at MetroWest Legal Services (MLS) in Framingham. Many fear that their immigration status puts them at risk of deportation if they report the abuse to law enforcement.

MetroWest Legal Services helps thousands of low-income clients with civil legal problems for free – many of them are part of the 45,000 people living below the poverty line in Framingham. Read more in The MetroWest Daily News.

EJC presents Beacon of Justice Awards to 13 champions of legal aid

The Equal Justice Coalition honored nine legislators and four attorneys at the Massachusetts State House with Beacon of Justice Awards on Nov. 12. The honorees were selected for their significant support of state funding for civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. MLAC is the largest funding source for civil legal aid organizations in the Commonwealth, aiding nonprofits that provide critical legal assistance to low-income residents facing serious legal problems, such as foreclosure, eviction, and domestic violence. View photos from the event.

The Beacon of Justice award winners are:

– Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge)
– Sen. Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth)
– Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett)
– Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton)
– Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield)
– Rahsaan Hall, director of the Racial Justice Program at the Massachusetts ACLU and former chair of the MLAC Board of Directors
– Marty Healy, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Legal Officer, Massachusetts Bar Association
– Rep. Ronald Mariano (D-Quincy)
– Rep. Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston)
– Lon Povich, Counsel at Anderson & Kreiger and former Chief Legal Counsel to Governor Charlie Baker
– Sen. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport)
– J.D. Smeallie, Partner at Holland & Knight and former Boston Bar Association President
– Rep. Todd Smola (R-Palmer)

Gants, Parker, and Benner Browne

From left: Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants, Lynne Parker, Marijane Benner Browne

“Through their efforts to increase funding for civil legal aid, these legislators and lawyers have shown tremendous leadership in their support for access to justice for all residents of the Commonwealth,” said Lynne Parker, MLAC executive director. “Legal aid can have profoundly positive effects on people facing eviction, domestic violence, lack of access to benefits, and other serious civil legal issues. We’re grateful to these award winners for their commitment to legal aid, which boosts not just individuals, but also their families and communities.”

Rep. Michlewitz and Monica Halas

House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz with Monica Halas of Greater Boston Legal Services

The Equal Justice Coalition also celebrated more than 100 legislators who were named Supporters of Justice. Each of those senators and representatives co-sponsored amendments to increase MLAC’s appropriation in the Massachusetts state budget for Fiscal Year 2020. Civil legal aid organizations and the people they serve rely on these legislators’ dedicated, bipartisan support.

Rep. Decker and Marty Healy

Awardees Rep. Marjorie Decker and Marty Healy

For the first time, the Equal Justice Coalition acknowledged 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. They are: Senate President Karen Spilka; Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem; Senate President Pro Tempore Will Brownsberger; Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler; Sen. Mark Montigny; Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr; House Speaker Robert DeLeo; Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad; House Assistant Majority Leader Paul Donato; Rep. Ruth Balser; Rep. Claire Cronin; Assistant House Minority Leader Brad Hill; Rep. John Rogers; Congresswoman Katherine Clark; Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey; and Justice Robert Cordy (retired). View photos from the event.

The Equal Justice Coalition is a collaboration of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, Massachusetts Bar Association, and Boston Bar Association. It advocates for increased funding for civil legal aid, through the line item for MLAC. The largest funder of civil legal aid in Massachusetts, MLAC funds legal aid organizations across the state that provide advice and representation to low-income Massachusetts residents facing serious civil legal problems.

All photos: Elbert John