Hundreds of lawyers will gather virtually to request increased civil legal aid funding

January 27 lobby day seeks $41M for civil legal aid in FY23

BOSTON, January 20 – Assistant Speaker to the U.S. House of Representatives Katherine Clark, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, bar association leaders, and legal aid clients will join hundreds of attorneys, law students, and advocates on Thursday, Jan. 27, at 11 a.m. for Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. They will urge state legislators to support $41 million in the FY23 state budget for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation to fund organizations that provide legal advice and representation at no cost to low-income Massachusetts residents.

Talk to the Hill is the 23nd annual lobby day advocating for civil legal aid funding in Massachusetts. Held at the Massachusetts State House as Walk to the Hill for decades, the event has moved online due to the pandemic.

Assistant Speaker Clark said, “Civil legal aid has always been an essential service – but never has it been more critical to support the needs of our low-income community members than during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m grateful to the Equal Justice Coalition for their leadership and eager to join ‘Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid’ to discuss Congress’ work to ensure that every person in the Commonwealth has access to the legal support services they need.”

Attorney General Healey said, “Legal aid is a lifeline for our most vulnerable neighbors, and it has become even more critical during the pandemic. Many people continue to face serious challenges related to housing, employment, health care, personal safety and other financial and legal issues.  We are grateful to the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation and the Equal Justice Coalition for their continued advocacy for legal aid and for the residents that benefit from it every day.”

“This event is always important,” said Chief Justice Budd, “because it gives us an opportunity to address the challenges faced by people who are too often forgotten in our society – those who cannot afford a lawyer to assist them with their most basic civil legal needs. But it is especially important this year, because of the ongoing problems caused by the pandemic.”

“The need for civil legal aid has intensified during the pandemic, particularly in housing, unemployment, benefits, family law, and immigration,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “Low-income people and particularly low-income people of color are among the groups that have been most severely affected by the pandemic, and civil legal aid is essential to preserving their health, safety, and security.”

After the speaking program, lawyers and advocates will meet in virtual breakout rooms with state legislators about the critical need to increase civil legal aid funding by $6 million, for a total of $41 million in the FY23 state budget.

LIST OF SPEAKERS
– Katherine Clark, Assistant Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives, 5th District of MA
– Attorney General Maura Healey
– Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, Supreme Judicial Court
– Thomas M. Bond, President of the Massachusetts Bar Association
– Deborah J. Manus, President of the Boston Bar Association
– Lynne Parker, Executive Director, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation
– Jacquelynne J. Bowman, Executive Director, Greater Boston Legal Services
– Legal aid clients who received help during the pandemic will share how legal aid assisted them and their families
– Host: Louis Tompros, Chair, Equal Justice Coalition

Media are welcome to attend the speaking program and the virtual event is open to the public. Please register by January 25 at https://ejctalktothehill.org/

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

www.equaljusticecoalition.org
@equaljusticema
#IWalkforJustice

Mass. seeks to claw back at least $2.7 billion in jobless benefits it says were incorrectly paid

Attorney Rory MacAneney of Community Legal Aid and attorney Hannah Tanabe of Greater Boston Legal Services were quoted in a Jan. 17 article in The Boston Globe about their efforts to protect individuals who received overpayments in unemployment insurance during the pandemic due to errors by the Department of Unemployment Assistance.

At least $2.7 billion in benefits went to claimants who, the DUA later determined, received too much money or weren’t eligible for unemployment in the first place. That’s according to a tally of state filings with the US Labor Department by attorney Rory MacAneney of CLA, which provides free legal help in Western Massachusetts.

Many people facing overpayments have already spent the money on necessities like food, rent, and transportation, or made purchases assuming they could afford it, said Hannah Tanabe, a staff attorney in the employment unit of GBLS. And since a majority of the overpaid benefits were funded by the feds, recoveries effectively drain money from the Massachusetts economy.

“We shouldn’t be driving workers who are getting back on their feet into more precarious financial situations when the overpayment resulted through no fault of their own,” she said.

Read more in The Boston Globe.

Three law firms and UMass Law win awards for legal aid advocacy

EJC recognizes exceptional participation at the Talk to the Hill

The Equal Justice Coalition has recognized three law firms and UMass Law School for their outstanding participation in the 2021 Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid.

The award winners are:

Morgan Lewis, winner of the Highest Participation Award

WilmerHale, winner of the Exceptional Support Award

Meehan Boyle, winner of the Nancy King Award

WilmerHale, winner of the Team Advocacy Award

UMass Law, winner of the Highest Participation for a Law School Award

Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid is an annual lobby day for increased funding for civil legal aid organizations through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation line item. Last January, the event was virtual and called “Talk to the Hill.” Nearly 1,000 attorneys and law students participated in the virtual lobby day to ask legislators to increase the state appropriation for civil legal aid. The Commonwealth ultimately included the requested increase of $6 million, appropriating $35 million for civil legal aid in FY22.

This year’s lobby day will be held online January 27, 2022, at 11 a.m. Participants can register online. The speaking program includes U.S. Representative Katherine Clark, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Clients will also share how civil legal aid helped them overcome challenging circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawyers, advocates, and law students will have the opportunity to speak with their legislators to lobby for $41 million in civil legal aid funding in FY23.

“We are so grateful to members of the private bar for their longstanding support for civil legal aid and equal access to justice for all,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. “COVID-19 continues to have such a devastating and disproportionate effect on low-income people. Civil legal aid helps to ensure their health, safety, and financial stability during these perilous times.”

About the Award Winners:

Morgan Lewis won the Highest Participation Award, with 80 lawyers from the firm attending the 2021 Walk to the Hill.

WilmerHale received the Exceptional Support Award in recognition of having the second largest group of lawyers attend, with a total of 47 participants.

Meehan Boyle received the Nancy King for bringing the largest percentage of law firm employees to the Talk. 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 Talk to the Hill.

UMass Law received the Highest Participation for a Law School Award, with 26 students at the Dartmouth-based school attending the 2021 Walk to the Hill.

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

‘Rubber stamp’ justice? In Mass., prison officials almost always deny prisoners’ claims of abuse behind bars

Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, was quoted in a Dec. 29 Boston Globe article that investigated the prison grievance system in Massachusetts.

Every year, Massachusetts prisoners file hundreds of grievances alleging all manner of mistreatment behind bars, from excessive force to racism to harassment — all at the hands of prison employees.

And year after year, state records show, prison officials reject almost all of them.

Elizabeth Matos, executive director at Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, called the state’s grievance system a “rubber stamp process” offering little chance of justice for the incarcerated men.

Read more in the Boston Globe.

Racial inequity crisis in the legal profession

There’s a racial inequity crisis in the Massachusetts legal profession, and despite years of studying the problems, Massachusetts lawyers have made little progress in creating more diverse and inclusive workplaces. That’s according to Sheriece M. Perry, co-director of the Department of Support Services in the Office of Court Management of the Massachusetts Trial Court, who wrote about the challenges attorneys of color face in Massachusetts legal organizations and courtrooms.

“It is 2021, and it is baffling to me that so little has changed since I was a teenager on the mock trial team in the 1990s, thinking about becoming a lawyer,” wrote Perry, who is a member of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission. “Although I am grateful for the many steps forward, twenty-one years since I embarked on a journey to be the change I wished to see, I still have feelings of hopelessness when I think about equity and the legal profession.”

Her article, “’Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’ – Catchy Slogans and Buzzwords with Little Proof that they Matter to the Legal Profession in Massachusetts!”, was part of a special issue of the Boston College Law Review in honor of Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, who died in 2020, and had worked for many years to combat inequity in the courts and the legal profession.

A February 2021 report by the SJC’s Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being details how attorneys from underrepresented groups still have strikingly different experiences than their white heterosexual colleagues. “I believe the Town Hall Report also provides experiential documentation that the Massachusetts legal profession is still light years away from creating equity in this profession,” Perry said. “It also raises the question of how much diversity, equity, and inclusion really matters to the Massachusetts legal community.”

She writes that to create equity in the legal profession, organizations “have to care and be committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion as a culture change.” To begin to address inequities, Perry says, employers have to take inventory of practices that inhibit diversity. They also have to take active steps to address implicit bias in the workforce.

Perry concludes, “As members of the bar, who have been trained to call one another ‘sister’ and ‘brother’ [we] must think hard about what our responsibilities are to this profession, to one another, and to the legal system as a whole. We must be a people of action and we must forge ahead in the very way that Chief Justice Gants blazed the trail for us to follow in his footsteps.”

Read more of Perry’s essay in the Boston College Law Review.

Read all the Essays in Honor of Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants.

CLA pilot program aims to prevent child welfare removals

Commonwealth Magazine in a December 27 article reported on a new Community Legal Aid pilot program to prevent child welfare removals, which is the first of its kind in Massachusetts.

The goal is to provide families in Hampden County with legal support at the start of their involvement with the Department of Children and Families, so the agency never gets to the point of removing a child. If the year-long pilot is successful, attorneys hope money will become available to expand it statewide. 

“The vast majority of the cases with DCF are neglect cases, and many of those are just manifestations of poverty,” CLA child welfare attorney Madeline Weaver Blanchette said. “The wonderful thing about this pilot is we can basically harness the existing units that are already within Community Legal Aid…and work with clients to fix those substantive areas, and then hopefully have the result of being able to close their case with DCF.” 

Dorothy Storrow, a child welfare attorney and board member of Community Legal Aid, said the idea for the program came out of a series of meetings that attorneys, social workers, former judges, and professors had in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last year considering how to address the longstanding problem of racial disparities in child welfare.  

Read more in Commonwealth Magazine.

Uplifting children’s voices in the Child Advocacy Clinic

The Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts (CLCM) welcomed an extern this semester, Harvard Law School J.D. candidate Austin Riddick, who was profiled in Harvard Law Today along with two other students participating in the Child Advocacy Clinic. Riddick is focusing on special education law, serving as an advocate for students and parents in conversations with their school districts about how to ensure the child has an adequate education plan.

In his work, Riddick performs legal research and writing in addition to a variety of direct client services tasks, such as interviewing and negotiation. Aside from technical lawyering skills, Riddick has found relationship building to be an especially important tool for effective advocacy. “Having a positive working relationship with the school district is really important for CLCM, because it makes it easier for the negotiations to happen. It’s a collaborative process. We go to meetings with school districts and teachers regularly where they give progress reports on the various children that CLCM serves as an advocate for, and we work together to figure out what the child needs and what will put them in the best place.”

Read more in Harvard Law Today.

GBLS represents residents seeking to buy and preserve Fenway roominghouse

Longtime residents of a Boston roominghouse in the Fenway neighborhood are seeking to acquire the property to maintain its historical use as affordable housing for women and prevent a potential sale to a for-profit developer.

Seven residents of Our Lady’s Guild House submitted a bid on the 20 Charlesgate West property this month. Greater Boston Legal Services is representing the group and will ask the attorney general’s office to block any sale that would convert the building into market-rate apartments, attorney Margaret Turner said.

“The charitable purpose of OLGH Inc. is to provide permanent [single-room occupancy] housing for low and moderate-income women,” Turner said. “The proposed sale to the highest bidder will undermine this purpose.”

Read more in Banker & Tradesman.

Letter: State measure goes too far in its provisions for de facto parents

Laura W. Gal, managing attorney for family law, Greater Boston Legal Services; Heather Gamache, president, Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts; Anna S. Richardson, co-executive director, Veterans Legal Services and Jamie A. Sabino, staff attorney, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, responded on Monday in a letter to The Boston Globe regarding the paper’s editorial, “For LGBTQ parents, unfinished business in the fight for equality.” They write:

“As organizations representing a diverse range of individuals and families, we support enactment of all elements of the proposed Massachusetts Parentage Act that enable families to begin a child’s life with the security of fully recognized legal parents, whether through genetics, marriage, adoption, surrogacy, or reproductive technology. Equity under the law is essential.

The bill’s de facto parent section, however, goes well beyond this necessary goal. It would allow stepparents, grandparents, and other caretakers to use litigation to become third (or fourth, and so on) parents to a child, over the objections of one or both of the child’s fit parents. The Globe’s endorsement of the legislation, seemingly without consideration of the consequences of this section, is disappointing.

The overbroad de facto parent provisions would allow a wide range of court battles that could drag on and destabilize children’s lives for years. Divorced parents would find themselves in court with ex-partners of their ex-spouses. Domestic violence survivors would face harassing litigation from their former abusers. Members of the armed services would be forced to defend cases filed while deployed. These are just a few examples of the implications.

Current Massachusetts law allows de facto parents to request visitation. This serves children well. Expanding de facto parentage would not.”

Read more in The Boston Globe.

New rule allows debt collectors to contact you on social media

April Kuehnhoff, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, was quoted in a December 2 NBC Boston article about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new Debt Collection Rule, which gives debt collectors more ways to contact borrowers about unpaid debts.

The Debt Collection Rule allows third-party debt collectors to message people on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in an attempt to collect a debt.

Consumer advocacy groups argue the guidelines may not be enough to protect vulnerable families from harassing debt collection practices.

For one, the call limits are “per account,” meaning collectors could call a person with eight delinquent accounts up to 56 times per week. Debt collectors also don’t need a consumer’s permission to reach out via social media, and the rule doesn’t limit the number of messages they can send unless they opt out.

“The CFPB indicated that it can still revisit the rules in the future, and we urge them to do so,” said April Kuehnhoff, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. “In the meantime, we call on states to enact additional protections to prevent vulnerable families still recovering from the pandemic from harassing and abusive debt collection practices.”  

Read more at NBC Boston.