Massachusetts SJC rules employees at Chang & Sons farm in Whately are entitled to overtime

The state’s highest court on Friday reversed a lower-court ruling and decided that employees at a Franklin County farm are entitled to be paid overtime because the work they performed at the farm was not the same as farming. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on Friday ruled in favor of the 15 plaintiffs in the case of Ana Arias-Villano and others vs. Chang & Sons Enterprises of South Deerfield…The Central West Justice Center, which represented the 15 plaintiffs, hailed the ruling as an important victory for worker’s rights. Leticia Medina-Richman, managing attorney for the center, said the decision “brings clarity about what constitutes fair compensation for the many hours worked by those performing the kinds of tasks that the plaintiffs performed.” Read more in The Springfield Republican

Suit alleges bias in civil commitments for addiction

Ten men who have been ordered into treatment for addiction filed suit Thursday against several state agencies, alleging that they are unlawfully being held in a prison instead of a treatment facility. The men are represented by Prisoners’ Legal Services. Read more…

More families, elders have no place to call home

Rising rents and stagnant wages have families and older residents struggling to remain in their homes. Of the state’s 20,068 homeless individuals, 13,257 were people in families with children. Read more…

Medford musician fights eviction from home of 70 years

The trouble began after Joe Lentino took a reverse mortgage in 2007 to get out from under his debt. Then he lost some gigs playing in jazz bands. And he started missing tax payments on the modest white house where he’s lived for about 70 years. Read more…

Understanding Trauma’s Impact on Learning

by Susan Cole, director of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative at Harvard Law School and Massachusetts Advocates for Children.

The principal of a small elementary school in central Massachusetts was approached by his staff with a request. They asked about their school becoming more responsive to trauma… Read more…

Under Trump Administration, Some Vietnamese Immigrants Face Uncertain Fate

It’s a Saturday afternoon at a community center in Dorchester. More than a dozen people sit in metal folding chairs, organized in a circle and leaning forward, listening to the free legal advice being offered. Read more…

As rents soar in Boston, low-income tenants try to stave off eviction

The Thursday vibe at the sprawling Edward W. Brooke Courthouse on New Chardon Street in downtown Boston has a jittery, jagged edge to it. Thursday is trial day for eviction cases at Eastern Housing Court, where landlords and tenants from Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, and eight other cities and towns square off. The busy hallway outside Courtroom 10 looks like an anxiety fair, with attorneys from legal aid clinics at tables surrounded by tenants with the desperate air of people who know that they might soon find themselves homeless…If Stanley had worked from the beginning with an attorney, he likely would have been able to find a way to stay, or at least gained more time to move, says Zoe Cronin, managing attorney of the housing unit at Greater Boston Legal Services, which offers free legal help to low-income tenants.

Read more in The Boston Globe.

New MLAC Leader Talks the Legal Aid ‘Walk’ – Podcast

For attorney Lynne Parker, the 20th Annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid on Jan. 24 at the Massachusetts State House will be her first as the new executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC). But Parker is no stranger to the world of legal aid, having worked more than three decades advocating on behalf of low-income residents, most recently in New Hampshire. In this episode, Parker talks with host Jordan Rich about MLAC’s role as one of the primary funders of civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts and why funding for legal aid — the drive behind the Walk to the Hill event — is so vital to low-income Massachusetts residents facing life-changing legal challenges. Listen to the podcast here…

Hundreds of Lawyers Rally for Increased Civil Legal Aid Funding at Walk to the Hill

Hundreds of Lawyers Rally for Increased Civil Legal Aid Funding at Walk to the Hill

Equal Justice Coalition chair Louis Tompros addresses the Walk to the Hill participants.

By Gray Christie
Attorneys, law students, and bar association leaders packed the Massachusetts State House Hall of Flags January 24 for the 20th Annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. Led by Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, more than 650 people assembled at the Equal Justice Coalition’s annual lobby day to advocate for a state budget increase of $5 million for civil legal aid programs in Massachusetts.

“Civil legal aid is not only a moral obligation; it is a sound investment,” said Chief Justice Gants, noting the money invested in legal aid yields savings for the Commonwealth by preventing homelessness, saving medical costs, and recouping federal benefits.

Chief Justice Ralph Gants

Ralph Gants, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, delivers his remarks at Walk to the Hill

Fred Connelly, a teacher and construction worker from Quincy, told the story of how lawyers with Greater Boston Legal Services helped his family avoid homelessness when they were facing eviction from the home they have lived in for nearly 40 years. Injured and out of work, he couldn’t afford a lawyer to help him keep the house he built himself. Without the help of GBLS, “I know for a fact I would not have my house back today,” he said.

In his budget filed the day before the walk, Gov. Charlie Baker included level funding for civil legal aid programs in Massachusetts – an appropriation of $21 million dollars. While appreciative of the governor’s continued support, Walk to the Hill speakers stressed that more funds are needed to ensure that the civil justice system is accessible to all. Last year, two thirds of eligible applicants for legal aid were turned away.

Fred Connelly

Fred Connelly explains how Greater Boston Legal Services helped him keep his house

Lawyers from nearly 40 law firms and in house-legal departments and more than 30 bar associations gathered for the event, in addition to lawyers and staff from legal aid organizations, and students and faculty from New England Law, Boston University School of Law, Northeastern University School of Law, and two busloads of students from the University of Massachusetts School of Law. Chief Justice Gants urged them: “Ask your legislators if they believe that we as a Commonwealth can succeed when so many are struggling and being left behind … Discuss the families who will need legal help in the coming fiscal year because their lives have been upended by opiate addiction, by the threat of deportation, by eviction, by elder abuse, by wage theft, or by domestic violence.”

Louis Tompros, chair of the Equal Justice Coalition, invoked the Massachusetts justice system’s rich history: “It was here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that we developed the rule of law, it was here that we recognized its incredible power, and it was here that we recognized that equal access to the legal system—regardless of ability to pay—is a necessary condition to a free and just society … If we are serious about ‘liberty and justice for all,’ it is up to us to make it a reality.”

Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, noted that while the economy is improving for some, there is still a serious need for legal assistance: “Increases in housing costs often drive struggling tenants farther from their jobs. A job layoff, a medical emergency, the denial of hard-earned benefits, or the loss of health insurance can often be catastrophic to individuals and families who are already struggling to make ends meet. Access to civil legal aid can make all the difference.”

Lynne Parker

Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, speaks at Walk to the Hill

Jonathan Albano, president of the Boston Bar Association (BBA), stressed both the proven economic benefits of investing in legal aid and the current inability to meet the state’s full need. He cited a BBA report which showed that civil legal aid “produces a positive return on investment—in housing cases, in taking on intimate-partner violence, and in securing rightful federal benefits, to name just a few vital areas.” He also stressed that “roughly 45,000 eligible Massachusetts residents are turned away each year. Plus, given recent developments at the federal level, including changes to immigration policies and cuts to antipoverty programs, the need for state legal aid will likely continue to grow.”

President of the Massachusetts Bar Association Christopher Kenney argued that the shortfall in legal aid funding amounts to a crisis: “More than 66 percent of eligible people in Massachusetts are forced to face life-changing legal matters alone, making it less likely they’ll succeed and more likely that they’ll require other state resources and add to the state’s fiscal burden.”

Created in 1999 in a collaboration between the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, the Boston Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Equal Justice Coalition leads an annual campaign to increase appropriations for legal aid in Massachusetts.