Trafficking Inc.: Forced labor in Massachusetts (GBH News)

Two legal aid attorneys—Caddie Nath-Folsom of the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts, a subsidiary of South Coastal Counties Legal Services, and Audrey Richardson of Greater Boston Legal Services—were quoted in an Oct. 11 GBH News article about labor trafficking. Below is an excerpt.

“Most people have interacted with someone who is being trafficked and don’t realize it,” said Nath-Folsom, who works with the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts. “Think of it more as someone who is being forced to work in terrible conditions, usually dangerous conditions, for unfair or no pay. And they can’t leave.”

And abusers are almost never held accountable. Massachusetts lawmakers passed a human trafficking law in 2011 to help victims and to prosecute perpetrators. But there hasn’t been a single forced labor conviction since the law passed, an investigation by the GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

In the meantime, attorney Audrey Richardson is still trying to seek help for her client Melba.

Read more at GBH News.

When migrants were sent to Martha’s Vineyard, a spirited team of Massachusetts lawyers jumped to help (The Boston Globe)

Emily Leung, supervising immigration attorney at the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts (a subsidiary of South Coastal Counties Legal Services), was featured in an Oct. 7 Boston Globe article alongside immigration lawyers Susan Church, Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, Rachel Self and Julio Henriquez for their work managing the legal response on the ground to assist asylum-seekers flown to Martha’s Vineyard on Sept. 14.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

“The scramble in those early days — and the continued advocacy since then — exhibited, once again, the force of a spirited team of Massachusetts immigration lawyers, far from the southern border but able to flex their clout and power in the name of their advocacy. Their work put Massachusetts on the national map when it came to fighting Trump immigration policies and, now, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ controversial relocation program.

Among those who joined Self on the Vineyard early on were some of the state’s most high-profile immigration attorneys: Susan Church, of the Cambridge-based law firm Demissie and Church; Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Boston’s Lawyers for Civil Rights; and Emily Leung, of The Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts.”

Read more in The Boston Globe. Leung and other advocates also spoke at a Boston Bar Association issue briefing about the crisis on Oct. 13.

SJC to referee another medical parole dispute (CommonWealth Magazine)

CommonWealth Magazine on Sept. 9 reported on an amicus brief filed by Prisoners’ Legal Services, the Disability Law Center, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services. Since the legislature established medical parole in 2018, prisoners’ rights advocates and Department of Correction officials have been in a near-constant fight about how the law is being implemented.

Tatum Pritchard, an attorney with the DLC, which filed a brief in the case, said the Legislature made clear that someone who is permanently incapacitated – physically or cognitively – should be eligible for parole, but the DOC inappropriately created a much narrower definition by focusing on activities of daily living. Pritchard said under the DOC’s definition, medical parole is reserved only for individuals who “really have no functional abilities at all.” 

The court could also address other related issues. DLC, PLS, and CPCS argued in their court brief that correction officials need to consider whether someone’s disability led to certain behavior in jail, like being disruptive, and whether that disability could be managed in the community. 

Read more in CommonWealth Magazine and in The Boston Globe.

SJC says Boston judge erred in denying marijuana expungement

A Sept. 8 Boston Globe article quoted Greater Boston Legal Services attorney Pauline Quirion, director of the CORI and Re-Entry Project at GBLS. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that a Boston judge “abused his discretion” when he denied a request by a former defendant to permanently erase legal records of two marijuana possession arrests in the early 2000s.

The unanimous opinion, written by Associate Justice Serge Georges Jr., found that people previously arrested for cannabis crimes that have since been legalized are entitled to “a strong presumption in favor of expungement.” It orders a lower court to grant the request and effectively removes the power of state judges to deny similar petitions, unless they can cite a “significant countervailing concern.”

“This is huge,” said Quirion, the lead attorney for GBLS, who represented the former defendant in the case. “It’s a fabulous decision that reflects basic common sense: It’s clearly unjust to have to carry a criminal record for something that’s no longer a crime.”

By easing the path for other former defendants to obtain expungements, Quirion added, the SJC’s ruling would “help deal with the harm to communities of color that was inflicted by the war on drugs and tough-on-crime policies.”

Read more in The Boston Globe and in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.

How a Massachusetts law meant to help victims is working against them

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Deputy Director of Advocacy Jamie Sabino and Greater Boston Legal Services Senior Attorney Mithra Merryman were interviewed recently by WBUR regarding a law that was intended to protect the privacy and safety of victims of domestic and sexual violence, but has instead protected perpetrators and police. The Massachusetts law requires police to keep all reports and arrests related to sexual and domestic violence secret, something no other state does.

In fact, 16 police departments turned down WBUR’s request for records detailing their actions leading up to domestic murders, all citing the same statute.

It has also harmed victims by making it difficult ⁠— even impossible ⁠— to obtain records they need for custody battles and restraining orders.

Sabino, staff attorney at MLRI, said she was concerned about potential “unintended consequences” even as she helped advise lawmakers on the language in the 2014 bill.

Read more and listen to coverage at WBUR (Aug. 27 and Aug. 29).

Boston Bar Foundation announces grant to Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission for civil legal aid directory

The Boston Bar Foundation (BBF) announced on Thursday that it will grant $12,000 in special funding for the purpose of creating a civil legal aid directory to serve the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The donation was made to the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), acting for the benefit of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission (ATJC).

The directory will inform and educate private foundations and businesses about philanthropic opportunities to support legal aid programs by enabling potential donors to quickly and easily find where to make donations to legal services that align with their ideals and goals.

“The Boston Bar Foundation is thrilled to provide funding for this project, which supports the ecosystem of legal aid providers throughout the Commonwealth,” remarked BBF President Russell Beck. “In addition to our portfolio of direct legal services granting, the BBF’s support of this new resource will enable organizations working directly in the community to ensure equal access to civil justice.”

“The civil legal aid directory is a powerful tool to help funders achieve their goals in areas such as family preservation, housing, education, immigration, racial equity, and further access to justice for those unable to afford an attorney,” said Marijane Benner Browne, co-chair of the Massachusetts ATJC. “The civil legal aid directory will also serve as a valuable resource to those seeking legal assistance, as well as researchers.”

Currently, information about more than 70 organizations funded by the BBF, the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, and MLAC has been accumulated. According to John Kenneth Felter, member of the Massachusetts ATJC Revenue Enhancement Committee, the directory “will contain key information about each organization, including, among other things: contact information, types of legal services provided, mission statement, geographic service area, number of attorneys and legal assistants, numbers and types of matters opened and closed, and basic financial information.”

“Our hope is that many funders across the state will learn about the civil legal aid directory, gain a better understanding of the critical and essential work being done by civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts, and fund organizations that align with their mission and goals,” said MLAC Executive Director Lynne Parker.

First established by the Supreme Judicial Court in 2005, the ATJC seeks to improve access to justice for people who are unable to afford an attorney for essential civil legal needs. Among other activities, the ATJC coordinates with civil legal aid organizations to support their activities and develop new initiatives to address unmet needs. MLAC—the largest funder of legal aid organizations in the Commonwealth—provides funding, leadership, and a variety of supports to statewide and regional legal aid organizations across Massachusetts which serve low-income people with civil legal problems.

“The mission of the Commission and the BBF go hand in hand, as both strive to facilitate the development and implementation of innovative strategies aimed at increasing access to justice for those unable to afford legal counsel and expanding access to legal services,” said Benner Brown.

The BBF serves as the charitable affiliate of the Boston Bar Association. The Foundation helps serve the community by funding and promoting innovation in the delivery of legal services; facilitating access to legal counsel in underserved communities; and supporting the public service projects and pro bono work of the Boston Bar members.

Buried beach walkway raises accessibility questions

NBC Boston quoted Disability Law Center supervising attorney Tom Murphy in a recent article investigating accessibility concerns at Salisbury Reservation Beach.

On the walkway to the beach, the handrails are either barely visible or buried under several feet of sand.

Last year, Murphy reviewed utility poles that were placed right in the middle of new sidewalks in Dedham, explaining how they presented accessibility barriers for people in wheelchairs.

We asked Murphy about the beach ramp and he said the lack of maintenance appeared to violate the federal ADA law that requires equal access for everybody.

“They need to clear the ramp,” Murphy said. “Just like the roof on your house, these access features need to be looked at to make sure they’re still in operable, safe working condition and they’re usable.”

Read more at NBC Boston.

Massachusetts triple-deckers can be full of fire hazards. Here’s why.

Blair Komar Bates, a housing attorney at Community Legal Aid, was quoted in an Aug. 15 WGBH article about the hazards of old three-decker buildings in Massachusetts.

When Lorraine Adams sees a triple-decker in Worcester, she remembers the fires.

Adams was 15 when old electric wiring in a three-decker she and her family rented ignited a blaze that completely burned the building. Nobody was injured, but the family lost all of their belongings and had to immediately find somewhere new to live.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Massachusetts has a housing shortage of about 163,000 affordable rental homes. Komar Bates, a housing attorney with Community Legal Aid, said that means many lower-income people have little choice but to live in unsafe three-deckers. If a fire burns through the building, they’re vulnerable to homelessness if they can’t immediately find somewhere else to live.

“Landlords have disproportionate power right now to make tenants live in dangerous conditions,” Komar Bates said. “They can’t afford to move and they’re stuck in substandard housing.”

Read more at WGBH.

First-of-its-kind law improves college access for students with autism, intellectual disabilities

Julia Landau, director of the Disability Education Justice Initiative at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, was quoted in an Aug. 7 Boston Globe article.

Massachusetts students with autism and significant intellectual disabilities will gain unprecedented access to postsecondary education at state colleges and universities under a law signed late last month by Governor Charlie Baker, lauded by disability rights advocates as the first of its kind in the nation.

More than a decade in the making, the breakthrough legislation will require all of the state’s public college campuses to offer accommodations to young people whose severe disabilities prevent them from earning a standard high school diploma, allowing them to take classes as nondegree-seeking students and join extracurricular activities alongside their peers — experiences that can transform their lives for the better, according to experts.

“It’s truly a joyous and historic milestone, for the state and for the country, because it really will allow people with disabilities to reap the same benefits of higher education,” said Landau. “They have shown that they can exceed societal expectations when they’re given the same opportunities to learn.”

Read more in The Boston Globe.

Report: Restraints and involuntary medication widespread at corrections facility for people with mental illness

A new report by the Disability Law Center suggests staff physically restrained and involuntarily medicated over half of their patients at the Department of Correction’s Bridgewater State Hospital over six months.

The report focused on the facility that houses over 200 men suffering from mental illness, and alleged staff used force to inject sedatives into unwilling patients. The group recounted some of 15 incidents, documented by video, where staff in riot gear held down patients as they were injected with medications, often despite their protests and without an indication that there was an emergency.

“The pattern and practice of violent staff interventions would not be accepted in a DMH [Department of Mental Health]-licensed psychiatric hospital,” wrote authors from the center, which is charged by state courts with monitoring whether reforms are happening at Bridgewater.

Read more at GBH News. Additional coverage in WBUR and CommonWealth Magazine.