BOSTON, October 26, 2022 — The Supreme Judicial Court today announced the appointments of four new members to the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission and the recent release of the Commission’s report on lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report, “Creating a More Equitable System: Lessons Learned During the COVID-19 Pandemic”, was released in September of 2022. The report compiles feedback from a range of access to justice stakeholders and reflects on lessons learned during the pandemic and opportunities to take advantage of Trial Court adaptations and innovations to improve access to justice for all court users.
First established by the Supreme Judicial Court in 2005, the Access to Justice Commission seeks to improve access to justice for people who are unable to afford an attorney for essential civil legal needs, such as cases involving housing, consumer debt, and family law.
“Each of these new Commissioners joins us with extensive relevant experience and will bring insight and knowledge essential to the Commission’s ongoing efforts to ensure equal access to justice,” said Supreme Judicial Court Justice Serge Georges, Jr., and Marijane Benner Browne, Co-Chairs of the Access to Justice Commission. “We are also pleased to share the Commission’s report and look forward to working collaboratively with stakeholders on moving the report’s recommendations forward.”
The new Access to Justice Commission members are:
- Justine A. Dunlap is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts School of Law where she teaches courses on access to justice, family law and practice, and civil procedure. Her publications have focused on domestic violence, juvenile law, mental health law, and school teaching, including contemplative learning practices. Professor Dunlap began her legal career at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia and later worked at the District of Columbia Superior Court as a staff attorney and Director of the Counsel for Child Abuse and Neglect, a branch of the Superior Court’s Family Division.
- Colin Harnsgate is a Senior Staff Attorney in the Bankruptcy and Consumer Units at the Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP). His first two years of law practice were with AmeriCorps Legal Advocates of Massachusetts, where he served at Rosie’s Place and Greater Boston Legal Services. Attorney Harnsgate serves as an Adjunct Clinical Instructor of the Consumer Debt Practicum at Boston University School of Law. He is also a Co-Chair of the Commission’s Consumer Debt Committee.
- Danielle Johnson is the Deputy Director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing Stability in Boston. Previously, Attorney Johnson was the Managing Attorney of the Elder, Health and Disability Unit, and was a staff attorney in the Housing Unit, at Greater Boston Legal Services. She also worked in private practice handling criminal matters. Attorney Johnson is a published author in the Boston Bar Journal and the Boston Globe where she has written about the need for diversity in the legal community. Attorney Johnson is an Adjunct Professor at Suffolk Law School where she teaches an Access to Justice Seminar. She is also a member of both the Commission’s Racial Equity and Justice Committee and its Housing Committee.
- Lisa Owens is the Executive Director of the Hyams Foundation, which funds organizations and networks working toward racial and economic justice in Greater Boston and Massachusetts. Ms. Owens brings over 25 years of experience building local grassroots organizations and supporting national movements. She previously served as the Executive Director of City Life/Vida Urbana, a prominent housing justice group that is nationally recognized for organizing communities against displacement and building collective power for systemic change. Ms. Owens has taught courses on community organizing and nonprofit management in local universities and has served on the boards of many Boston-based and national organizations committed to fighting for social, racial, and economic justice.
Among other activities, the Access to Justice Commission coordinates with civil legal aid organizations to support their activities and develop new initiatives to address unmet needs. The Commission also works to increase the number of attorneys able to provide pro bono or limited assistance civil legal services and coordinates with the court system on initiatives that assist individuals to better understand and navigate civil legal proceedings. The Commission’s members include representatives from the court system, legal aid organizations, social service organizations, bar associations, law schools, businesses, and other stakeholders in the access to justice community.
More information about the Commission and its work is available on the Commission’s website.