The final House of Delegates meeting of the 2009-10 year
featured an address by Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray, the presentation
of the Daniel F. Toomey Award to Judge Dina Fein and changes to the
MBA bylaws. The meeting was held May 19 at the Dedham Hilton.
Also, it was the first time the president's gavel was passed
from one woman to another, from President Valerie A. Yarashus to
President-elect Denise Squillante.
Yarashus drew upon the association's history as it prepares for
its centennial celebration in the 2010-11 association year. She
noted that when the MBA was incorporated, the motto of "fiat
justitia" - "let justice be done" - was chosen.
"That has been the business of this association for the last 100
years," said Yarashus, who then listed a number of the MBA's
accomplishments this year, including the launch of MBA OnDemand,
the work of the Bylaw Committee, the return of the Annual
Conference, the Diversity Task Force's Tiered Mentoring Program,
the completion of the "Crisis in Court Funding Task Force" and
lobbying on behalf of issues like court funding and sentencing
Lieutenant governor addresses delegates
Yarashus introduced Murray by noting that she had first met him
when he was still a practicing attorney.
"Lt. Gov. Murray is respected not just here, but nationally,"
Murray thanked Yarashus for her leadership and General Counsel
and Acting Executive Director Martin W. Healy for his work with the
Legislature on significant reforms. Murray acknowledged the
stresses that the state's budget crisis is having on the court
"I know what the budget cuts have meant for the courts," he told
the audience, noting that it was important for legal services to
remain level funded. He also said that efforts were being made to
address the compensation for private counsel and salaries and
funding for the Committee for Public Counsel Services.
A number of important issues were being debated, he said,
including a $25 million supplemental budget, casinos legislation
and a crime package that includes reforming the Criminal Offender
Registration Information, or CORI, system, and limiting a person's
ability to purchase a gun to one a month.
"We know that CORI is not working as it was originally
conceived," Murray said, adding that reform is "absolutely
essential" for both employers and employees. "By improving the
re-entry of ex-offenders into society, we'll help the state."
Fein presented Toomey Award
In introducing Fein, Yarashus said, "Her judgment is
extraordinary, and she knows how to turn goals into action."
Fein said she was honored to receive the award, especially since
she had served with Toomey. She also noted that she sees Murray as
"a kindred spirit" cognizant of the challenges facing the court
"I really get the sense that he is one of us, a man who tries to
find real solutions for real people," she said.
Fein explained her role as the special advisor on Access to
Justice Initiatives and as a member of the Access to Justice
Commission (see May Lawyers Journal for more information).
She said that it's important to "examine the work of the courts
through the access to justice lens" and make as many improvements
as possible without any significant spending.
Already, she said, the Access to Justice Initiative is using a
survey of court personnel last year to create a manual that helps
explain to clerks the difference between providing legal help and
legal advice, making uniform, multi-lingual forms that will be
available online, planning for a pilot self-help center in the
Brooke Courthouse in Boston and expanding Limited Assistance
Representation programs in the Trial Courts.
The survey, she said, "charted a road map for the work going
The MBA's Governance Committee won approval for extensive bylaw
changes, the first comprehensive overhaul in years, said Chairman
Warren Fitzgerald, who served as president in the 2005-06 year.
"We've essentially gone through them from front to back," he
The new bylaws formalize the existence of the Budget and Finance
Committee, and creates an Audit Committee, which will be made up of
three MBA members who are not on the EMB or the Budget and Finance
The revision also formally establishes that HOD is responsible
for the MBA's public and policy positions, while the Executive
Management Board (EMB) is responsible for day-to-day operations.
EMB will also increase its number of meetings to eight times a
"We believe that with eight meetings a year, EMB will have its
finger on the pulse of the association," Fitzgerald said.
There were several "friendly" amendments adopted, but one
amendment proposed by Past President David W. White was rejected.
It would have limited the number of people the president can
appoint to the EMB from four to two, arguing that "the president's
ability to shape the EMB should have limitations."
Region 7 Delegate Lee J. Gartenberg spoke against the amendment,
saying the four appointments granted to the president would not
overwhelm the other 17 positions on the EMB. "It doesn't unduly
give the president input into the composition of the EMB," he said.
President-elect Denise Squillante also spoke against the amendment,
which was overwhelmingly voted down.
After the overall bylaw changes were unanimously adopted,
members praised the work of the Governance Committee.
"I was really gratified with their willingness to listen to
comments and criticisms," Gartenberg said, noting that not all of
his suggestions were incorporated. "I appreciated their level of
Fitzgerald called it "the most rewarding committee I've worked
Yarashus said she was "thrilled" with the changes. "I believe we
now are in the best possible position as a bar
association as we head into our centennial celebration."
HOD adopts, lauds "Crisis in Court Funding"
Delegates unanimously approved the "Crisis in Court Funding Task
Force" 11-page report, which documents compelling stories of the
hardships imposed by the cuts of millions of dollars to the court
system over the last year. It was initiated by Yarashus as a
companion to a recent Boston Bar Association report compiling
statistics to illustrate the effects of the budget cuts.
The MBA report, which was co-authored by Sheldon C. Toplitt and
Task Force Chair Martin F. Kane II, highlights stories of
overcrowding, delays in seeking restraining orders and threats of
physical danger because courts are severely understaffed.
"It was the goal to go beyond the budget numbers and put a human
face on the court funding crisis," Toplitt said.
Peter T. Elikann, chair of the General Practice, Solo and Small
Firm Section, said he was struck by the examples cited in the
report. "It shows the absolute tragedy that happens to people."
Delegates unanimously accepted the report, and Squillante said
she intends to continue documenting the impact of court budget
Yarashus passes president's gavel to
In looking toward the coming association year, Yarashus praised
Squillante's impact on the MBA in recent years, including being a
leading family law advocate, initiating the Lawyers in Transition
program and helping create the General Practice, Solo and Small
"Denise has had a hand in shaping the modern history of the
Mass. Bar," she said, pointing out that this was the first time a
woman had passed the gavel to another woman in the MBA's
Squillante thanked the other recent past presidents, then told
Yarashus, "You've handled your leadership with grace. We have many,
many challenges ahead. We all need to work together to face these
challenges, and Valerie, you've set us on a path to do this
Officer and legislative reports
In her president-elect report, Squillante told the delegates she
expects to have section council chairs appointed by June and hold
section council training on July 15. She also mentioned that
alimony reform "is on its way," that planning is underway for the
MBA's centennial celebration, and that the MBA is hoping to work
with the Massachusetts Medical Society on issues like reducing
teenage murder through legislation.
In his treasurer's report, Treasurer Robert L. Holloway Jr.
informed the delegates that the MBA did not have to use reserves
this year, which it did the previous year, and while membership is
down, revenue was up slightly because of dues increases.
"It's fair to say we're a much leaner organization," he said,
adding that operating revenue was down, but expenses were also
down. "We are on budget, and in fact, a little ahead of budget. I'm
pleased with where we're at - it's been a group effort."
In his legislative report, Healy said, "I'm pleased to report
that the court (budget) numbers look a little better," noting that
the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp. (MLAC) looked like a safe
bet to be level-funded.
Healy noted that the Senate budget brought funding for the Trial
Courts back to $543 million, but emphasized, "The fight's not
over," as the Senate and House of Representatives prepare to go
into conference committee to resolve disparities.
Unfortunately, Healy said, it appears that sentencing reform -
an initiative started under former MBA President David W. White in
2007 - would not include mandatory minimum sentencing reform, as
the MBA had hoped for. However, it does still include CORI reform,
which was good news, he said.
Delegates also unanimously approved a request from the Probate
Law Section Council to support legislation regarding estate tax.
Section Co-Chair Janice C. Nigro said the pending bill will provide
relief for thousands of Massachusetts residents with existing
estate plans containing formulas based on federal estate tax
"Congress' failure to act has created havoc with countless wills
and trusts" made before 2010, Nigro said.
Delegates unanimously approved supporting the legislation.