Section Review

Comments from the Public Law Section Chairwoman

Maria Z. Mossaides is the deputy director of operations for the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust, which is administered by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a quasi-public agency located in Westborough.

The Public Law Section serves a diverse group of attorneys from all branches and levels of government, as well as members of the private bar who represent government entities or clients before the government. We have set some fairly ambitious goals for the year, including the reestablishment of active practice groups in the areas of government law, municipal law and construction and public contracts. We want to engage the full Public Law membership in addressing the issues facing this sector of the bar.

Our educational programs are focused on very practical issues. Our plans for program offerings have been hurt by the economic difficulties that the commonwealth is facing because funds for training have been reduced. Section members continue to offer their services to participate in seminars being offered by state and local governments.

Last spring, in anticipation of reductions in government funding, we held a brown-bag seminar providing tips for terminating public contracts. We began this year's educational programs in Western Massachusetts with a seminar on the basics of public law that included presentations on the Public Records Law, the Open Meeting Law and the State Conflict of Interest Law. The Public Law Section plans to offer this seminar annually in multiple locations across the commonwealth to provide an introduction to those new to the public arena. We also are proposing to hold an annual seminar on recent developments in the field. Recently we offered a seminar on Rule 4.2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

The section is interested in working on a comprehensive review of the Massachusetts Public Records Law. The current Massachusetts statutory scheme was created as part of the post-Watergate reforms. The drafters could not have anticipated the impact that automation, including Web-based electronic-government, would have on government records. The virtual privacy of public records that existed when records were available only at the custodian's office is eliminated when the records are available on-line, 24 hours a day. Citizens' concern about an eroding sense of privacy heightened by fears surrounding security as a result of the events of Sept. 11 are prompting public managers to reconsider how to balance an individual's right to privacy with the public's right to know.

The Public Law Section recognizes the enormity of the challenge of revising one of the fundamental building blocks of public law. We want to initiate a dialogue among all the stakeholders in what we expect to be a multi-year process. We agree that the time has come for a more fundamental examination of the statutory goals. The section has met with Alan Cote, the supervisor of Public Records in the Office of the Secretary of State, and will be discussing strategies to address this important topic.

We are looking for MBA members to participate in these efforts. Suggestions for future programs and other matters of interest can be addressed to me at [e-mail Mossaides].

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