Top: CPCS Chief Counsel Anthony Benedetti testifies in front of a packed hearing room
Second from top: District attorneys testify before the panel
Second from bottom: Victoria Ranieri testifies on a panel of public defenders
Bottom: Liza Lunt from MACDL
Photos by Jason Scally
The Massachusetts Bar Association's Blue Ribbon Commission on
Criminal Justice Attorney Compensation heard from more than 30
criminal law practitioners and public officials during a three-hour
public hearing on Wednesday, March 26, at the John Adams Courthouse
in Boston. Prosecutors, defense attorneys and two court chiefs
testified about how low salaries have negatively impacted attorney
retention, public safety and access to justice. Testimony from the
hearing will factor in to the Commission's recommendations, which
will be released in its forthcoming report -- the first in 20 years
to address the issue of criminal justice compensation.
Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley, one of five
district attorneys at the hearing, testified about how low salaries
have depleted prosecutors' offices of veteran attorneys, many of
whom leave for better paying jobs in the private and public
sectors, once they get experienced. "In my 12 years [as Suffolk
DA], I have hired and lost over 200 prosecutors," said Conley. He
lamented the recruitment, hiring and training resources that are
wasted due to high turnover. "This is not just financially
wasteful, but clearly detrimental to the best interests of
justice," he said.
Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, who appeared
on the first panel along with fellow district attorneys Conley,
Timothy J. Cruz (Plymouth County) and Michael O'Keefe (Cape and
Islands), said that "there are days we have more judges sitting in
Essex County than ADAs." Blodgett recommended district attorneys be
given more discretionary funding so they can reward and retain top
performers. Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan was
also in attendance.
Following the district attorneys' testimony, Superior Court
Chief Justice Paula M. Carey and District Court Chief Justice Paul
C. Dawley shared their concerns about the continued quality of
cases being tried if prosecutors and public defenders could not
retain experienced attorneys due to low salaries. Dawley said, "The
current compensation level is without a doubt inadequate."
A majority of the voices heard at the hearing came from defense
attorneys, including representatives from the Committee for Public
Counsel Services (CPCS), the Massachusetts Association of Criminal
Defense Lawyers (MACDL) and the Massachusetts Association of Court
Appointed Attorneys (MACAA), among others. CPCS Chief Counsel
Anthony Benedetti noted that Massachusetts public defender salaries
are not only among the lowest in the county, but also among the
lowest in the commonwealth for public sector attorneys. For
example, Benedetti pointed to the "glaring" inequity between the
CPCS starting attorney salary ($40,000) and the Counsel I salary
($54,900) paid to entry level attorneys in the executive
Panels of public defenders and bar advocates also testified
about their individual experiences, several of whom detailed their
personal struggles to make financial ends meet while working a job
they loved. Some shared stories about how they have been forced to
live in less than ideal situations with roommates or relatives,
taken on additional jobs or defaulted on their student loans. At
least two public defenders mentioned that they recently resigned to
take higher paying jobs in the private sector. It highlighted a
theme throughout the hearing - low salaries are leading to attorney
attrition among public defender ranks, which is leading to less
experienced lawyers handling Superior Court cases.
For bar advocates, David Hoose of Hampden County Lawyers for
Justice questioned why the rates for private lawyers who represent
indigent defendants in criminal cases have not gone up in a decade.
"Who else goes 10 years without a cost of living adjustment," Hoose
asked. While there are many inequities to be fixed, Hoose said an
increase in the rate for Superior Court cases is the most critical
need, since the low and stagnant fee structure has removed
incentive to take on more difficult cases.
In addition to the hearing testimony, the Commission also
received written testimony from numerous practitioners.
The Commission was appointed by MBA President Douglas K. Sheff
and is chaired by MBA Past President Richard P. Campbell. Members
include: Denise Squillante, MBA Past President; Randy Chapman,
Chapman & Chapman PC; William D. Delahunt, former Congressman
and District Attorney for Norfolk County; Hon. Suzanne V.
DelVecchio (ret.) former Chief Justice Superior Court, mediator,
Commonwealth Mediation; Hon. Charles Johnson, former Chief Justice,
Boston Municipal Court; Martin Kane II, McGrath & Kane; Gerard
T. Leone, partner, Nixon Peabody LLP and former District Attorney,
Middlesex County; Richard Lord, Chief Executive Officer and
President, Associated Industries of Massachusetts; and Martin W.
Healy, MBA Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer, who
serves as commission counsel.