MBA applauds Senate proposal to increase court funding

Thursday, May. 14, 2015
Work continues on assigned counsel compensation and legal aid funding
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This week the Senate Ways and Means Committee released its fiscal year 2016 budget proposal, which is a tremendous victory for the Trial Court. The Senate Committee allocated $633 million to the Trial Court -- an increase that surpasses the court's $628 million maintenance request and would eliminate the need for Trial Court layoffs and program reductions.

"The Senate's appropriation for the Trial Court is a welcome recognition of the court's critical role in providing access to justice and protecting the welfare of our commonwealth's citizens," said MBA Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W. Healy. "The Senate's $633 million allocation would eliminate the need to lay off 550 court employees and allow the Trial Court to continue its innovative work through specialty courts, such as drug and veterans' courts, which are vital tools in addressing some of today's most pressing societal issues."

Click here to view a letter the MBA sent to Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg (D-Amherst)

Assigned Private Counsel
When the Senate begins its budget debate next week, among the amendments being considered is one filed by the Massachusetts Bar Association and sponsored by Sen. Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont) to increase compensation rates for juvenile and district court assigned private counsel.

The amendment would increase District Court rates from $50 to $55 an hour. Children in Need of Services and Children Requiring Assistance rates would increase from $50 to $55 and Children and Family Law cases would be increased from $50 to $60 an hour and would be effective in April 2016.

Last month's House budget included MBA sponsored language raising bar advocate pay in the District and Juvenile Courts effective July 1, 2016. Under the House measure, those rates would be raised from $50 to $53 for those privately appointed practitioners. Those handling Children and Family Law Cases and Care and Protection work would see an hourly rate increase from $50 to $55.

Assigned private counsel rates have remained unchanged for numerous years. Click here to view a Private Bar Counsel Rates Fact Sheet. The MBA remains committed to increasing compensation rates for the defense bar including both public counsel and assigned private counsel.

Please call your senator immediately and voice your support for the amendment. Click here for your senator's contact information.

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation
The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) was funded at $15 million, which is level funding from FY15 and $2 million below the appropriation that the House of Representatives passed last month. Sen. Brownsberger is filing an amendment for an additional $5 million for MLAC. We urge you to contact your Senator today to voice your support for Sen. Brownsberger's amendment to increase legal aid funding. To contact your senator, click here.

Since the release of budget proposals by both Gov. Charlie Baker and the House Ways and Means Committee, the MBA has been proactive in advocating for increased funding for the Trial Court, compensation for assigned private counsel and funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. The MBA has encouraged its members to voice support for appropriate funding with state legislators, to ensure all Massachusetts citizens continue to have access to justice.

The full Senate is scheduled to debate its Ways and Means Committee's budget proposal beginning on May 19, 2015. The commonwealth's new fiscal year begins on July 1, 2015.