News from the courts/agencies

Thursday, Mar. 9, 2017
SJC Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants and Appeals Court Chief Justice Scott L. Kafker honor Civil Appeals Court Clinic volunteers
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On March 2 at the John Adams Courthouse, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants and Appeals Court Chief Justice Scott L. Kafker delivered remarks and honored three volunteers -- Kimberly Parr, Daniel Goodrich, and Conlan Orino -- for their outstanding pro bono work in the Civil Appeals Court Clinic run out of the Appeals Court Clerk's Office.

Since 2015, volunteer attorneys from the Volunteer Lawyers Project and Boston-area law firms have helped at least 230 low income litigants who are representing themselves in civil appellate court matters on a number of issues, ranging from housing to family law.

"The Access to Justice Commission's study found that, every day, upwards of forty litigants who do not have a lawyer sought help from the Appeals Court clerk's office as they try to navigate the complexities of the appellate process on their own," said Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants.  

"I am pleased that the Appeals Court has been able to host this innovative program, which is an important step in helping unrepresented people to get the assistance they need in appellate cases," said Appeals Court Chief Justice Scott L. Kafker.

"This project has been a terrific example of collaboration among the courts, legal services, and the private bar to fill a gap in legal services. The Volunteer Lawyers Project has been particularly fortunate to be assisted by numerous other legal services organizations from across the Commonwealth whose specialists have vetted these cases," said Joanna Allison, Executive Director of the Volunteer Lawyers Project.

Volunteer pro bono attorneys meet with self-represented litigants to assess whether they qualify for assistance, and if they do, provide general advice concerning appellate issues and assist with self-help materials. Where a litigant presents a case that involves a potentially meritorious appellate issue, has broad-based implications for low-income people, or constitutes a legal error, the volunteer attorneys will refer the case to a panel of experienced appellate and legal services attorneys, who will refer cases for full appellate representation to the participating law firms.

Several years ago, under the leadership of then-Supreme Court Justice Gants, the Access to Justice Commission developed the concept of a pro bono appellate clinic and formed a committee to study pro bono appellate programs around the country and analyze whether Massachusetts would benefit from such a program.

The committee determined that there was a need for pro bono legal assistance for low income litigants at the Appeals Court and Supreme Judicial Court. The clinic, run out of the Appeals Court Clerk's Office, initially started in May of 2015 as a pilot program at the Court Service Center located in the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse in Boston.

The success of that program led to the permanent implementation of the Civil Appeals Court Clinic starting in December of 2015 that is available every Wednesday at the clerk's office with the support of Appeals Court Chief Justice Kafker, Appeals Court Clerk Joseph Stanton, the Supreme Judicial Court Clerk for the Commonwealth, several local law firms, and the Volunteer Lawyers Project, which manages the clinic. The clinic also has support from law firm volunteers, legal services organizations throughout the state, and bar associations.

The law firms participating in the pro bono program include Mintz Levin; Foley Hoag; Goodwin Procter; Nutter McClennen & Fish; Ropes & Gray; Sugarman Rogers, and WilmerHale. Since May 27, 2015, 131 pro bono attorneys have volunteered. The Boston chapter of the Association of Pro Bono Counsel helped to launch the pilot program.

Litigants who have questions about whether they qualify for assistance can get more information on the Volunteer Lawyer's Project website, or can call (617) 603-1700.