MBA's House of Delegates Endorses Juvenile, Criminal Justice Proposals

Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020
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MBA President John J. Morrissey addresses the House of Delegates on Jan. 15.

The Massachusetts Bar Association's House of Delegates voted to endorse proposals from the Juvenile & Child Welfare Section Council and the Criminal Justice Section Council, and support the filing of an amicus curiae brief, at its Jan. 15 meeting in Boston. 

MBA President John J. Morrissey began the meeting with a recap of recent MBA highlights, including the second Leadership Academy session and MBA President-elect Denise I. Murphy's appointment as co-chair of the Supreme Judicial Court's Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being, which drew applause from the members. Morrissey also spoke about his Diversity and Inclusion initiative, noting that the October meeting on the topic included all MBA officers and the presidents and presidents-elect of the affinity bars. 

The first item of business taken up by HOD members was introduced by Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys (MATA) President Kathy Jo Cook and former MBA President Douglas K. Sheff, who sought the MBA's support for MATA's objection to a proposed amendment to Mass. Rule of Civil Procedure 51, which is currently before the SJC's Standing Advisory Committee on the Rules of Civil Procedure. MATA is opposed to the amendment's "pre-argument disclosure of the specific monetary amount for damages counsel would suggest in closing argument or, failing that, requiring the court to 'structure the closing arguments to allow the opposing party a reasonable opportunity to address the suggested amount.'" After a lengthy discussion that saw HOD members split on this issue, a majority of the HOD members voted against endorsing MATA's opposition to the proposed changes.

In other business, HOD members voted to endorse two proposals from the Juvenile & Child Welfare Section Council, which were introduced by section council members Caroline Alpert and Michael F. Kilkelly. First, HOD members voted for the MBA to formally support "An Act to promote the education success of court involved children" (S. 297 and H. 531), which would improve due process for and limit the cases where students can be excluded from school, sometimes permanently, for "minor incidents, and/or incidents that did not even occur at school." Second, HOD members voted to support a legislative proposal to gradually increase the age of Juvenile Court jurisdiction to include up to 20-year-old "emerging adults."

Turning to the next proposal from the Criminal Justice Section Council, introduced by Co-Chair Charu A. Verma, the HOD voted to endorse comments to the District Court regarding the proposed standing order on video conferencing. The proposed comments ask that attorneys be given the presumption, when requested, that their client appear in person rather than by video conference. They also seek clarification regarding the technology needed to conduct video conferencing hearings.

After voting to suspend procedural rules to take up additional items of business not initially on the agenda, HOD members voted to support requests introduced by American Bar Association delegate Kevin Curtin to have the MBA co-sponsor two proposed ABA resolutions. The first resolution supports efforts to improve data collection and law enforcement training to help address the alarming incidents of Native American women going missing on federal tribal reservations. The second one supports efforts to improve policies and transparency around law enforcement's use of lethal force. 

HOD members also voted to support the filing of an amicus brief in a dispute before the SJC between the Massachusetts IOLTA Committee and the Massachusetts State Treasurer over the disposition of funds contained in the IOLTA account of a disbarred lawyer when, despite the best efforts of the BBO, the owner(s) of the funds cannot be unidentified. The brief, which is being done in conjunction with the Boston Bar Association and with support from others, would support the remittance of unidentified funds in an IOLTA account to the Massachusetts IOLTA Committee.

HOD Reports

In addition to voting on new business, the January HOD meeting featured several reports, first from new Bar Counsel Rodney Dowell, who provided a report from the Board of Bar Overseers and spoke to the HOD for the first time since he was appointed to the position by the Supreme Judicial Court. While recognizing the disciplinary and oversight roles of his office, Dowell discussed the different ways the BBO works to support a professional bar, including through its ethics hotline, available Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He said bar associations also play a critical role in ensuring professionalism by bringing lawyers together to support one another, mentoring opportunities and education.
 
In another report, former MBA President Denise Squillante and Paul E. White provided an update on the MBA's Civility and Professional Responsibility Committee, where Squillante decried the "bullying" she has observed in society and in the practice of law, particularly in the family law setting. Noting how incivility impacts the well-being of the profession, she encouraged all lawyers to read the recent reports on wellness in the profession by the American Bar Association, the SJC and the American Inns of Court. Squillante said their committee is looking into sending a survey about improving civility in the workplace, particularly the courtroom. Adding to their committee's report, White said that they are also exploring doing more bench-bar programs on civility, and he cited the meeting's earlier debate on the Rule 51 proposal as a positive example of civil discourse in the profession.

Continuing President Morrissey's plan to include reports from county bars at HOD meetings, he welcomed Berkshire County Bar Association President Dana Doyle to give a report about what her organization has planned. Doyle discussed the collegial nature of the Berkshire Bar, and noted how the bar has procedures in place to honor and support members and their families when they pass away. She also invited all lawyers to visit the Berkshires, noting the many natural and cultural attractions in the area.

Given the evening's full agenda, several MBA leaders offered brief reports at the close of the meeting, including MBA Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W. Healy, who reminded members about the upcoming Walk to the Hill to support civil legal aid on Jan. 30. He encouraged county bars to support this effort.