President's Message: ‘Let Justice Be Done’

Thursday, April 8, 2021 By MBA President Denise I. Murphy
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MBA President Denise I. Murphy

I began my presidential year with a promise to work toward making systemic changes to legal processes that adversely impacted historically underrepresented people in our community. I’m writing to let you know about the substantial progress we’ve made to keep that promise. While discourse is critical in making changes, it has to be so much more than that. We must take action, and we have.

We at the Massachusetts Bar Association have always embraced our Latin motto, Fiat Justitia — "let justice be done." This year, as we continue to grapple with the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice, we’re working harder than ever to honor those words in everything we do and everything we stand for, including on important issues of social justice. 

Our hard work began, as it should, with a hard look at ourselves. The February 2021 Report Summarizing Affinity Bar Town Hall Meetings from the Supreme Judicial Court Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being laid bare the marginalization felt by many lawyers of color at our courts and in our legal community. As I said in February, this is simply not OK, and we at the MBA are committed to do our part to welcome underrepresented lawyers into our membership and encourage them to participate in our community.

Early in my presidency I took a step toward this goal by reinvigorating the MBA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Standing Committee ("DEI Standing Committee") to explore ways the MBA could become more attentive to the needs and concerns of lawyers of color and others who traditionally lacked an equal voice in our profession. I also asked each section counsel to appoint a liaison to the DEI Standing Committee to help ensure that all MBA programs are representative of the bar, at large. While the conversations have not always been easy, they have been necessary. I’m pleased we’re having them and even more encouraged by the progress we have been making as an association this year in part because of these conversations, which are now also happening with our partners in the courts. 

As promised, we are translating these conversations into concrete actions.

Programs, such as our recent series on Challenging Implicit Bias in the Probate and Family Court, are examples of how we’re working together to be more attentive to inequity and injustice throughout our legal system. And I encourage everyone to attend next Thursday’s webinar on Representing and Respecting Transgender and Non-binary Clients and People in the Courts, a collaborative program between our DEI Committee and Judicial Administration Section.

The MBA has also continued to weigh in publicly on the important social justice issues happening outside our walls. At our very first House of Delegates meeting in September, for example, HOD members acknowledged that "Black lives matter" and also voted to endorse the Report and Resolution of the MBA's Police Reform Working Group (PRWG) on Systemic Police Reform. I’m grateful for the support of our HOD and for the collaboration of our PRWG partners, which included the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association and the Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys. 

Police reform remains a critical area of focus at the State House, and the MBA has emerged as one of the most respected voices on law enforcement, as evidenced by the MBA’s inclusion on several state police-reform commissions, including the Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission, to which Past MBA President Marsha Kazarosian, who currently chairs our Civil Rights & Social Justice Section, was appointed last week. The POST Commission is expected to bring much-needed improvements to police training and accountability.

On another criminal justice front, I am incredibly proud of the work done by the Massachusetts Conviction Integrity Working Group (MCIWG), a coalition of criminal justice leaders and stakeholders convened by the MBA in 2018, which recently published a comprehensive guide to help prosecutors’ offices in the commonwealth establish or enhance conviction integrity programs to prevent and remedy wrongful convictions and other miscarriages of justice. It is our hope and belief that this guide will become a model for prosecutors nationally.

Members of the MBA’s Clemency Task Force also just released an important report, endorsed by the House of Delegates last month, which calls for long-overdue changes to the clemency process in Massachusetts. And people are listening. Earlier this week, the MBA’s Clemency Task Force’s report was the subject of a Boston Globe editorial calling for reform of the state parole board and clemency process. 

I am grateful for the dedicated members on our section councils, committees, and task forces, and our MBA staff, for making these efforts possible. We’ve made remarkable progress over the last few months, but this is not the time to let up. There’s still more for us to do, here and elsewhere, if we’re truly committed to living up to the words, "let justice be done."