House of Delegates Examines Legal Aid Funding, Court Officer Powers

Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022
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The Massachusetts Bar Association’s House of Delegates (HOD) voted to support a bill that clarifies court officers’ police powers and heard presentations about several important upcoming events at its virtual meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 19.

At the start of the meeting, MBA President Thomas M. Bond stressed the importance of supporting funding for civil legal aid, noting that the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) is seeking $41 million for civil legal aid funding in the fiscal year 2023 state budget. Bond recounted his recent meeting on the subject with Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd and leaders from MLAC, the Equal Justice Coalition (EJC) and the Boston Bar Association (BBA), and he encouraged everyone to sign up to attend the virtual Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid on Jan. 27.

“What we’re going to ask you to do is call your legislator and ask them to support the funding request for civil legal aid,” Bond said. “These are really important issues concerning housing, health care, family law, domestic violence, immigration, education … these are life-altering matters people can’t navigate alone.”

Later in the meeting, EJC Chair Louis W. Tompros thanked the MBA for its continuing support and advocacy for legal aid funding. While legal aid has become an essential service for many during the pandemic, he said, civil legal aid providers have been forced to turn away more than half of eligible low-income individuals due to insufficient funding. Due to the virtual nature of the program, he stressed the importance of signing up early for Talk to the Hill at https://ejctalktothehill.org/.

In his report, Bond also publicly acknowledged the work of two rising MBA leaders, including Michelle Byers, chair of the Young Lawyers Division (YLD), who impressed him with her meeting agenda and slate of programs at a recent YLD meeting. Byers credited the efforts of past and current YLD members, and previewed the upcoming YLD Symposium on March 25, which will feature several programs targeting areas where newer lawyers need guidance. 

Bond also praised Shayla Mombeleur for her work as co-chair of the MBA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee (DEIC). Mombeleur later spoke to HOD members about an upcoming virtual program called, “Combating Incidents of Bias in the Workplace and Courtroom,” on Feb. 2. A collaboration between the DEIC, the MBA’s Lawyer Well-Being Committee and the Trial Court, the program will feature a panel of sitting judges, racial equity trainers, and other court and bar leaders.

During her report, MBA President-elect Grace V.B. Garcia shared that she and Bond have been meeting with court leaders, including upcoming meetings with Probate and Family Court Chief Justice John Casey and District Court Chief Justice Paul Dawley, to talk about how the MBA can be most helpful to the courts’ needs. She then highlighted the many MBA programs coming up over the next few months and recommended that members check the MBA’s calendar at least once a month to see what’s happening. She reminded HOD members that the deadline to apply to be an MBA officer or delegate for the 2022-23 MBA year is Feb. 25. Garcia also encouraged everyone to consider serving as a judge for upcoming virtual trials in the MBA’s Mock Trial Program.

MBA Vice President Damian Turco focused his report on the MBA Leadership Academy, which accepted a diverse group of new lawyers this year. The program has already run two successful training sessions: one on public speaking and working with the media, and the other on building a professional network and building credibility. Turco said the Leadership Academy Fellows have benefited from hearing a mix of practice tips and helpful perspectives from veteran lawyers and esteemed business leaders.

MBA Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W. Healy used his report to highlight the MBA’s recent successful advocacy efforts. He congratulated the MBA’s Clemency Task Force for making inroads in clemency reform this year, noting that Governor Charlie Baker recently commuted the sentences of two incarcerated individuals, Thomas Koonce and William Allen. He also noted that Bond and BBA President Deborah J. Manus recently had a successful meeting with Regional Deputy Chief Immigration Judge Mary Cheng, who has already implemented some of the bar’s suggested changes and promised others.

Following the reports from officers and other speakers, HOD members turned to new business and heard a proposal from Criminal Justice Section Co-Chair Georgia K. Critsley asking the MBA to support in principle: S.1107/H.1889, “An Act relative to the safety of courthouses and remote court proceedings.” The bill clarifies the police powers of court officers and specifies that a court officer may use his or her authority on grounds adjacent to a courthouse, in designated parking lots and in any other location in which a court proceeding takes place, such as a jury view or a hospital arraignment. The measure was approved by the HOD.

The next HOD meeting will be held on March 23.