HOD supports Civics in Education, REBA lawsuit

Issue October 2010 By Bill Archambeault

The first meeting of the Massachusetts Bar Association's governing body unanimously endorsed a renewed Civics in Education program, supported the Probate Law and Tax Law sections' opposition to pending legislation and presented a call to action regarding a Real Estate Bar Association lawsuit.

The House of Delegates, which met Sept. 16 at the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston, also heard a presentation from Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert A. Mulligan on the status of court funding and courthouse relocation/construction (see story on page 1).

It was also announced that longtime MBA General Counsel Martin W. Healy, who has been serving as acting executive director, had been selected as the MBA's first chief operating officer. He will also serve as chief legal counsel (see story on page 9).

In her first HOD meeting as president, Denise Squillante told the group that in addition to celebrating the association's 100th anniversary, her priorities will be educating the public about the ongoing crisis facing the state's court system and addressing students' understanding of the important role the legal system plays in society.

"We're in the centennial year of the MBA, and we're at a crossroads of under-funding our courts. Through the doors of these courthouses in Massachusetts are real people with real problems looking for real solutions."

Civics in Education

The MBA's Civics in Education program, she said, would help provide a basic understanding of the role the
courts play.

"The lack of civics education leads to a misunderstanding of judges, the courts and the legal system," she said. "We have an obligation, as bar leaders, to step up to the plate. This is an issue of critical importance."

Delegates unanimously supported in principle resolution 110 of the American Bar Association, which "encourages all lawyers to consider it part of their fundamental responsibility to ensure that all students experience high-quality civic learning, including the study of law, government and history."

MBA Past President Kay H. Hodge, the MBA's delegate to the ABA, explained that data about what students know about our democracy is "just shocking and something we need to care about as lawyers." She cited studies showing that students can more easily name an "American Idol" show judge or one of the seven dwarves from "Snow White" than a Supreme Court justice. Hodge also noted that the number of lawyer-legislators is shrinking at an alarming rate.

Delegates also voted unanimously to support in principle recommendations to urge policymakers to:

Establish a coordinating office of Civic Education in the U.S. Department of Education to enhance students' civic learning;

Require the National Assessment of Education Progress for civics and U.S. history be conducted every four years and report the results at the state and national levels.

Call to action in support of REBA lawsuit

Issuing a "call to action" for all lawyers, Squillante urged all members to support the Real Estate Bar Association in its lawsuit against N.R.E.I.S. that has been characterized as a fight over what constitutes the practice of law.

"It is the most crucial issue facing what is the practice of law," Squillante said.

REBA President Thomas O. Moriarty said the lawsuit, which is pending in the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals, specifically focuses on whether real estate conveyancing constitutes the practice of law, but more broadly concerns what does constitute the practice of law.

"The Massachusetts Bar Association has been shoulder-to-shoulder with the Real Estate Bar Association on this. People have to understand that the war is still being waged. From our perspective, no lawyer should be on the sidelines of this issue."

A Nov. 2 hearing is scheduled before the Supreme Judicial Court, and Moriarty urged the filing of amicus briefs on the issue.

Marisa A. DeFranco, chair of the Immigration Law Section, noted that the American Immigration Lawyers
Association had filed a brief in support of REBA.

Miscellaneous, Officer reports

Other matters addressed at the Sept. 16 meeting included the following:

Delegates unanimously approved a request from the Probate Law and Taxation Law Sections to support legislation being proposed by the Boston Bar Association that would continue tax basis rules for property acquired from decedents. The BBA legislation would offset "double" taxation as a result of a change in federal basis rules for 2010.

Squillante mentioned upcoming MBA participation on the Joint Bar Committee and Law Day (May 1).

In his president-elect report, Richard P. Campbell noted that the forming of the MBA a century ago welcomed women and minority lawyers at a time when few bar associations did, and also took up the challenge of representing every lawyer in the state. Campbell promised that in his year as president, he "will work to make this association the biggest of big tents."

He also noted his work on the MBA's Peremptory Challenges Task Force, his goal of hosting a civil trial bar roundtable for Massachusetts and developing a three-year business plan for the MBA.

Vice President Jeffrey N. Catalano won unanimous approval for recognizing October as pro bono month, and noted, as the Health Law Section liaison, efforts to reduce dating violence and to encourage lawyers to volunteer in health clinics.

Vice President Douglas K. Sheff talked about the creation of a Workplace Safety Task Force that would include experts from a number of industries. "The MBA is a natural to be a catalyst," he said.

Treasurer Robert L. Holloway Jr. said he was pleased to announce that MBA was operating under a balanced budget and reported that membership has seen a slight increase compared to last year. "I think we're moving in the right direction," he said.

Secretary Marsha V. Kazarosian, who chairs the Education Committee, said the centennial year is "filled with opportunities to promote the organization."