Delegates complete full agenda at November meeting in Springfield

Issue January 2011 By Tricia Oliver

The Nov. 18 meeting of the MBA House of Delegates featured a full agenda and a keynote presentation from Probate and Family Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey. Among its business, the delegation decided to oppose mandatory fee arbitration, approve a resolution relative to peremptory challenges and support Limited Assistance Representation in select courts.

MBA President Denise Squillante invited Carey to provide a status report of the Probate and Family Court. In light of the Trial Court budget cuts and harsh economic times, Carey's report provided a grim reality of court operations.

"It is like something I've never seen before," remarked Carey, who explained that "denial of justice is simply not an answer," despite lack of resources. Carey spoke to the effect that this is having on court personnel, many who feel like they're "shoveling sand on a tidal wave," she explained.

Carey cited the strained existing resources and lessons learned from staff training associated with already implemented portions of the Uniform Probate Code as reasons that the Probate and Family Court is filing legislation to delay the implementation of the remaining portions of the UPC, which were slated to go into effect on July 1, 2011. Carey has asked the Legislature to consider delaying implementation for six months until Jan. 1, 2012.

As part of her address, Carey also hinted that delegates should "expect that we'll have alimony reform this year."

President-elect Richard P. Campbell and others convinced delegates to support a resolution of the MBA Peremptory Task Force that supports preserving the exercise of peremptory of challenges. Campbell referred to these challenges as the "last vestige of attorney involvement in voir dire."

MBA membership agreed with Campbell, who reported to the delegates that those who responded to a survey on the topic overwhelmingly supported the continued use of the practice.

Other groups, including the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Massachusetts Defense Lawyers Association, Massachusetts Chapter of American Board of Trial Advocates, Massachusetts Fellows of the American College of Trial Lawyers and New England members of the Defense Research Institute, when polled, responded in similar fashion.

Superior Court Judge Peter Agnes serves on the task force and joined Campbell for the presentation to the delegates. "Our recommendation is to preserve this important tool for the bar and for the public," said Agnes.

Access to Justice Section Council Chair Jayne B. Tyrrell was on hand to point out the positives of limited assistance representation. Joining Tyrrell were Access to Justice Section Council member Lee Gartenberg; Judge Dina Fein, the special advisor for Access to Justice Initiatives; and Springfield attorney Karen Duffy.

"LAR is an absolute key component to the Trial Court's Access to Justice Initiatives," said Fein.

Duffy, whose practice is 50 to 60 percent composed of LAR work, spoke to the benefits of "unbundling" services given the current times. Duffy and others argued that LAR was always going to be better than pro se litigants.

After debate and discussion, delegates unanimously supported the concept of LAR in the court departments that have already issued standing orders. These include all probate and family courts and housing courts across the commonwealth.

Highlights of the meeting's other business included:

  • As part of her president's report, Squillante encouraged delegates to join her in sponsoring law students to cover their MBA dues. She also encouraged delegates to sign on as sustaining members of the MBA (sustaining members contribute funds beyond their required dues to help support MBA programs and services). In addition, she announced that President-elect Richard P. Campbell and Treasurer Robert L. Holloway have been selected to lead a strategic planning effort for the MBA.
  • Holloway announced a surplus in the MBA budget.
  • Delegates responded positively to Vice President Douglas K. Sheff's push for the delegation to oppose the establishment of a system of mandatory fee arbitration.
  • Chief Operating Officer and Chief Legal Counsel Martin W. Healy spoke to the changes brought forth by the November election. Healy reported that 36 incumbent members of the House and eight members of the Senate will not be returning to the state Legislature. Healy told the delegation that key changes are possible with the onset of the new session in January, particularly with the Judiciary and Ways and Means committees.
  • Delegates voted to fill the at-large delegate position vacated by Antoinette Leoney with Martin Kane.

Following the HOD meeting, delegates and MBA members from Western Massachusetts were invited to attend a holiday reception. The reception featured the presentation of two Centennial Awards, to Dorothy Varon of Mass Mutual and bankruptcy attorney Eugene B. Berman, who accepted their awards from Campbell and Holloway.

Varon was honored for her work helping to start the Hampden County Housing Court Lawyer for a Day program and for spearheading the creation of a pro bono program in the MassMutual law department that is now being expanded. She has sat on numerous nonprofit boards, including All Out Adventures, and currently serves as an advisor on the board of the Angkor Dance Troupe.

Berman was celebrated for his work on the issue of predatory mortgage lending and the foreclosure crisis. He suggested and became the chair of the Hampden County Bar Association's Foreclosure Task Force. He also organized and chaired the Alliance of Providers of Legal Services to Individuals Facing Foreclosure. Berman was the organizer of Springfield's Mattoon Street Historic Preservation Association and served as its president for many years.