Delegates establish new section, welcome Gants

Issue October 2013 By Jason Scally

Workers' Compensation is the newest Massachusetts Bar Association section after unanimous approval by the House of Delegates during its Sept. 19 meeting, held at the MBA's Boston headquarters. The proposal to add the new section was part of the robust agenda for the meeting, which also featured guest remarks by Supreme Judicial Court Justice Ralph D. Gants along with several other new business items and officer reports.

Presiding over the first meeting of the 2013-14 association year, new MBA President Douglas K. Sheff thanked Immediate Past President Robert L. Holloway for his work on behalf of the bar. Sheff then spoke about his own goals going forward, which included working with judges to improve the dialogue between the bench and the bar.

Sheff then introduced Gants as the first of many distinguished guests who will be invited to speak at House of Delegates meetings this year. Calling Sheff a "drum major for justice," Gants echoed the MBA president's remarks about the importance of re-establishing connections with the judiciary and said he was excited about the MBA's plans for more bench-bar meetings. As part of improved communications, Gants urged members of the bar to take an active role when the SJC asks for comments on proposed rules. "It's terribly important when you folks have an opportunity to comment that you take advantage of it," the judge said.

Gants said it was an "exciting time in the court system," citing new court leadership in Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey and Court Administrator Harry Spence. He said court officials would be taking a hard look at specialty courts, such as Drug Courts, and looking at ways to improve access to justice as part of the judiciary's philosophical shift towards being "problem solvers."

After emphasizing the importance of pro bono, Gants called upon experienced attorneys to look for mentoring opportunities. "We need to find a way not to lose a generation of attorneys," the judge said.

Following Gants remarks, President-elect Marsha V. Kazarosian gave the first officer's report and announced she would be testifying about an increase to the Workers' Compensation death benefit at a hearing on Oct. 8. Vice Presidents Christopher P. Sullivan and Martha Rush O'Mara then gave a report about the Membership Committee, which they co-chair, and noted that it will include representatives from all section councils. Robert W. Harnais and Christopher A. Kenney also gave their first reports as MBA treasurer and secretary, respectively.

MBA Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W. Healy thanked supporters of the MBA-backed juvenile jurisdiction law, which Gov. Deval Patrick had signed. He also noted that Past President Kathleen O'Donnell is chairing a committee to deal with the SJC's request for comments on proposed changes to Rules of Professional Conduct regarding advertising.

Among the new business items, the addition of a Workers' Compensation section signaled one of the most remarkable changes at the meeting. The affirmative vote came after Deborah Kohl's presentation on behalf of the Workers' Compensation Practice Group, where she emphasized the advantages the new group will bring to both membership and the MBA's legislative advocacy efforts. Also under new business, Anthony Benedetti, Lee Gartenberg and Denise Murphy were elected to the Executive Management Board after being nominated by Sheff. And delegates approved an update to the Judicial Preference Guide and approved comments on amendments to the rules of criminal procedure regarding probation.

After the meeting adjourned, many delegates attended the MBA's "Welcome Back" Member Reception, which was being held next door at the Back Deck.