More than 500 lawyers participated in the 15th annual Walk to
the Hill for Civil Legal Aid in the Great Hall of the State House
on Jan. 30. The Massachusetts Bar Association, the Equal Justice
Coalition (EJC) and the Boston Bar Association asked participants
to urge their legislators to support increased state funding for
civil legal aid.
The event took place one week after Gov. Deval L. Patrick
recommended $14 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance
Corporation (MLAC) in his fiscal year 2015 budget proposal. MLAC,
which is the largest single funding source for civil legal aid in
Massachusetts, received a $13 million appropriation from the state
this fiscal year.
An EJC press release noted that "programs have been struggling to
meet demand as other funding sources have dried up in recent
years." For example, the Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts
Program (IOLTA) is expected to experience an 85 percent drop in
funding in fiscal yearl 2014 ($2.6 million) from where it was in
fiscal year 2008 ($17 million).The EJC also noted that "MLAC has
cut grants to the 16 legal aid programs it funds by 51 percent
since fiscal year 2008."
Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland of the Supreme Judicial Court
joined his fellow members of the legal community in calling on
lawmakers to increase legal aid funding. "We are here to help
balance the scales of justice," he said.
The goal of this year's Walk to the Hill is to increase state
funding for organizations that provide advice and representation to
low-income residents facing critical civil legal issues such as
eviction and foreclosure, child custody and support issues, denial
of health care coverage, unemployment benefits appeals, domestic
violence and elder abuse.
The speaking program also featured Massachusetts Bar Association
President Douglas K. Sheff, and Boston Bar Association President
Paul T. Dacier, who both called on the legislature to increase
state funding for civil legal aid.
"Legal aid is not a lawyers' issue, it's a fairness issue," said
Sheff. "The governor's proposal of $1 million in increased funding
for MLAC is a step in the right direction, but it's still
inadequate to meet the needs in our commonwealth. Without the full
$17 million for MLAC, thousands of our citizens could face
life-changing hardships involving their housing, their jobs and
their health, among others, without the vital lifeline that legal
Malden resident Charlene Julce also spoke about how legal aid
helped restore her dream of home ownership after she was the victim
of a predatory loan and an illegal foreclosure action.
"There is simply no way my family and I could have figured out how
to keep our home without the help of Greater Boston Legal
Services," said Julce. "The notices from our bank were complicated
and we didn't even know what our options were for help. My family
might be facing homelessness today if it weren't for the civil
legal aid assistance we received."
The walk was co-sponsored by the Equal Justice Coalition,
Massachusetts Bar Association, Boston Bar Association and many
local and specialty bar associations. Attorneys from several
Boston-area law firms and organizations participated.