The Massachusetts Bar Association is the preeminent voice of the
legal profession, and has never stopped speaking about the need to
continue to fight for justice for all. This month with the advent
of voir dire in the commonwealth our voice was heard yet
again, speaking loudly in unison with our colleagues at the
Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys and in the
The MBA has never stopped speaking up about the need for fairness
in our courts and I am so incredibly proud of what we accomplished.
I also want to publicly recognize and congratulate MBA Chief Legal
Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W. Healy, who deservedly
was just named a 2014 Lawyer of the Year by Massachusetts
Lawyers Weekly for his leading role in the unified efforts to
make voir dire a reality in Massachusetts.
Speaking up for justice and fairness is part of our responsibility
as the statewide bar association. And even though we cleared one
hurdle with voir dire, there is still more to be done as
we work hand in hand with the courts to hone the process. We are
very fortunate to have a judiciary that is equally committed to
clearing impediments to justice and ensuring fairness and
transparency in the process. We could not have had the progress in
our system today if it were not for the cooperation and assistance
of our colleagues on the bench, and we all owe them a debt of
gratitude for their dedication. We are very fortunate to share the
same objectives, and together we will realize them to the benefit
of us all.
Right now there are two critical issues looming: legal aid funding
and proper compensation for the attorneys in our criminal justice
system. Both of these issues impact access to justice and both need
to be addressed in the immediate future.
Access to legal aid is the only path to true and equal access to
justice, This is why the MBA annually makes legal aid funding one
of our legislative priorities. I want to thank the hundreds of
attorneys who "walked" with us at last month's Walk to the Hill,
making our collective voice heard loud and clear about the dire
need to increase funding for civil legal aid. We will continue to
advocate on behalf of legal aid, as well as for adequate funding
for our courts.
It is also imperative that we advocate zealously for appropriate
salaries for the guardians of our criminal justice system: ADAs,
public defenders and bar advocates - many of whom are currently not
much better off financially than those who might qualify for legal
aid themselves. Low pay rates are leading to untenable levels of
turnover and becoming a bona fide crisis in our courts.
This past year I had the privilege to serve on a state commission
convened by then-Gov. Deval Patrick to study ADA and CPCS staff
attorney salaries. The Governor's Commission released a report that
recommended a minimum salary for both ADAs and CPCS staff counsel
of $55,360, and that implementation occur within three years. The
recommendations sparked a lead editorial in the Boston
Globe on Tuesday, Jan. 20, which said, "Beacon Hill should try
to find a way to grant those salaries."
If this sounds familiar, it's because we have said it before. Last
May the MBA issued our own report entitled, "Doing Right by Those
Who Labor for Justice: Fair and Equitable Compensation for
Attorneys Serving the Commonwealth in its Criminal Courts." The
report called for increases in salaries after a Blue Ribbon
Commission led by MBA Past President Richard M. Campbell studied
the issue and conducted a public hearing. It was the MBA report
that prompted Patrick's study, and the Governor's Commission's
report incorporated the MBA's report by reference.
And while rates for bar advocates were beyond the scope of the
Governor's Commission's mandate, private attorneys who take these
cases equally deserve a long-overdue increase to their compensation
The reality is whether they are ADAs, CPCS staff attorneys or bar
advocates, they require significant financial resources to train
and prepare them. Unfortunately, because of the low pay, many of
these talented attorneys are forced to leave their positions sooner
than they would like because they can't make ends meet. And so the
cycle continues. Ultimately the high turnover takes its toll, not
just financially, but because it deprives both prosecution and
defense of experienced advocates.
These attorneys are in our trenches every day. They have
tremendous responsibilities. They protect all of us. Committing
finances now to raise their salaries to a respectable level will
save time and money in the long run. If the bleeding stops, and the
turnover decreases, everyone reaps the benefits, and that widens
the path to justice.
Our voice only works when we speak. So please contact your elected
representatives and tell them to fund this initiative to raise the
salaries of these underpaid advocates who carry the weight of our
justice system on their shoulders. Their jobs are hard enough as it
is. Refusing them a fair wage would be inexcusable.