Voir dire, service awards highlight Annual Dinner

Issue June 2015

Legislators, judges and attorneys gathered at the Massachusetts Bar Association's sold out Annual Dinner on May 7 to celebrate a milestone year for the legal community -- a year in which lawyers earned the right to engage in jury voir dire in Superior Court for the first time.

At the dinner, the MBA honored House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo with its 2015 President's Award and Massachusetts Superior Court Associate Justice Dennis J. Curran with the Chief Justice Edward F. Hennessey Award, for their exceptional contributions to the administration of justice in the commonwealth.

Keynote speaker Mark J. Geragos, principal of Geragos & Geragos, APC, in Los Angeles, commended the MBA as a great legal association and touted the efforts of its members to secure attorney-directed voir dire this past year.

"There is no more important valued right -- at least in the criminal justice system -- then the ability to do attorney-directed voir dire," said Geragos. "It's my conclusion at this point that all trials -- especially in the criminal law -- are won and lost in jury selection. No matter what you think. No matter what kind of an orator you think you are. No matter what kind of rhetorical skills you think you have. You are never going to change somebody's viewpoints … in a one-week, two-week or three-week trial … it's just not going to happen. The die is cast when you tell the judge 'we set the jury as present.'"

In addition, the MBA presented third-year New England Law | Boston student Ying Wang with its first $10,000 Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Scholarship and the 2015 Access to Justice Awards to six attorneys and one law firm for their exemplary legal skills and service to the community.

"This is what we talk about at the MBA," said MBA President Marsha V. Kazarosian. "You advocate for human rights, you advocate for consumers, the underrepresented, the people who need the support, and that's what the theme [of this dinner] was. It was wonderful."

Access to Justice Award winners included:

  • Brian J. McLaughlin, who received the Pro Bono Public Award for his work in family law and advocacy for those with disabilities.
  • Benjamin Evans, who was given the Defender Award for his high-quality work as supervising attorney for the Committee for Public Counsel in Fall River and his support for practical experiences for law students.
  • Elizabeth Toulan, who was honored with the Legal Services Award for her work serving low-income and marginalized populations in Boston, as well as her efficacy in bringing about earned sick time benefits through a ballot question.
  • Ropes & Gray LLP, which received The Pro Bono Award for Law Firms for the firm's projects to reduce recidivism among young men and to help local families at the Dorchester House Multi-Service Center.
  • Jonathan Miller, who was presented with the Prosecutor Award for his work in the Attorney General's office challenging the Defense of Marriage Act and acting quickly to restore a buffer zone law outside abortion clinics following the Supreme Judicial Court's strikedown of the law.
  • Adriana Lafaille, who was honored with the Rising Star Award for her work at the ACLU of Massachusetts to provide legal counsel and support for immigration detainees.

The MBA thanks its 2015 Annual Dinner sponsors for helping to make the event a success.