MA ACCESS TO JUSTICE COMMISSION UPDATE
April 2, 2019
Highlights from the March 14th Meeting of the ATJ Commission
Thank you to the Commissioners and guests who joined us for the most recent meeting of the MA ATJ Commission on Thursday, March 14th, 2019 at the Adams Courthouse. Highlights and key takeaways from the meeting included:
- Snap Gap Bill Update: Patricia Baker of Mass Law Reform Institute presented on recent efforts to close the SNAP Gap in Massachusetts and move toward a common application for needs-based benefits. The “SNAP Gap” represents the difference between the number of low-income residents receiving MassHealth who are likely SNAP eligible but are not receiving benefits. Legislation currently being considered by the Healthcare Finance Committee proposes enabling individuals to apply for SNAP when they also apply for MassHealth and also commits Massachusetts to the goal of creating a common application for all needs-based benefit programs. Please see this fact sheet for more information!
- Discussion of Law Graduates/LLLTs: Commission Co-Chair Chief Justice Ralph Gants led a discussion regarding ways to utilize law graduates who have not yet passed the Massachusetts bar exam in legal assistance roles. From this starting point, the discussion expanded to discuss opportunities to utilize non-lawyers. Victim witness advocates, small claims, parole hearings, section 8 housing cases, and restraining and harassment orders were all mentioned as areas worth further consideration to facilitate non-lawyer involvement. Concerns about adequate supervision and administration of pro bono non-lawyer assistance programs were raised, as were pros and cons of focusing on pro bono vs. for-fee models.
- Right to Counsel in Housing Matters Update: Annette Duke of Mass Law Reform Institute provided an update of current efforts by advocates to secure a right to counsel in housing matters in MA. The campaign in MA follows efforts already passed in New York City, San Francisco, and Newark, with similar measure being pursued in Los Angeles and Connecticut. Three right to counsel bills have been filed in MA, which are currently being reviewed and evaluated by community partners. Please visit the website, www.massrtc.org, to learn more!
- Spotlight on Springfield:
- Gordon Shaw (Community Legal Aid), Ariel Clemmer (Hampden County Bar Association), Patrice Sabach (MassMutual), and Karen Duffy (Court Service Center) presented on the work of the Lawyer for the Day Program in Springfield Housing Court. The presenters highlighted the work and collaboration of the many partners that make the program successful.
- Dorothy Varon of MassMutual was joined by Ariel Clemmer and Gordon Shaw to discuss the history of pro bono bankruptcy programs in Springfield and a new program focused on consumer debt issues in Springfield. In addition to creating a new Lawyer for the Day Program in consumer debt, a primary goal of the new program is to empower clients through connections to financial literacy resources so that, in the event they have a debt in the future, they may be able to handle it before it becomes a legal issue.
Our next and last meeting of the Commission year will take place on May 23rd, 2019 in Social Law Library at the Adams Courthouse from 3:00 – 5: 00 pm. We hope to see you there!