MA ACCESS TO JUSTICE COMMISSION UPDATE – December 21, 2018

Highlights from the December 13th 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, December 13th, 2018 at the Adams Courthouse. Highlights and key takeaways from the meeting included:

 

  • Introduction and Welcome: We welcomed new Commissioner Sandra Gant.

 

  • Updates
    • Lynne Parker, new Executive Director of MLAC, provided an update on state funding – the ask in 2019 will be $26 million and the annual Walk to the Hill  is scheduled for January 24, 2019. We hope you will join many of us for this important event!
    • Commissioner Marijane Benner-Browne highlighted the recent activities of the Revenue Enhance Committee. The REC continues to monitor the success of funding sources, such as the ATJ add on to annual dues, which has not decreased in spite of changes to how payments are collected, and the pro hac vice fee, which is set to increase to $351. Members of the committee will participate in a January brainstorming session convened by the Massachusetts Equal Justice Fund, which seeks to expand the base of individuals and foundations supporting civil legal services in Massachusetts. In addition, the Committee is actively looking for new sources of federal funding, particularly funding streams providing services to veterans and those available to address the opioid crisis.   
    • Commissioners Russel Engler and Judge Fairlie Dalton provided an update on the JFA Housing Pilot. The Pilot is led by Stefanie Balandis of Northeast Legal Aid in partnership with Lawrence Community Works, which hosts and staffs the Pilot’s Housing Stabilization Center. The Center opened for business in the second half of November and has started assessing and responding to intakes. Intakes can be submitted in-person at the Center or online through a number of partner entities, including the Lawrence Court Service Center. A more in-depth presentation on the Pilot will be part of our March 14, 2019 Commission meeting.
    • Commissioner Georgia Katsoulomitis reported on national and state public comment campaigns in response to the proposed Public Charge rule change. More than 200,000 comments were submitted nationally and more than 5,000 of those came from Massachusetts, including comments from the Executive branch.

 

  • Trial Court Access to Justice Initiatives: Commissioner Judge Dina Fein outlined current efforts relating to the trial court’s ATJ initiatives, including revision of summary process forms, a uniform Limited Assistance Representation rule to take effect February 1, 2019, and continuing work toward a “best practices” guide to Lawyer For the Day programs.

 

  • Spotlight on Consumer Debt: Commissioner Erika Rickard and Ben Golden of Suffolk University Law School provided an overview of the work of the Commission’s Consumer Debt Working Group, which has focused on upstream outreach, information sharing across Lawyer For the Day programs, and system reform.   Attorney Golden also highlighted new rules of procedure affecting consumer debt cases (see link below), as well as ongoing rules reforms efforts.  Commissioner Tony Owens and Matt Brooks presented on the work of the Consumer Debt Pilot. The Pilot, which officially launched in August, is an ambitious effort to create necessary infrastructure to build a state-wide effort to reduce the number of consumer debtors facing court action and to provide more robust services for low-income debtors who cannot avoid court. The Pilot is exploring several avenues to achieve the dual goal of fewer filings and equitable outcomes in cases filed, including operating a Lawyer For the Day program in the Dorchester session of the Boston Municipal Court; partnering with community organizations to train providers on non-legal responses to debt problems, as well as issue spotting and referrals for issues requiring legal attention; developing online standard protective and investigative letters with guided personalization capacity and fillable court forms; and individual case representation. Finally, Commissioner Joel Feldman moderated a discussion on the feasibility of building a consumer debt defense bar sustained in part by fee-shifting claims under state and federal law. Discussion touched on the need to create a steady flow of potential cases to lawyers interested in building/expanding their practices and an efficient and consistent way to connect litigants with fee-shifting attorneys.

 

Related Reading

  • In 2019, two new rules relating to consumer debt cases will go into effect. The first, Rule 8.1, creates additional requirements upon filing of a debt collection case, and the other, Rule 55.1, addresses procedure relating to default judgments. Below are two links: the first is a link to the new rules, and the second is a link to an advisory memo regarding implementation of the new rules. 

o   https://www.mass.gov/rules-of-civil-procedure/civil-procedure-rule-81-special-requirements-for-certain-consumer-debts

o   https://www.mass.gov/advisory/implementation-of-mass-r-civ-p-81-special-requirements-for-certain-consumer-debts-and-mass

  • Below is a link to an article discussing a Philadelphia project to expand access to counsel for defendants in eviction cases.

o   http://www.governing.com/topics/health-human-services/gov-philadelphia-evictions-affordable-housing-lc.html

 

If any of the links does not work, please try pasting the address into your browser and apologies for the technological hiccup.

 

Our next meeting will take place on January 24th, 2019 in Social Law Library at the Adams Courthouse from 3:00 – 5: 00 pm. We hope to see you there!  We also hope to see you earlier in the day at the annual Walk to the Hill to support funding for civil legal aid in Massachusetts.