MA ACCESS TO JUSTICE COMMISSION UPDATE
January 31, 2019
Highlights from the January 24th 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, January 24th, 2019 at the Adams Courthouse. Highlights and key takeaways from the meeting included:
- Introduction and Welcome: We celebrated the great enthusiasm for and participation in the annual Walk to the Hill event in support of civil legal aid funding.
- MassProBono Website Redesign: Barbara Siegel and David Spinosa of Volunteer Lawyers Project demonstrated the new MassProBono website, which has been redesigned with an eye toward making the page more mobile-friendly. Barbara invites any legal aid organizations not currently on MassProBono, but who would like to be, to reach out with volunteer opportunities to have listed on the site.
- Ecosystem Update/Technology Innovation Grant (TIG) Award Announcement: As an update from our Ecosystem Working Group from the Justice For All project, working group co-chair Rochelle Hahn of Massachusetts Law Reform Institute detailed the slate of enhancements coming to the MA Legal Resource Finder as a result of the $138,000 technology innovation grant awarded to Community Legal Aid. The goal is to add an artificial-intelligence-supported natural language search tool to the front end (user side); improve the display of results; create a series of “legal check-up” tools, starting with housing and consumer debt, to help individuals identify whether there are legal solutions to their problems; and make updates to the back end of the system to facilitate easy and frequent updating of information by organizations listed in and/or linked to the Finder.
- Spotlight on Housing:
- Commissioners Esme Caramello and Joel Feldman presented on the activities of the Housing Working Group for the Justice For All project which has most recently focused on five key issues: court interpreters, default in eviction cases, e-filing, forms and processes, and eviction records leading to blacklisting of tenants.
- Stafanie Balandis and Courtney Pitta of Northeast Legal Aid and Erika Hernandez of Lawrence Community Works discussed the development and work of the JFA Housing Pilot in Lawrence. The project has conveyed more than ten Lawrence-area community organizations, including legal, health, and social service providers, local government, and the court. Stakeholders worked together to created a intake tool usable by all organizations in order to connect landlords or tenants with the Housing Stabilization Center for early needs assessment and appropriate referral for stabilization services. The pilot has had no shortage of interest, although many intakes fall outside the priorities of the pilot. Balancing the sometimes conflicting interests in (a) helping individuals in need, (b) strengthening partnerships and encouraging referrals to the pilot and (c) focusing the pilot’s limited resources on those cases appropriate for upstream stabilization has been difficult. Despite that, the pilot has been successful in preserving long-term tenancies before summary process.
- Finally, Commissioner Russell Engler moderated a discussion focusing on the replicability of the pilot and potential expansion of upstream efforts statewide. The pilot runs through September. There are dual questions of how to keep the current pilot running and how to develop housing stabilization centers across the state. Ultimately, such goals may require a state funding commitment.
- Trial Court Access to Justice Initiatives: Maura Kelly of the Massachusetts Trial Court presented on the court’s recent efforts relating to Access to Justice initiatives. The court has been implementing the Language Access Plan that was adopted in 2014, which is moved forward by the Language Access Advisory Committee’s four working groups, which are focused on:
- Full Court Press: Comprehensive Trial Court Language Access
- Spread the Word: Communicating the Who, What, When, Where and How of the LAP
- Support the Hub: Continued Growth of the Office of Court Interpreter Services
- The Bottom Line: Budget/Resources
The court is also working on revision of OCIS standards and procedures, e-filing, and forms, processes, and other court communications.
Our next meeting will take place on March 14th, 2019 in Social Law Library at the Adams Courthouse from 3:00 – 5: 00 pm. We hope to see you there!