MA ACCESS TO JUSTICE COMMISSION UPDATES
September 24, 2019
The Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission is pleased to announce two new appointments and share our 2018-2019 Annual Report.
The Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission is pleased to announce two new appointments:
Attorneys Laura Gal and Benjamin Golden join as new members of the Commission. Attorney Gal is the Supervisory Attorney for Family Law at Northeast Legal Aid and served as the Commission’s consultant from September 2017 through June 2019. She has also worked as a staff attorney in the Family Law Unit and the Benefits Unit at Community Legal Aid, and in the Family Advocacy Program at Boston Medical Center. Attorney Golden is a Health Law Clinical Fellow at Suffolk University Law School. He previously held positions as an assistant attorney general in the Consumer Protection Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and as a law clerk for the Honorable Mitchell J. Sikora, Jr. at the Massachusetts Appeals Court and for the Honorable Robert J. Lynn at the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
The Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission’s 2018-2019 Annual Report is now available on the Commission’s website, http://www.massa2j.org, under the Resources/Library tab at http://www.massa2j.org/a2j/?page_id=9
Highlights of the Commission’s work during this past year include the following activities:
- Following up on the some of the proposals articulated in the Justice for All Strategic Action Plan that the Commission developed in 2017 in collaboration with a wide range of partners in the access to justice community, the Commission worked with legal services providers, community organizations, and the courts to support two pilot programs testing innovative ideas for improving access to justice in the areas of housing and consumer debt, using a $200,000 grant from the National Center for State Courts’ Justice for All project.
- The Commission’s Justice for All Implementation Committee and its working groups also undertook many other projects to realize the vision articulated in the Strategic Action Plan, such as providing comments to improve Housing Court forms and Small Claims Rules, researching access to justice barriers in eviction appeals and the reasons for high default rates in housing cases, and helping to revamp an online directory of legal resources for low-income people in Massachusetts.
- A Commission working group researched the security concerns that initially led many Massachusetts courts to ban cell phones and the impacts of those bans on court users, especially unrepresented litigants. The working group’s report, issued this past spring, recommended lifting courthouse cell phone bans while proposing alternative means of ensuring court security.
- The Commission developed a communications strategy designed to inform the public about the purpose and need for the Access to Justice Commission; educate the public about the Commission’s mission and activities; learn from the public about issues that may warrant a systemic or collaborative response; and generally facilitate a multi-directional flow of information and ideas among the Commission’s leadership and membership, partner entities and organizations, other justice stakeholders, and the general public.
- The Civil Appellate Pro Bono Program — a collaborative initiative involving the Commission, the Volunteer Lawyers Project, the Clerk’s Offices for the Appeals Court and the Supreme Judicial Court, and local law firms, in-house legal departments, and legal services organizations — continued to operate a weekly clinic at the Appeals Court providing free legal consultation to qualifying self-represented litigants, and full representation for an appeal in selected cases. During the past year alone, 153 attorney volunteers served 188 individual litigants through this program.
- The Commission continued to support the growth of the Access to Justice Fellows Program, which has now provided over 90,000 hours of pro bono services by 116 retired lawyers and judges to more than 70 nonprofit entities in Massachusetts. The program has been replicated in Louisiana, and is under consideration in several other states.
The first ATJ Commission Meeting of 2019/2020 is on Tuesday, October 22 from 3-5 pm in the Social Law Library at the Adams Courthouse in Boston. We look forward to seeing you there!