A2J Update May 18, 2015

NEW ACCESS TO JUSTICE COMMISSION MEETS THURSDAY AT 3:00

The first meeting of the newly reconstituted Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission will take place in the Conference Suite on the second floor of the John Adams Courthouse, Pemberton Plaza, Boston. New Commission Co-Chairs SJC Associate Justice Geraldine Hines and Attorney Susan M. Finegan will discuss their vision for the Commission, the structure of seven committees will be explained and there will be a chance to consider priorities for the Commission’s future.  The meeting is open to the public and all are encouraged to come, listen and involved.

MLAC APPROPRIATION — FOLLOW THE BOUNCING BALL

In the past year an extraordinary effort has been mounted to raise the level of the legislature’s appropriation for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. In addition to the usual Equal Justice Coalition and MLAC effort, the Boston Bar Association, under the leadership of former BBA President J.D. Smeallie, organized the Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts. The Task Force issued an in-depth examination of the benefits to the Commonwealth that are produced by providing funding to legal aid and lobbied hard to convince the legislature to invest more in legal aid. MLAC sought a three-year increase of $10 million per year.

The efforts continue today, and the final number is not yet known. In FY 2015 MLAC’s appropriation was a bit less than $15 million.  Governor Baker proposed level funding for FY 2016. The House raised the target to $17 million but the Senate brought it back down to $15 million.

SJC MODIFIES RULE ON CLASS ACTION RESIDUALS — IOLTA TO RECEIVE NOTICE

Mass. R. Civ. P. 23 governs class actions. Rule 23(‘e) sets forth the cy pres provision which calls for funds which cannot be distributed to the plaintiff class to be distributed to organizations whose purposes further the interests of the plaintiff class. In 2008 the provision was amended to make the IOLTA Committee as well as legal services programs an authorized recipient of these class action residuals because legal aid furthers the interests of access to justice which are also served by the class action remedy.

Last year the IOLTA Committee, following the lead of several other states, petitioned for a rule change that would designate it (and the three charitable entities to which it provides funds) as the automatic designee for at least 50% of the residuals in any class action. The SJC denied this application but instead modified Rule 23(c) by adding the following sentence: “The court shall require notice to the Massachusetts IOLTA Committee for the purpose set forth in subdivision (e)(3) of this rule.” The Court then added a new subdivision 23(e)(3): “Where residual funds may remain, no judgment may enter or compromise be approved unless the plaintiff has given notice to the Massachusetts IOLTA Committee for the limited purpose of allowing the committee to be heard on whether it ought to be a recipient of any or all residual funds.”

Class action residuals have become a significant source of funding for legal aid programs. In 2014 they accounted for more than $63 million nationally, about $10 million less than IOLTA.

LANGUAGE ACCESS PROGRESS IN THE TRIAL COURT

The Trial Court now has forms for seeking a restraining order available online in eight languages at the “Language Access Portal www.mass.gov/courts/language-access. The forms are available in Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Khmer, Portuguese, Russian and Vietnamese.

Twenty-two percent of state residents over five years of age speak a language other than English at home.

43,000 restraining orders were filed in Massachusetts courts in FY 2014 (up 13% over FY 2013).