A2J Update June 6, 2016

COMMISSION FILES ANNUAL REPORT WITH JUSTICES — ACTIVITY ON MANY FRONTS

The Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission has filed its Annual Report on Activities in 2015 with the Supreme Judicial Court. A copy is attached, and the Report, together with reports from the prior decade, can be found at www.massA2J.org.

The Report has five sections, corresponding with the Commission’s five core strategies :

1)    increasing justice by improving the effectiveness of, and the funding for, civil legal services organizations;

2)    increasing services provided by private attorneys;

3)    improving assistance to unrepresented litigants;

4)    improving access to justice beyond the courts, such as in administrative agencies; and

5)    exploring the role of non-lawyers in the provision of appropriate civil legal assistance.

Among the activities high-lighted in the Report are a new focus on federal funding other than LSC funding, creation of the Massachusetts Equal Justice Fund, encouragement of systemic advocacy by legal aid programs, starting a statewide interactive pro bono website, the continued success and impact of the Access to Justice Fellows Program, expansion of an appellate pro bono program, encouraging development of fee-shifting practices, urging more extensive use of information sheets explaining where to find help in the early stages of a case, supporting revisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct to make it clear that a judge can make reasonable efforts to help a self-representing litigant find her way in court, moved statewide Housing Court closer to enactment, prepared to participate in the national movement for 100% access, followed up on the adoption of “best practices  for administrative agencies,  explored the potential roles of non-lawyers in facilitating access to justice efforts, and studied the surprisingly extensive role of social service agency workers in helping clients cope with legal problems.

FEDERAL AND STATE APPROPRIATIONS  NOT INCREASING BY MUCH

Despite the usual efforts to demonstrate the need and to persuade the Congress to make higher appropriations, prospects for FY 17 are not strong. The Senate Appropriations Committee  approved a $10 million increase to $395 million.   The House Appropriations Subcommittee, on the other hand, called for a $35 million cut to $350 million.     Next up, the full Committees  vote and then the two houses, before a conference committee settles the number.

In Massachusetts, it is the House that voted a modest increase over this year’s $17 million and the Senate that  voted for status quo funding. A conference committee will resolve the issue during June.

HOUSING COURT EXPANSION ON THE BUDGET CONFERENCE COMMITTEE AGENDA

More than 120 cities, towns, fire departments and civic organizations have passed resolutions in support of expanding the Housing Court to the 40% of the state without a Housing Court at the present time, and more are likely to add their names this week. The cause of the urgent call for more support is a bundle of Senate-passed budget outside sections (Senate Outside Sections 140-145).  Forty-nine Representatives signed a letter supporting Housing Court expansion, and more support it, but it is the House where  the effort to get more support will focus.

The FY17 Budget Conference Committee consists of Representatives Dempsey, Kulik and Smola and Senators Spilka, DiDominico and deMacedo.

CHIEF JUSTICE GANTS TO RECEIVE HASKELL COHN AWARD FOR DISTINGUISHED JUDICIAL SERVICE

You are cordially invited to attend a reception for 
The Honorable Ralph D. Gants
Chief Justice of 
the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court 
recipient of the 
Haskell Cohn Award for Distinguished Judicial Service

 

Wednesday, June 8th

5:30 p.m.

 

16 Beacon Street, Boston, MA

 

For more information and to RSVP, please contact Erica Southerland or RSVP online.