Access to Justice Update, June 5, 2017



Last Commission Meeting of the 2016-2017 Year on June 13, 2017 at 3:00PM

The last meeting of the Access to Justice Commission will take place in the Social Law Library on the fourth floor of the Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Plaza, Boston. The meeting begins at 3:00PM and is open to the public. The meeting will consist of a discussion on the civil right to counsel, an update on the Justice For All project, and several other updates and announcements.  Please note that this is the last Commission meeting for Co-Chair Justice Hines and is our last Commission meeting of the year.


Listening Session on Electronic Reports on June 26, 2017 at 4:00PM

The Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court, along with the Court’s Reporter of Decisions, are beginning to consider whether the reports of the Supreme Judicial Court and the Appeals Court should be published only in electronic, rather than print, form perhaps as soon as in July, 2019.  The Court would like to hear from as many interested individuals as possible on the effect that a possible conversion to electronic publication of the Massachusetts Reports and the Massachusetts Appeals Court Reports would have on access to the reports and, consequently, access to justice. If you plan to attend, please let Sue Finegan ( know.  If you are unable to attend the listening session, we welcome your written comments, which may be submitted to Christine Burak, Esq., by e-mail ( or by U.S. Mail (Supreme Judicial Court, John Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Square, Boston, Massachusetts 02108) by July 31, 2017.


Chief Justice Gants’ Boston Globe Op-ed

The Boston Globe published Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants’ op-ed on funding for legal aid this morning. Gants writes about the urgency of federal funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and how Trump has forsaken the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s commitment to equal justice under the law by proposing a budget for fiscal year 2018 that calls for the elimination of the LSC.


Update by Lonnie Powers, MLAC

With the strong support of the Commission, the Equal Justice Coalition partners – the Massachusetts and Boston Bar Associations, county, local and specialty bars throughout Massachusetts, law firms and individual attorneys, corporate counsel, the deans of all the Massachusetts law schools and the hard work of legal aid program directors, board members, staff and clients, MLAC has received a proposed $2 million increase in funding for FY18 in both the House and the Senate budgets.  In each instance we benefitted from an amendment that increased the original amount proposed by the respective Ways and Means Committee.

In the House, Representative Ruth Balser successfully led the effort to obtain an additional $500,00 to raise the proposed $19.5 million amount to $20 million.  And, in the Senate, Senators Creem and Brownsberger’s amendment to increase the Ways and Means amount of $18 million – level funding from this year – by $2 million garnered 19 co-sponsors and received a unanimous recorded vote for adoption toward the end of the three days of debate on the Senate Budget.  MLAC and entire legal aid community are deeply grateful to our legislative champions and to the leadership of the House and Senate for accepting the amendments.

Despite these wonderful victories, because of the shortfall in revenues for this fiscal year, the Conference Committee is expected to make changes in the overall  budget and the Governor will still get a chance to make his own decisions on their final product.  We will need continued support from the Commission and all the other supporters of civil legal aid throughout the rest of the budget process.


Farewell Presentation to Gerry Singsen


At the May 23, 2017 meeting of the Access to Justice Commission, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, Associate Justice and Commission Co-Chair Geraldine Hines, and Commission Co-Chair Susan M. Finegan, Esq. presented Antone G. “Gerry” Singsen with a special Access to Justice Award in recognition of Gerry’s longtime service as a consultant to the Access to Justice Commission and his many years of leadership in improving access to justice in Massachusetts.

Antone “Gerry” Singsen (seated), surrounded by Chief Justice Gants, Sue Finegan, former Access to Justice Commission Co-Chair David Rosenberg, Justice Hines, and former Access to Justice Commission Vice Chair James T. Van Buren.


Remarks on Retirement as Consultant to the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission by Gerry Singsen

Thank you Justice Gants, Justice Hines and Sue for your kind remarks. It has been an honor and a pleasure working with you over the years. If in some way I have been a teacher and you students, you have each earned your A.

Justice Gants, it has been a special privilege to work closely with you as you moved into your current role as a national leader for access to justice. You are making history.

Of course, no one does what I have done with the Commission on his own. I have been the instrument of a lot of great people. Only by working together was any of this possible.  So I must pause to mention some of those who really deserve the credit for the work of the Commission.

I want to thank each of the Chairs of the three Commissions:

Herb Wilkins as the chair and Jim Van Buren the Vice Chair of the first Commission

Dave Rosenberg along with Justice Gants in the second Commission

Justice Geraldine Hines and Sue Finegan in the current Commission.

We have been blessed by such leaders.

In addition, I want to thank Russell Engler, who has served for many years as the intellectual leader of the Commission; I want to thank Dina Fein, who has provided immense energy since the beginning; and Cindy Cohen and Jacqui Bowman and…but here I get into trouble, because I really owe thanks to all of you current Commissioners, and those who have gone before, including the members of the LSC State Planning Body which recommended that a Commission was needed.

I want to recognize MLAC, our partner in many of the Commission’s endeavors, and the Boston Bar and Mass Bar and their Foundations

And, of course, I must reserve my deepest thanks to Jayne Tyrrell, my best friend and most consistent adviser, without whom I personally could not have done this job and without whom I don’t believe Massachusetts would have  earned the reputation it now holds as a state that leads access to justice work in the United States.

So, thanks to you all.

Now, the way I see it, I’m not abandoning the work for justice, I’m simply getting out of the way of the future. You will make that future.

As you do this work, there are many principles I could suggest that you draw from the prior work of the Commission. But there are three that I would specifically urge upon you.

The first principle is that the Commission is powerless — it has no budget, no authority.  Justice Wilkins enunciated this principle, with a droll tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

Because, of course, you do have power. You have a bully pulpit and hard working, creative volunteers. What the good Justice was reminding us of was that we all have the power of “Voice” – the commanding power of truth – and that is great power indeed.

The second principle is that “Justice is everybody’s business.”

We learned this principle while examining the potential for funding from nonlawyer philanthropists. But it is much more important than that. It is a fundamental objective of our constitution to “establish justice.”

The third principle is being explored by you today. It is a goal, a banner, an intention.

It is that we seek nothing less than that all persons dealing with essential legal issues have access to effective assistance and that effective assistance leads to just outcomes. That is, “justice for all.”

Putting these ideas together, I urge you to

act on behalf of everyone in our society

by using the power of speaking the truth about injustice

in order to bring real and equal justice to all.

When the opportunity to act for justice arises, just say “yes.”

For me, it is time to retire.

But I’ll still be around, watching and supporting and helping when I can.

Thank you for what you have done, and will do.