Highlights from the June 14th 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, June 14, 2018 at the Adams Courthouse. Highlights and key takeaways from the meeting included:


·         Courthouse cell phone policy: The Commission has formed a committee led by Commissioner Jeff Catalano and co-chaired by Judge Chernoff (ret.) of the Superior Court to investigate the origins and impact of the Trial Court’s cell phone policy and explore alternative approaches.  Judge Cohen (ret.) of the Appeals Court will also consult on the project. The work will be informed by Appleseed’s extensive investigation of the impact of current policy on court users and survey of policies in other states.  The Commission anticipates continued collaboration with Appleseed on this important topic.


·         At Large Membership: The deadline has passed for submitting resumes in response to the Commission’s  call for applicants to fill vacant at-large Commissioner seats.  A large number of applications have been received, and the Commission will consider candidates over the summer months.


·         Greater Boston Immigrant Defense Fund Update (GBIDF): Iris Gomez of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute provided a detailed update on the work of the GBIDF. The project, which kicked off in December, selected 10 organizations, five legal partners and five community group partners, to receive funding to enhance the capacity and impact of community response to the increase in enforcement against immigrants in Massachusetts. The goal of the project is to empower community groups and the immigrants they serve by providing legal information and, where possible, representation.  Iris noted that collaborative, legal/non-legal approach reflects recognition that legal maneuvering, while successful at times, should not be the only path; rather, non-legal tactics have also proven to be effective in getting attention and resources to the problems faced by immigrants living in and around Boston.


·         Civil Legal Aid for Victims of Crime Update (CLAVC): Commissioner Rochelle Hahn discussed the current work of CLAVC, a project enabled by allocation of Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding received by the Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance (MOVA) to a state-wide legal services program.  The CLAVC program, modeled after the state-wide foreclosure defense program HomeCorps, is a consolidated, unified approach to deploying resources to increase the access of crime victims to civil legal aid in the Commonwealth. The project currently funds 26 lawyers embedded among six regional and three statewide programs.  The lawyers provide legal assistance in the areas of abuse prevention, family law, immigration, housing, and consumer and financial exploitation, among others.  The Commission was instrumental in identifying this new source of funding for legal services work and assisted in gathering information and input to support creation of the CLAVC program.


·         Working Group Updates: Esme Caramello outlined the recent work of the Housing Working Group, including development of proposed new court forms.  Commissioner Judge Fein is working on behalf of the Trial Court, in her capacity as Special Advisor to the Trial Court on Access to Justice Initiatives, to lead a comprehensive review and, where appropriate, revision of summary process court forms and informational materials.  The Housing Working Group will meet with Judge Fein to discuss their ideas.  Ben Golden presented on behalf of the Consumer Debt Working Group, which has developed three sub-committees: community outreach, which is focused on connecting with community organizations ahead of the planned pilot in Dorchester; Lawyer for the Day, which is developing a best practice guide; and court reform, which is addressing two new rules of civil procedure adopted by the SJC about a month ago.


·         Access to Justice Fellows Program Update: Susan Gedrick, the ATJ Fellows Program Manager at the Lawyers Clearinghouse, and Martha Koster, one of the program’s founders, presented on the recent accomplishments of the Fellows Program. By the end of this program year in June, ATJ Fellows will have provided pro bono services to 61 partner organizations, and in September, the program will celebrate the participation of over 100 fellows. ATJ Fellow Stephanie Biggs recounted the work she has done in her role this past year for Volunteer Lawyers Project, joined by VLP’s legal director Cindy Palmquist.


Our ATJ Commission meeting calendar will resume in the fall. We will be in touch with that schedule when it is finalized.  Enjoy the summer!