Service Innovation Project Kicks Off with School-to-Prison Pipeline Issue Briefing

On May 17, the Boston Bar convened attorneys for the next step in the pilot phase of its Service Innovation Project, which will focus on engaging the legal community in disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. At an issue briefing panel, a distinguished group of experts provided a comprehensive overview of the issue to attendees, and challenged them to think about actionable next steps to work toward solutions.

The panel, moderated by Northeastern University Law School’s Susan Maze-Rothstein, consisted of:

  • Jessica Berry – Deputy Director, Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts
  • Jay D. Blitzman – First Justice for the Middlesex Juvenile Court and Presiding Justice, Lowell
  • Matt Cregor – Education Project Director, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice
  • Janelle Ridley – District Coordinator for System-Involved Youth, Boston Public Schools
  • Marlies Spanjaard – Director of Education Advocacy, the EdLaw Project

The goal of the panel was to give attendees a deeper understanding of the many complicated and intersecting issues that perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline, facilitating economically disadvantaged youth slipping into the justice system in Boston and all over the United States. From their unique professional vantage points, each panelist was able to share examples of glaring inequities which are, unfortunately, commonplace.

Jessica Berry (Children’s Law Center of MA), Hon. Jay Blitzman (Middlesex Juvenile Court, Lowell Juvenile Court), Matt Cregor (Lawyers’ Committee), Janelle Ridley (Boston Public Schools), and Marlies Spanjaard (The EdLaw Project)

In summing up the structure of the school-to-prison pipeline, panelists explained that communities with high poverty rates and larger-than-average incarcerated populations also tend to have the most overcrowded, underfunded schools. Though staying in school has proven to be a deterrent from getting involved in the justice system, the increase in policing on school campuses in the past 20 years has led to more arrests on school grounds than ever before. In addition, students who are suspended or expelled from school, often for minor non-violent infractions, are at higher risk to drop out of school and thus more likely to enter into the criminal justice system.

These factors disproportionately impact black and Hispanic students, as well as students with disabilities, and the panelists cited multiple sources of data on the devastating impact that disparity is having in majority-minority communities.

“There is no such thing as race-neutral, zero-tolerance (policies),” Judge Blitzman said, adding that well-intended legislation meant to bolster school safety has led to the “criminalization of adolescence” for at-risk youth.

Ridley said one of the most important parts of her job is simply to listen to students, something the students may not feel they are getting from other adults at school or at home.

“We have a lot of quantitative data, but what we’re missing is the qualitative data: the stories, the reasoning, and what got these kids to where they are,” she said.

 

Panel moderator Prof. Susan Maze-Rothstein (Northeastern Law) brainstorms with her breakout group.

Following the panel, attendees formed small breakout groups to discuss what they had learned and think about next steps. Throughout the room, attorneys thought about various ways to offer pro bono assistance directly to affected children and families. But other, multidisciplinary approaches were also a focus of the discussion – such as public information campaigns targeted to schools, parents and the general public. Many attendees expressed their enthusiasm for restorative-justice-style programs in schools, giving students the chance to express their feelings and hopefully avoid suspension or expulsion.

The Boston Bar would like to thank everyone who participated, and we look forward to working together with the Service Innovation Project Advisory Committee to take these ideas and incorporate them into our work going forward.

Attorneys and community leaders discuss the insights and information presented during the first half of the issue briefing.

Special thanks to the Boston Bar Foundation Burnes Innovation in Service Fund, made possible by a generous gift from Richard and Nonnie Burnes.  This fund provides critical support for the Service Innovation Project.  For more information on the Burnes Innovation in Service Fund or the Boston Bar Foundation, contact Megan Leppert at 617.778.1924 or [email protected]

Attorneys Trained to Provide Pro Bono Assistance in Veterans Discharge Upgrade Cases

On May 22, members of the private bar gathered to learn about representing veterans pro bono in military discharge upgrade applications. Dana Montalto, Betsy Gwin, and Evan Seamone of the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School presented a comprehensive training for those who are interested in serving the veterans community. Their presentations offered a step-by-step approach to developing a persuasive petition, provided guidance about addressing common legal and practical challenges in discharge upgrade representation, and concluded with information about recent legal updates.

This presentation was the fourth annual pro bono training put on by the Veterans Legal Clinic, as part of its Veterans Justice Pro Bono Partnership. Through that Partnership, the Clinic connects local veterans seeking discharge upgrades with pro bono attorneys who want to give back to those who served in uniform and provides ongoing case support throughout the representation. Over the past three years, the Partnership has allowed dozens of veterans unjustly discharged from the military obtain pro bono assistance.

This pro bono assistance is critical because many of the men and women who served in the U.S. armed forces are cut off from veterans’ services and benefits because they were given a less-than-honorable discharge. They may have served in combat or have suffered physical or mental wounds, but are nevertheless unable to access much-needed treatment and support from federal and state veterans agencies because of their discharge status. In many cases, the origin of their need for support—for example, service-related post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury—also contributed to the conduct that led to their less-than-honorable discharges.

If you’d like access to a video recording of the training and its materials, please email Cassandra Shavney at [email protected].

Commissioner Giselle Sterling Highlights Boston’s Office of Veterans’ Services’ Accomplishments

On Tuesday, members of the Boston Bar heard from the City of Boston’s Commissioner of Veterans Services, Giselle Sterling, at a networking reception for members of the legal community who are current members of the military, veterans, and their families and friends. Commissioner Sterling is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran whose multiple deployments placed her in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Guam, Diego Garcia, and Japan. She was appointed as Commissioner in 2015 and since then has been working to connect more veterans to available resources.

With roughly 20,000 veterans living in Boston and over 200 organizations offering services to veterans and military families, Commissioner Sterling has spent the last three years helping to build the Greater Boston Veterans Collaborative. At the start of the Collaborative, Commissioner Sterling noted there were four organizations participating and that it has now grown to 202 non-profits, government organizations, corporations, and more. Her office is working with those organizations to create a resource network that will better connect veterans to everything that is available to them.

The City’s Operation Thank a Veteran volunteer program is another one of Commissioner Sterling’s initiatives that is bringing the veterans’ community together. Through face-to-face interactions, Commissioner Sterling, her staff, and numerous volunteers are able to thank veterans for their service and provide information about what the Office of Veterans’ Services offers.

Commissioner Sterling hopes to be able to expand the impact her office makes on the veterans community and she thanked the veterans in the room for their service and the attorneys who are working to assist veterans with their legal needs.

The reception was hosted at the Boston Bar Association by the Active Duty Military & Veterans Forum, which works to spotlight legal needs, serve as a network for current and former servicemembers in the legal profession and their families, and advise the BBA’s Lawyer Referral Service on its Military & Veterans Legal Help Line. If you have questions about the Forum or would like to become involved, please email Cassandra Shavney at [email protected]

23 Offices Sign on to Provide Summer Employment for Boston High School Students

Summer is right around the corner and over 30 students will have the opportunity to learn more about the legal profession and gain critical office experience at legal offices around the city. The 23 below organizations have pledged to hire at least one student in 2018 and will provide teens a stepping stone for a future career.Boston Planning & Development Agency
Brown Rudnick
Burns & Levinson
Chu, Ring & Hazel
Conn Kavanaugh
DLA Piper
Foley Hoag
Hogan Lovells
Holland & Knight
Jackson Lewis
Locke Lord
LPL Financial
Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office
Mintz Levin
Nelson Mullins
Nixon Peabody
Nutter McClennen & Fish
Proskauer Rose
Ropes & Gray
Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen
Sunstein Kann Murphy & Timbers
Verrill Dana
WilmerHale

We encourage you to contact us to find out how hiring a student can make a difference, for them and for your office! For more information on the program, please click here. If your office is interested in hiring a student over the summer, please contact Cassandra Shavney at [email protected] for additional information.

Law Day in the Schools Challenges Teens to Think Outside the Box

Allison Belanger and Jill Brenner Meixel (Krokidas & Bluestein) speak to William J. Ostiguy High School students.

When Krokidas & Bluestein attorneys Jill Brenner Meixel and Allison Belanger began to explain a mock city council exercise to a class of students at William J. Ostiguy High School in Boston, some students were skeptical. They were split into groups and asked to argue either in favor of or against a made-up ordinance that would require teenagers under the age of 17 to remain inside after a 9 p.m. curfew.

Some asked if this would ever really be considered by the Boston City Council. Some commented that since most students in the room were over 16, they wouldn’t be impacted, so they wouldn’t care. Yet all of the students tasked with arguing in favor of the fictitious proposal protested that they didn’t want to pretend to support an unfair rule.

“It’s an exercise, so just like lawyers, you might have to put your personal feelings aside and concentrate on presenting a compelling argument,” Belanger said.

But in fact, the day’s real lesson was to teach students how to empower themselves to express their personal opinions to effect change. The mock city council hearing was part of this year’s Law Day in the Schools Program, and the theme is “Liberty Under Law: Empowering Youth, Assuring Democracy.”

While brainstorming the points they would make in support of their given position, the students became increasingly engaged with the topic they originally were reluctant to address. Some students even observed that it was actually easier to craft arguments around the side they felt less passionately about, since they could easily imagine what problems adults might have with teenagers on the streets at night.

Articulating why they, as teenagers, deserved freedoms was harder. After speaking to Meixel and Belanger, one group struggling with the concept decided to frame their argument around the unfairness of restricting one population of people, but not others.

The idea of the exercise was to introduce the students to a forum where their ideas would be heard. Although the ordinance was not real, the format of the mock hearing was similar to real sessions at City Hall. Students assigned the role of mock city councilors had to weigh the arguments they heard and cast a vote.

The Law Day in the Schools program has a different focus every year, which lawyers go into classrooms to present to students. The lessons often involve a hands-on activity, and the program also provides an opportunity for students to interact with someone in the legal profession and ask them questions about what they do.

Meixel and Belanger teamed up for the second year in a row. In 2017, they were in an elementary school classroom, and both attorneys said it was fascinating to spend time with both groups of students and see the different ways they learn.

“These students are almost at an age where they will be able to vote in elections, which will allow their voices to have even more impact.  However, regardless of whether they are of voting age, they should feel empowered to speak up and speak out about issues for which they are passionate, because they can make a difference,”  Meixel added.

“If they take anything away, I hope it’s that there is somewhere they can go where someone will listen to them,” Belanger said. “I think we wanted to express to them that there is almost always an appropriate forum for them to voice their opinion and address changes they’d like to see, whether it’s the principal’s office, a local official, or someone in government at the state or national level.”

To see photos from our Law Day in the Schools sessions so far, please click here.

BBA Around Town: Mass. MOVA Conference & Suffolk University Career Launch Fair

The Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance (MOVA), and Attorney General Maura Healey’s office hosted their annual Victim Rights Conference last Tuesday, April 24th in what was an inspiring morning celebrating the strength and resilience of the human spirit and Boston community.  The BBA’s Lawyer Referral Service was proud to be there showing survivors of crime and other local legal services alike how we serve as a resource to connect Boston-area residents with attorneys every day.

Later in the day we were pleased to be a part of Suffolk University School of Law’s 2018 Graduate Career Launch Fair! The Career Fair gave the Class of 2018 an opportunity to gain valuable information about professional development resources, volunteer organizations, and networking opportunities available to them.

Pro Bono Spotlight: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts

When it comes to taking on an immigration case, an in-house legal department may not have the same resources at its disposal as a law firm would. But that didn’t stop Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts from taking on an innovative pro bono project that would help young undocumented immigrants in Greater Boston.

Assistant General Counsel Esty R. Lobovits proposed the program, a partnership with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), in early 2017. Since then, fifteen staff members in the company’s Law Department have collaborated with colleagues across the organization to represent six unaccompanied children in their deportation proceedings. With mentorship and training from KIND attorneys, Lobovits co-leads the initiative with Assistant General Counsel Brandon Clippinger.

An “unaccompanied child” refers to a minor who entered the country illegally and without a parent or legal guardian. Most of the children that KIND works with are intercepted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the border, at which point they are detained. The next step is for federal immigration officials to reunite the child with a relative currently living in the United States who is able to provide for the child’s basic needs. The process of identifying such a relative can become complicated if the child’s next of kin is undocumented as well.

Once the child is released, they are officially going through deportation proceedings. Lobovits, her colleagues, and their partners at KIND work to prove their clients meet the criteria to stay in the United States legally and pursue a path to citizenship.

Most commonly, that means applying for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). To qualify, the client must be under 18, must have entered the country without a parent or legal guardian, and must be a victim of abandonment, abuse or neglect in his or her home country. Another route is for the child to apply for asylum in the United States.

“It’s a lengthy process – one that starts out in state court, goes on to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services proceedings, and ends up in federal immigration court. We have KIND mentors for the cases, who can answer questions, review a document, and act as a general resource. But we are preparing all the documents and directly representing the kids in court,” Lobovits said.

Because the majority of the children KIND works with are from Central America, thoroughly preparing these cases requires English-Spanish translation. So Lobovits and her colleagues have turned to their colleagues in AZULatinx, Blue Cross Blue Shield’s employee resource group promoting diversity and inclusion for Latino/Latina employees.

“Many of our colleagues in AZULatinx are immigrants themselves or have family members that are immigrants from these countries, so they felt a close personal connection to these kids, their families and their struggle,” Lobovits said.

In the Law Department, nine lawyers, and six paralegals and administrative staff make up the five case teams that are representing six children in their proceedings. Several of these cases are currently in Probate & Family Court, the first step in a process that could take years, Lobovits said.

“Working with KIND has been a great experience.  Our clients have overcome incredibly challenging circumstances to get to where they are today, and their situation remains precarious.  This work feels so meaningful because it has the potential to help our clients achieve a future that is safer, more stable, and filled with more opportunity than they would otherwise have,” Clippinger said.

In addition to the pro bono work of Blue Cross’s legal team which Clippinger coordinates, employees company-wide are encouraged to participate in public service projects through Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Corporate Citizenship program. The numerous options for giving back include a service day, youth mentoring programs, a sabbatical program for BCBS employees to work at a nonprofit, and training to help prepare employees to serve on nonprofit boards.

“It’s really wonderful as a lawyer to be able to have an opportunity to impact a kid’s life,” Lobovits said. “It wouldn’t really be possible for these kids to have opportunities in their home countries because of what they have dealt with, and it’s especially meaningful to be able to give back to my community and improve the lives of children living right here in Greater Boston.”

Sign-Up to Provide a Boston Teen with Summer Employment

There’s still time for your organization to sign-up for the BBA’s Summer Jobs Program and provide a Boston Public School student the chance to gain professional experience and support your office’s needs. The 17 below organizations have pledged to hire at least one student in 2018 and will provide teens a stepping stone for a future career.

Brown Rudnick
DLA Piper
Chu, Ring & Hazel
Conn Kavanaugh
Foley Hoag
Hogan Lovells
Holland & Knight
Jackson Lewis
LPL Financial
Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office
Mintz Levin
Nelson Mullins
Nixon Peabody
Nutter
Proskauer
Sugarman Rogers
Verrill Dana
WilmerHale

We encourage you to contact us to find out how hiring a student can make a difference, for them and for your office! For more information on the program, please click here. If your office is interested in hiring a student this summer, please contact Cassandra Shavney at [email protected] for additional information.

Learning About the Realities of Human Trafficking

A lot of the events our Sections put on at 16 Beacon are truly eye-opening, and this week’s presentation on The Realities of Human Trafficking in Massachusetts—sponsored by the Delivery of Legal Services Section and the Boston Bar Foundation, and featuring panelists from the Polaris Project—falls into that category.

The program was hosted by Lavinia Weizel of Mintz Levin, co-chair of the BBA’s Human Trafficking Committee.  You may recall reading about Lavinia—and her co-chair (and Mintz colleague) Alec Zadekin our Issue Spot blog recently, in connection with their efforts to create a streamlined process to allow defendants to vacate convictions for offenses related to their status as trafficking survivors—a proposal the BBA Council recently endorsed.  While that issue was raised during the event, the broader focus was on the various forms of sex- and labor-trafficking that are most common in Massachusetts and specific ways that attorneys can be part of the safety net for survivors.

Our first presenter was Beth Keeley, Chief of the Human Trafficking Division in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and former head of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bureau.  She started with some recent history on the issue, dating back to the enactment in 2000 of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which strengthened pre-existing laws.

While Massachusetts was “late to the game,” passing a state law only in 2011, Keeley argued that it’s a particularly strong law, in that—with no requirement to prove force, fraud, or coercion— it’s easier to make a case.  She also said that our statute, unlike many others, puts the focus on the trafficker/exploiter’s mens rea, rather than on the mind of the victim.

The key to enforcement, Keeley stated, is to follow a multi-disciplinary approach, with prosecutors, investigators, and victim-witness advocates all on staff at AGO, working with the State Police’s dedicated trafficking unit, the District Attorneys (many of whom also have dedicated prosecutors focusing on the problem), and social-service agencies.  Her office is able to use its statewide jurisdiction to pursue defendants across counties, treating their operations as criminal enterprises in order to maximize the impact by identifying and taking down networks.

To date, AGO has mostly gone after sex-trafficking, but they are building up their enforcement in labor-trafficking.  While the former is found most often in massage parlors, brothels, and the Web, the latter shows up in construction, domestic and cleaning work, and the service sector in general.  Still, one always needs to be mindful, in any enforcement action, of the concerns of victims.  They frequently suffer from poverty, abuse, and addiction—all factors that make people vulnerable to traffickers in the first place.  And—although the law provides them with an affirmative defense, and prosecutors, starting with AG Maura Healey, have pledged not to do so—they may be fearful of being prosecuted themselves for offenses they committed, such as sex for a fee or working without documentation.

At the same time, advocates are always striving to raise public awareness of the problem, including the role that demand plays, and exploring what else can be done beyond prosecution—educating law enforcement, holding trainings, working with labor leaders, providing pro bono representation, and advocating for enhanced funding.

We next heard from Rochelle Keyhan, who leads the Polaris Project’s strategic initiative to eliminate illicit massage business (IMB) trafficking in the US, and Francheska Loza, formerly of Foley Hoag LLP and now Polaris’s Disruption Strategies Community Organizer.  Keyhan talked more about the patterns she sees, and the 25 different types of trafficking that Polaris has identified—all of which call for distinct responses.  In the IMB sector, for example, victims tend to be older women from outside the country, often undocumented—especially from China and Korea, cultures where these activities trigger high levels of shame and self-blame, making it even more difficult to come forward to law enforcement.  They frequently fear authorities, carry high debts, lack full awareness of their rights, and are under threat from their abusers.

Two other common loci are bars and strip clubs, where an excessive cover charge may be hiding the illegal activities.  Victims there tend to be younger and come from Latin America—or US-born Latinas.  As with workers in IMB, they are usually targeted based on extreme economic need, and the networks frequently have roots in Latin America.

Labor trafficking can be found in such venues as karaoke bars and nail salons.  These cases, which are often interconnected with sex trafficking, can be easier to prosecute because victims are more willing to come forward and to reveal details to investigators.

Polaris’s disruption strategy, a focus of Loza’s work, includes research, creation of a safety net for survivors, partnership with other stakeholders, and the use of culturally-competent and trauma-informed interpreters.  It’s also critical to try to find connections among survivors, for purposes of identifying networks, since trafficking operations are generally much more sophisticated than a typical pimp’s.

The methods of control used by traffickers, which are important for people to be aware of in identifying possible operations, include:

  • isolation and confinement
  • economic coercion
  • threats directed at the victim or their family
  • intimidation and abuse, including sexual/emotional abuse

So.  Armed with all this information, what can you do to help crack down on trafficking?  Some advice from our panel:

  • Buy smarter.
    • Be suspicious of cash-only businesses, very low prices for services, or when a provider is adamant about getting a large tip.
      • Victims may be receiving little or no base compensation, making it an urgent matter that they maximize the income they generate through tips.
    • Other red flags include…
      • Excessive surveillance cameras.
      • “Body work” establishments. Massage therapists must be licensed, but using this term is a way around regulation.
    • Read online reviews:
      • Many users are up-front in describing the illegal services they’ve bought.
    • Alert someone.
      • Call the property owner, the police, municipal officials, or the Polaris hotline.
    • Call your elected representatives about making the issue a priority.
      • While you’re at it, you can ask your state legislators to support vacatur for survivors.
      • At the local level, ask about strengthening ordinances, since some cities and towns lack the authority to shut down or even investigate a business
    • Take on cases pro bono.
      • Again, you may be able to help with vacatur: Even absent the BBA-endorsed streamlined approach now under consideration in the Legislature, there exists a procedure (albeit lengthy and convoluted) to vacate convictions if the defendant was under the duress of a trafficker.

Finally, watch our Issue Spot blog for updates on the progress of vacatur legislation, and keep an eye on the BBA calendar for more events on human trafficking.

—Michael Avitzur
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association

Beth Keeley (Chief of the Human Trafficking Division at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, far right) makes opening remarks at the event. She’s joined on the panel by Lavinia Weizel (Mintz Levin, BBA Human Trafficking Subcommittee Co-Chair, far left), Rochelle Keyhan and Francesca Loza (Polaris Project).

The Latest Organizations Providing Summer Employment for Teens

As we’ve been outlining the benefits of hiring a Boston public high school student to work in your legal office this summer, 16 organizations have signed up so far to hire students this year through the BBA’s Summer Jobs Program. We’re thankful for the below offices that will be providing employment to 18 teens.

Brown Rudnick
Chu, Ring & Hazel
Conn Kavanaugh
Foley Hoag
Hogan Lovells
Holland & Knight
LPL Financial
Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office
Mintz Levin
Nelson Mullins
Nixon Peabody
Nutter
Proskauer
Sugarman Rogers
Verrill Dana
WilmerHale

We encourage you to contact us to find out how hiring a student can make a difference, for them and for your office! For more information on the program, please click here. If your office is interested in providing a Boston public high school student with a meaningful professional experience in 2018, please contact Cassandra Shavney at [email protected] for additional information.

Tyeray Williams from English High School (middle) stands with his supervisors from Sugarman Rogers on his first day of work last summer.