The New York Times Editorial Board recently gave their input on the issue of giving former inmates a fair shot when they leave prison, in a weekend editorial entitled “Labels Like ‘Felon’ Are an Unfair Life Sentence.” Their stance is evident from the headline, but the piece makes a series of compelling arguments for making it easier for convicts to rejoin society.
At the BBA, we run a series of workshops on civil legal issues through the BBA Reentry Education Program to help make probationers aware of the resources available to them. In light of the Times piece, we caught up with Lizbeth Ginsberg from Greater Boston Legal Services, who recently led a BBA Reentry Education Program session with participants in the CHOICE program on public benefits.
CHOICE is an intensive probation supervision program in the Roxbury Division of the Boston Municipal Court. CHOICE offers young adult probationers the opportunity to pursue either educational or vocational goals as an alternative to incarceration.
Here is what Ginsberg had to say:
“I think it is important to do outreach to folks dealing with re-entry issues to give them information about benefits for which they may be eligible and which may provide critical support. I was also glad to see that some of the Committee for Public Counsel Services attorneys were very engaged and asking questions. My hope is that they’ll hold onto the information for future clients so that it might benefit other folks in addition to the CHOICE participants who were there for the presentation.”
Later this month, volunteer attorneys will hold a workshop on finding affordable housing for federal probationers who have recently left prison.
The BBA Tax Exempt Organizations Section’s annual Charitable Board Service Workshop always draws a crowd, and this year was no exception.
The day was broken into two panels, the first of which discussed different types of board membership and traits that are desirable in a board member. The heads of three local nonprofits shared insights about the importance of an organization’s mission, how various boards are composed and what the role of a charitable board typically entails.
After lunch, attorneys who serve on boards of local charitable organizations spoke about their responsibilities. Nora Mann, Deputy Division Chief of the Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division of the Attorney General’s Office, spoke about compliance issues, including appropriate documentation and filing tax forms.
Attendees were urged to check out the 17th Annual Board Connection hosted by the United Way on May 12 from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Click here for more information.
The BBA is all about giving members an opportunity to give back to the community as attorneys, using their expertise in the legal profession to benefit those who need it. But we also love to see them give back simply as Bostonians, like this group of attorneys did at the Annual Charles River Cleanup.
Kate Swartz, Co-Chair of the New Lawyer’s Section Public Service Committee, said the turnout was great and all of the attorneys had a great time clearing trash and debris from the banks of the Charles.
Volunteers from the BBA New Lawyers Section and Environmental Law Section, as well as the South Asian Bar Association of Greater Boston made up the team. Over 3,000 volunteers participated in all, from organizations based all over the city.
If you are interested in upcoming volunteer opportunities, check out these events:
On April 13th, Lon Povich, Governor Baker’s Chief Legal Counsel, and Sharon Shelfer Casey, Executive Director and Deputy Legal Counsel of the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) addressed the BBA’s Public Interest Leadership Program. The JNC is a non-partisan, non-political Commission composed of volunteers from across the Massachusetts that have been appointed by the Governor. Historically, the JNC established through executive order, and the present JNC was established though Governor Baker’s Executive Order No. 558.
Mr. Povich and Ms. Shelfer Casey provided an in-depth description of the history of the JNC though various administrations, the minimum qualifications for various judgeships, and the application process for a judgeship. A key point that Mr. Povich made throughout the meeting was that of the immense amount of time and effort it takes on the part of the JNC to review applications. While nominated by the Governor, the JNC is a volunteer commission, and Ms. Shelfer Casey noted it is not unusual for the time commitment to be upward of ten hours per week. They ended the discussion with some insights to the nominating process in the upcoming months with the unprecedented number of vacancies expected in the Supreme Judicial Court.
The BBA would like to sincerely thank Lon Povich and Sharon Shelfer Casey for taking the time to speak to our PILP class!
To best serve clients that are noncitizens seeking post-conviction relief, lawyers need to combine skills typically associated with different kinds of practice. There’s dealing with evidence – a skill crafted by going to trial – as well as an in-depth knowledge of the appeals process and how it might work in a client’s favor.
At a recent program, CPCS’s Benjamin Selman and Laura Mannion, from Banwarth & Associates, spoke to a room full of attorneys about common issues faced by noncitizens with criminal convictions, and the unique paths lawyers take to post-conviction relief in such cases. They focused on seeking a new trial for the convicted individual. Mannion cited lack of knowledge about the American judicial system and inadequate access to legal counsel as factors that work against noncitizens in court.
Mannion and Selman spoke about proving that “justice may not have been done” during the original trial, which is the language used in Massachusetts Criminal Procedure Rule 30(b). They went over strategies to prove that the client did not receive justice, such as arguing that certain pieces of evidence should not have been admitted, or that the outcome of the trial would almost certainly have been different if the attorneys involved had not made errors.
Are you interested in other programs related to immigration? Check out these upcoming programs below:
Last week, eight BBA members joined a group of other volunteers at the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) to pitch in sorting and packaging food.
The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) is the largest hunger-relief organization in New England, and among the largest food banks in the country. Last year, they distributed more than 54 million pounds of food, enough to provide healthy meals to over 500,000 people
The GBFB also sees over 25,000 volunteers annually. Some help sort the food, like the BBA group did, while others help distribute the food to agencies and individuals and families who need it.
We are grateful to the GBFB for having us! Our volunteers had an amazing experience. If you are interested in more volunteer opportunities with the BBA, here is what we have coming up:
Legal Services organizations need attorneys. Attorneys looking for pro bono work need the time and resources to complete it. One way to bridge that gap is to recruit retired lawyers into partnering with legal services organizations on important projects related to improving access to justice.
That’s how the Access to Justice Fellows Program was born.
A program run by the Lawyers Clearinghouse in collaboration with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Access to Justice Commission, the Access to Justice Fellows Program pairs attorneys who have retired or are approaching retirement with organizations who need their services.
Here’s a snapshot of their five years of pro bono work, which Program Director Mia Friedman presented at a panel on the program hosted by the BBA’s Delivery of Legal Services section this week:
7 fellows participated during the program’s first year
19 fellows are now active in the Access to Justice Fellows program
55 fellows have participated in the program over five years
They have completed at least 40,000 hours of legal work
Program Director Mia Friedman said most of the attorneys who participate choose to stay with their project for longer than the mandatory commitment of one year. The work done by attorneys in the program varies greatly, from immigration and tax-related matters to probate and family cases. They work for 10-20 hours per week with the organization to which they volunteer their services.
“One of the important aspects of the program is the monthly lunches” where attorneys in the program get together, Friedman said. “It has developed into this wonderful exchange of ideas and a real sense of community between the fellows.”
On Tuesday, Probate and Family Court Chief Justice Angela Ordoñez greeted attendees at a Limited Assistance Representation (LAR) workshop aimed at preparing attorneys to represent clients on a limited basis in a probate or family law case.
LAR is a useful tool for clients who might not otherwise have access to legal representation. Rather than paying a large sum as a retainer, they can hire an attorney for one particular motion or hearing, after which the parties can choose to go their separate ways or draft another agreement concerning the next steps.
The only problem with LAR, Chief Justice Ordoñez said, is that not enough people know they have access to it.
“Let people spread the word to their friends, their cousins, their family and all of that. If you spread the word about LAR, you’ll help the court, you’ll help the client and you’ll help yourselves. I see people every day who have no idea what LAR is,” she said.
Panelists Ilene Mitchell (Probate and Family Court Administrative Office) and Laura Unflat (The Law Office of Laura M. Unflat) spoke to attendees about their experience practicing LAR and answered questions about cases that the attorneys in the audience were already working on.
If you’re interested in learning more about LAR, including how to get certified to practice, our next training on April 28 will focus on LAR in the Boston Municipal and District Courts. Click here to learn more.
Last week, we wrapped up a three-part series of pro bono trainings geared toward helping to build the first ever low-income taxpayer pro bono panel of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School and Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS).
Over the course of the series, attorneys learned about the IRS collections timeline, a client’s right to due process, and the best tactics for removing levies and liens. They also learned about working out payment agreements and other alternatives to full collection of back taxes, and how to best resolve a dispute stemming from an audit.
Expert attorneys as well as IRS representatives made up the panels for these trainings. Over the course of three programs, over 35 attorneys and tax professionals signed on to work with the low-income taxpayer pro bono panel.
We reached out to Keith Fogg, the Director of the Federal Tax Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, and Luz Arevalo, a senior attorney at GBLS, to ask about the major takeaways of the program.
“Legal representation for all taxpayers most obviously helps the taxpayer represented, but it also serves as a check that improves our system of taxation. Working families will avoid much frustration and heartache if they respond promptly and correctly to a tax audit notice. Having an advocate involved early in the process will often translate into quick resolutions of the case.
I believe a paramount principle in taxation is Fairness. This principle is preserved by insuring access to legal representation.”
“An important takeaway from the most recent training is that the failure to respond to notices from the IRS or the MA Department of Revenue leads to dire consequences including not only a debt but also the loss of a driver’s license or a passport. The government has created a process of auditing that is very automated and efficient for them. Low income taxpayers, who will frequently shrink from responding out of fear of the unknown, need resources to assist them in responding and working with the system. The National Taxpayer Advocate for the IRS has developed statistics showing much higher rates of success by represented taxpayers in the audit process. The program sought to encourage and enable representatives provide much needed pro bono assistance.
As a new clinic and as a clinic partnering with GBLS, it is important for Harvard to co-host this program in order to help build a cadre of representatives willing and prepared to assist our clients when we reach capacity to assist them with the resources available in our clinic.”
Meredith R. Douglas
Maude Laroche-St. Fleur
Evelyn Venables Moreno
Ryan Takeo Sakoda
Elizabeth Julia Smith