Lawyers e-Journal

Thursday, Jul. 7, 2011
Image for Legislative News
From left to right: MBA's Standing Committee on Bar Advocates Chair Edward P. Ryan Jr., MBA President Denise Squillante, Committee for Public Counsel Services Chief Counsel Anthony Benedetti and Chief Operating Officer and Chief Legal Counsel Martin W. Healy address bar advocate representatives at a Feb. 7 meeting. Photo by Tricia Oliver.

Legislative News

State budget advances to Gov. Patrick’s desk

Last Friday, the Legislature enacted the $30.6 billion FY12 state budget. The product of weeks of deliberation by a conference committee composed of members of both branches, the FY12 budget provides pros and cons for the court system and other legal services-related entities.

Trial Court

The FY12 budget funds the trial court at $519.8 million, far below the FY11 operating budget of $544.1 million and $85.3 million below the FY09 appropriation. The courts are already faced with a continuing hiring freeze and are down over 1,000 positions since October 2008. Court leadership continues to aggressively pursue every avenue where cost savings can be achieved. Rank and file judges have forsaken pay by voluntarily participating in a pay furlough. The impacts of this latest blow further deplete the courts of already inadequate funding and resources.

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation was level funded at $9.5 million for FY12.

Committee for Public Counsel Services

The FY12 budget calls for 25 percent of indigent criminal defense cases to be assigned to Committee for Public Counsel Services staff, while the remaining 75 percent will be assigned to private counsel. This is a far cry from Gov. Deval Patrick's proposal to shift to a system where 100 percent of cases would be assigned to CPCS staff and case assignments to private counsel would be eliminated. The MBA has long been a supporter of private bar advocates in Massachusetts and has been an outspoken opponent of the governor's proposal. The MBA will continue to fight for the preservation of the Massachusetts private counsel system, which is a nationally recognized model for the delivery of defense counsel.

The FY12 budget also changes the annual cap at which private attorneys can accept new assignments from 1,400 to 1,350 hours and lowers annual billable hours from 1,800 to 1,650.

Additionally, the budget mandates an interagency agreement between the Probation Department and the Department of Revenue regarding indigency verification.

The FY12 budget now awaits action by Gov. Patrick.

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