|Salvatore F. DiMasi
The Massachusetts Bar Association this year is honoring Speaker of the House Salvatore F. DiMasi as Legislator of the Year for his long-standing commitment to the legal profession throughout his 25 years of distinguished service in the legislature.
"Those of us active in the bar association see Sal DiMasi as someone we can go to, because he is a practicing lawyer and he understands our needs and the needs of our clients," said MBA President Kathleen M. O'Donnell. "It's absolutely wonderful that we have a speaker who understands what lawyers do day in and day out."
DiMasi said he is honored to be receiving the award, which O'Donnell will present to him Friday, March 4 at the Annual Dinner as part of Annual Conference 2005.
"I am very honored they chose me as Legislator of the Year," DiMasi said. "I have been working in the legislature for many years and have served as chair of the Judiciary Committee for eight years. To have this recognition for the work I do up here is quite exhilarating and rewarding."
DiMasi has served the citizens of the commonwealth in the legislature since becoming a member of the House of Representatives in 1979. This year, he was elevated to the prominent position of Speaker of the House, following his legislative career, which includes service in numerous positions including majority leader. A defense attorney, DiMasi also has served as House chairperson of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.
MBA Acting Executive Director and General Counsel Martin W. Healy commended DiMasi for being a leader within the legislature on matters of judicial and legal concern.
"He understands legislation from a practical viewpoint, how it impacts the courts, how it affects people's lives and the practice of law," Healy said. "The MBA leadership decided we wanted to honor him in recognition of his selection by his peers as their leader as speaker. We also wanted to reaffirm our appreciation and our respect for the immense role he has played in shaping the court system and the laws throughout his tenure."
O'Donnell said it is important to recognize DiMasi because he has been a practicing lawyer. A perception among many, including lawyers, is that lawyers crowd the ranks of legislators. While that may have been true in years past, demographics have changed and fewer lawyers are serving in the state House of Representatives and state Senate.
"I don't think many people understand that, lawyers don't understand that," DiMasi said. "One thing I've noticed over the years is this job is tremendously demanding of the time and effort of many legislators. Many practicing attorneys find it difficult to be a legislator and practice law, as they did many years ago.
"What happens is you have very few people who are lawyers by profession and many by profession don't practice law."
DiMasi said this impacts the profession because fewer people are familiar with the inner workings of the court system.
"People who practice law in the courts knew the everyday workings of the court, which was necessary for funding of the courts," he said. "And it's very difficult when people come up here who are non-attorneys. They have other priorities, such as education, health care, mental health, transportation, etc., and they are not paying attention to the needs of the courts."
DiMasi said as the state continues to wrestle with a fiscal crisis it will be necessary for those want increased funding for the court system to lobby harder than ever, as the court system doesn't have a natural constituency as other issues do.
"They have to double their efforts to the non-lawyers to let them know how important it is," DiMasi said.
Other legal issues DiMasi said are on the horizon include bar advocate pay and debate on both medical malpractice and automobile insurance and its impact on litigation.