Lawyers Journal

White sets sights on reforming criminal sentencing, environmental practices for 2007-08 agenda

MBA President David W. White Jr., whose term begins Sept. 1, has focused on reforming criminal sentencing and the legal profession's environmental practices as his two main priorities for the 2007-08 term, whose theme is "Speaking with One Voice."

White, a principal at Breakstone, White & Gluck PC in Boston, is a personal injury lawyer with more than 20 years of experience. Despite his focus on civil law, White is making criminal sentencing reform his primary goal this year.

A Criminal Sentencing Symposium has been scheduled for Oct. 23 at the Statehouse.

"My biggest priority for the year is working on criminal sentencing reform in Massachusetts. There's no question that criminal sentencing in Massachusetts is not working. People who are incarcerated are not getting rehabilitated at all."

Many of those in jail are there for drug and alcohol charges, but aren't given access to badly needed treatment, White said.

"We're talking about changes that would increase treatment, education and training, increase opportunities for parole," he said, while also increasing supervision after release.

With limited resources for or emphasis on reform and supervised release, there's no incentive to parole prisoners, White said.

"It's not just providing supervision, it's also providing support," he said, and that leads to unacceptably high recidivism rates.

"We've pretty much guaranteed that a person will commit another crime when they get out," he said.
In addition to reforming a badly broken system, White says there are financial considerations, as well. He estimates that it will cost $1 in reform expenses to save $7 currently spent on incarceration.
"You're saving a lot of money. At the same time, you're rebuilding families, rebuilding communities. It's a win-win-win situation," White said, adding, "We spend more on criminal justice than public education."

While the public generally favors criminal justice reform, White said, the Legislature is wary of facing vehement objections in the public and the press, even if those voices are in the minority.
White is also concerned about reforming the Criminal Offender Record Information system because requests for the CORI status of prospective teachers, coaches and employees is growing unabated, but those requesting the records often find the information confusing. For example, White said, an employer may not realize the distinction between a prospective employee who's been found guilty and one who's been arrested but cleared of all charges.

"Employers look at CORIs and they're very difficult to read," White said, suggesting also that CORI reports should be limited after a period of years with no criminal activity. "I believe in the basic good of people, that most people can be rehabilitated. Obviously, some people will never be rehabilitated, but I'm not talking about serial killers and rapists. It's a critical time to face these questions. I believe society is ready to move forward on these questions."

Making it easier to be green

The second priority has nothing to do with rewriting laws or enforcing statutes, but White feels strongly that the environment is a pressing issue on which the legal profession needs to not only reform, but also lead the way.

This year, the MBA will issue an "Eco-Challenge" to the legal community in Massachusetts.
"The earth is at a crossroads. Human pollution is causing significant climate challenges," he said. "The generation right behind us is going to be significantly impacted unless we do something. We have to change that culture. The business of law can be an example of how businesses can be run efficiently and effectively."

"I believe that law firms in Massachusetts can be leaders in the nation in the implementation of recycling," White said. "There are so many ways that lawyers can change simple habits and affect the amount of energy they're using."

Whether it's turning lamps off at the end of the day, installing energy-efficient equipment and light bulbs, and recycling/reducing paper, White sees room for tremendous energy savings.

"If a firm is buying new computers or a new refrigerator, they need to make an energy-conscious choice," he said. Likewise, he said, if a firm is building new offices, they should achieve certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. (LEED is the Green Building Rating System certified for energy efficiency.)

"Everybody should be doing it, and there's no reason lawyers shouldn't be taking the lead. It's also good for the image of lawyers."

The details of the Eco-Challenge are still being decided, but White has high hopes for making an impact, starting with the MBA's staff and offices at 20 West St. in Boston and 73 State St. in Springfield.

"We look forward to challenging law firms across the state to be the most energy conscious," he said.

"Massachusetts has a real chance to be the national leader in this effort," he said. "Conservation is critical to slowing demand for electricity. Sensible conservation will also allow the time to develop alternative resources."

So far, the only other state bar association making an environmental effort is Oregon's, White said.

Other areas of focus

In addition to criminal sentencing reform and the Eco-Challenge, White said he will continue to maintain the MBA's strong relationship with the judiciary. That will include a collaborative effort with the courts on establishing plain English jury instructions, which MBA Treasurer Valerie A. Yarashus will co-chair on the MBA's behalf.

"Effective communication with jurors is critical to having an effective system of justice," White said.
White says plans are underway to enhance member services, including creating a Web-based, interactive forum that "will be a way for our members to get instant access to the wisdom of the rest of the membership."

He is hopeful that the forum will serve as an additional measure to increase interaction between the MBA's leaders and its members.

White wants members to let him and the other leaders know what they want from the MBA.

"We're looking for ideas, so I hope members come forward with their ideas on how to make the MBA an even stronger organization," he said.

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