SJC taps Housing Court Judge Fein to
Massachusetts in July joined a
handful of other states whose Supreme Judicial Courts are taking a
hard look at access to justice. The SJC created a new position of
special advisor for access to justice initiatives and named Housing
Court Judge Dina Fein as the first titleholder.
Only three other states have
statewide access to justice or pro bono initiatives created by the
courts of last resort, according to the American Bar Association.
They are the Alaska Supreme Court Fairness and Access
Implementation Committee, the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice
and the Vermont Access to Justice Coalition. Many other states,
Massachusetts included, have separate access to justice
commissions. Still others have state pro bono programs, as well as
foundations and bar-based
committees focusing on broad access to justice issues.
"Access to justice for all - fair
and impartial justice before an independent judiciary - is a
crucial dimension of democracy itself. Massachusetts is among the
leading states fully committed to act on the fundamental principle
that every resident who seeks justice will have meaningful access
to our courts," SJC Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall said. "Judge
Fein is uniquely qualified by talent, commitment and experience to
… build on the judiciary's many successful initiatives to keep our
courthouses open to all."
The SJC created this new position,
in large part, because of the greater need for access to justice in
a struggling economy, according to the court. SJC Senior Staff
Attorney Sandra Lundy will serve as deputy advisor. Fein and Lundy
took on their new responsibilities on June 15.
Fein, who will report to Chief
Justice for Administration and Management Robert A. Mulligan, is
charged with guiding and coordinating the Trial Court to broaden
access to justice for all, including self-represented litigants,
persons with low income, those with limited or no English
proficiency and individuals with mental and/or physical
disabilities. Fein is expected to develop long- and short-range
goals, statewide strategies and best practices to accomplish those
"As a practical matter, our approach
will be multifaceted, and is likely to focus on a range of
opportunities over time," Fein said. Those include "using
technology and self-help materials to increase meaningful access
for self-represented litigants; expanding on existing pro bono and
limited assistance representation programs to increase those
situations in which a litigant has access to a lawyer; and
fostering collaboration with public and private agencies in ways
that benefit litigants who appear before the courts."
There is no deadline for the
initiative, said Fein, who added she does not imagine implementing
a single plan. Instead, she said, the courts are committed to
examining its work "through the access to justice lens, on an
ongoing basis." The end result will likely include practical ways
to reduce barriers to justice for underserved groups.
"I can tell you, based on my initial
conversations with people across the system, that there is a deep
reservoir of commitment to this cause, such that I think the public
will see real progress in relative short order," Fein said.
As special advisor for access to
justice initiatives, Fein will work closely with judges, court
personnel, the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission, bar
associations, legal service organizations, law firms, law schools
and many others.
"Difficult economic times provide a
greater incentive to expand partnerships with the bar and community
organizations to ensure access to justice for all citizens,"
Mulligan said. "The Trial Court will benefit from Judge Fein's able
assistance to achieve better use of existing resources, consistent
replication of best practices already in place, and ongoing
accomplishments to assure our progress in this important area."
The first step in the process
entails Fein and Lundy developing an inventory of the access to
justice programs and resources already in place, with the intent of
identifying those that work best and can be replicated throughout
the court system, Fein said. They are also reaching out to those
both inside and outside the courts to determine what are the most
pressing needs and how best to tackle those issues. Fein encourages
anyone interested in collaborating on this project to reach out to
"We are absolutely delighted to hear
from anyone who is interested in working on this initiative," Fein
said. "As we all know, there's plenty to do, and significant
progress will depend in large part on harnessing the energy that is
out there waiting to be tapped."
Appointed to the bench in 1999, Fein
is currently the first justice of the Housing Court, Western
Division, where she will continue to sit part time. She is a member
of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission and was formerly
a member of the Massachusetts State Planning Board for Civil Legal
Services. An adjunct professor at Western New England College
School of Law, Fein currently teaches a course on access to
Lundy was the staff member for the SJC's Steering Committee on
Self-Represented Litigants, chaired by Appeals Court Judge Cynthia
J. Cohen. In addition to her new assignment as deputy advisor,
Lundy will continue in her role as senior staff attorney at the