The 11th Annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid
received a boost moments before it began this year when Gov. Deval
Patrick publicly announced that his fiscal 2011 state budget
included level funding for legal services.
Following a press conference at the Statehouse, Patrick paid a
surprise visit to the Great Hall and addressed the
standing-room-only crowd of legal aid supporters.
"I apologize for crashing the party, but I just wanted to come
by and tell you how much I appreciate you being here," Patrick
said. "Everybody in this room shares, as I do, a commitment to
doing everything we can for people for whom access to justice isn't
The governor told the crowd of hundreds that his budget plan
calls for legal services to be level-funded at $9.5 million. The
House and Senate will vote on their own versions of the budget in
the coming months. A compromise measure will then be sent to the
"I want you to use today to fight for it," Patrick told the
audience of his legal aid budget. "In government, there are
multiple bottom lines … There are human, individual bottom lines,
and they count too."
The state's recent economic troubles have resulted in plummeting
revenue for civil legal aid. Income from the Interest on Lawyers'
Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program has dropped 63 percent since fiscal
2008. On top of that, that civil legal aid budget line item was
reduced from $11 million in fiscal 2009 to $9.5 million in fiscal
"At the core of our ability to meet the needs for legal
assistance is funding at the state level," said Massachusetts Bar
Association President-elect Denise Squillante. "Such funding will
help ensure appropriate legal counsel regardless of the economic
barriers Massachusetts citizens may face."
Squillante spoke at the event along with Boston Bar Association
President John J. Regan, who said that need is even greater now as
the state and country deal with an intense recession. Requests for
legal aid are up 25 to 40 percent.
"Our courts are full of low-income people with critical legal
needs who attempt to navigate the legal process themselves," Regan
Eligibility for legal aid is set at 125 percent of the federal
poverty level, which is equivalent to $530 a week for a family of
The gathering heard a moving speech from a former legal aid
client whose attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services won a
precedent-setting decision, which ruled that caretakers of children
with disabilities may search for part-time work without affecting
their eligibility for unemployment benefits.
"I knew I had to make a choice between my work and my family,"
said Carmelita T. of Mattapan, who requested that her full last
name not be used. When Carmelita realized there was no option of
part-time work at her job, she quit to care for her 7-year-old
daughter, who was diagnosed with emotional and psychological
"The greatest change is in my daughter," Carmelita said, her
voice cracking as she spoke. "She is happy child now."
The event - co-sponsored by the Equal Justice Coalition, MBA,
BBA and 29 local and specialty bar associations - culminated with
legal aid advocates visiting their legislators and asking that they
protect funding for civil legal aid in the fiscal 2011 budget.