Lawyers Journal

Lt. Gov. Murray addresses HOD, Hon. Fein gets Toomey Award

The final House of Delegates meeting of the 2009-10 year featured an address by Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray, the presentation of the Daniel F. Toomey Award to Judge Dina Fein and changes to the MBA bylaws. The meeting was held May 19 at the Dedham Hilton.

Also, it was the first time the president's gavel was passed from one woman to another, from President Valerie A. Yarashus to President-elect Denise Squillante.

Yarashus drew upon the association's history as it prepares for its centennial celebration in the 2010-11 association year. She noted that when the MBA was incorporated, the motto of "fiat justitia" - "let justice be done" - was chosen.

"That has been the business of this association for the last 100 years," said Yarashus, who then listed a number of the MBA's accomplishments this year, including the launch of MBA OnDemand, the work of the Bylaw Committee, the return of the Annual Conference, the Diversity Task Force's Tiered Mentoring Program, the completion of the "Crisis in Court Funding Task Force" and lobbying on behalf of issues like court funding and sentencing reform.

Lieutenant governor addresses delegates

Yarashus introduced Murray by noting that she had first met him when he was still a practicing attorney.

"Lt. Gov. Murray is respected not just here, but nationally," she said.

Murray thanked Yarashus for her leadership and General Counsel and Acting Executive Director Martin W. Healy for his work with the Legislature on significant reforms. Murray acknowledged the stresses that the state's budget crisis is having on the court system.

"I know what the budget cuts have meant for the courts," he told the audience, noting that it was important for legal services to remain level funded. He also said that efforts were being made to address the compensation for private counsel and salaries and funding for the Committee for Public Counsel Services.

A number of important issues were being debated, he said, including a $25 million supplemental budget, casinos legislation and a crime package that includes reforming the Criminal Offender Registration Information, or CORI, system, and limiting a person's ability to purchase a gun to one a month.

"We know that CORI is not working as it was originally conceived," Murray said, adding that reform is "absolutely essential" for both employers and employees. "By improving the re-entry of ex-offenders into society, we'll help the state."

Fein presented Toomey Award

In introducing Fein, Yarashus said, "Her judgment is extraordinary, and she knows how to turn goals into action."

Fein said she was honored to receive the award, especially since she had served with Toomey. She also noted that she sees Murray as "a kindred spirit" cognizant of the challenges facing the court system.

"I really get the sense that he is one of us, a man who tries to find real solutions for real people," she said.

Fein explained her role as the special advisor on Access to Justice Initiatives and as a member of the Access to Justice Commission (see May Lawyers Journal for more information). She said that it's important to "examine the work of the courts through the access to justice lens" and make as many improvements as possible without any significant spending.

Already, she said, the Access to Justice Initiative is using a survey of court personnel last year to create a manual that helps explain to clerks the difference between providing legal help and legal advice, making uniform, multi-lingual forms that will be available online, planning for a pilot self-help center in the Brooke Courthouse in Boston and expanding Limited Assistance Representation programs in the Trial Courts.

The survey, she said, "charted a road map for the work going forward."

Bylaw changes

The MBA's Governance Committee won approval for extensive bylaw changes, the first comprehensive overhaul in years, said Chairman Warren Fitzgerald, who served as president in the 2005-06 year. "We've essentially gone through them from front to back," he said.

The new bylaws formalize the existence of the Budget and Finance Committee, and creates an Audit Committee, which will be made up of three MBA members who are not on the EMB or the Budget and Finance Committee.

The revision also formally establishes that HOD is responsible for the MBA's public and policy positions, while the Executive Management Board (EMB) is responsible for day-to-day operations. EMB will also increase its number of meetings to eight times a year.

"We believe that with eight meetings a year, EMB will have its finger on the pulse of the association," Fitzgerald said.

There were several "friendly" amendments adopted, but one amendment proposed by Past President David W. White was rejected. It would have limited the number of people the president can appoint to the EMB from four to two, arguing that "the president's ability to shape the EMB should have limitations."

Region 7 Delegate Lee J. Gartenberg spoke against the amendment, saying the four appointments granted to the president would not overwhelm the other 17 positions on the EMB. "It doesn't unduly give the president input into the composition of the EMB," he said. President-elect Denise Squillante also spoke against the amendment, which was overwhelmingly voted down.

After the overall bylaw changes were unanimously adopted, members praised the work of the Governance Committee.

"I was really gratified with their willingness to listen to comments and criticisms," Gartenberg said, noting that not all of his suggestions were incorporated. "I appreciated their level of receptivity."

Fitzgerald called it "the most rewarding committee I've worked on."

Yarashus said she was "thrilled" with the changes. "I believe we now are in the best possible position as a bar
association as we head into our centennial celebration."

HOD adopts, lauds "Crisis in Court Funding" report

Delegates unanimously approved the "Crisis in Court Funding Task Force" 11-page report, which documents compelling stories of the hardships imposed by the cuts of millions of dollars to the court system over the last year. It was initiated by Yarashus as a companion to a recent Boston Bar Association report compiling statistics to illustrate the effects of the budget cuts.

The MBA report, which was co-authored by Sheldon C. Toplitt and Task Force Chair Martin F. Kane II, highlights stories of overcrowding, delays in seeking restraining orders and threats of physical danger because courts are severely understaffed.

"It was the goal to go beyond the budget numbers and put a human face on the court funding crisis," Toplitt said.

Peter T. Elikann, chair of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Section, said he was struck by the examples cited in the report. "It shows the absolute tragedy that happens to people."

Delegates unanimously accepted the report, and Squillante said she intends to continue documenting the impact of court budget cuts.

Yarashus passes president's gavel to Squillante

In looking toward the coming association year, Yarashus praised Squillante's impact on the MBA in recent years, including being a leading family law advocate, initiating the Lawyers in Transition program and helping create the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Section.

"Denise has had a hand in shaping the modern history of the Mass. Bar," she said, pointing out that this was the first time a woman had passed the gavel to another woman in the MBA's history.

Squillante thanked the other recent past presidents, then told Yarashus, "You've handled your leadership with grace. We have many, many challenges ahead. We all need to work together to face these challenges, and Valerie, you've set us on a path to do this together."

Officer and legislative reports

In her president-elect report, Squillante told the delegates she expects to have section council chairs appointed by June and hold section council training on July 15. She also mentioned that alimony reform "is on its way," that planning is underway for the MBA's centennial celebration, and that the MBA is hoping to work with the Massachusetts Medical Society on issues like reducing teenage murder through legislation.

In his treasurer's report, Treasurer Robert L. Holloway Jr. informed the delegates that the MBA did not have to use reserves this year, which it did the previous year, and while membership is down, revenue was up slightly because of dues increases.

"It's fair to say we're a much leaner organization," he said, adding that operating revenue was down, but expenses were also down. "We are on budget, and in fact, a little ahead of budget. I'm pleased with where we're at - it's been a group effort."

In his legislative report, Healy said, "I'm pleased to report that the court (budget) numbers look a little better," noting that the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp. (MLAC) looked like a safe bet to be level-funded.

Healy noted that the Senate budget brought funding for the Trial Courts back to $543 million, but emphasized, "The fight's not over," as the Senate and House of Representatives prepare to go into conference committee to resolve disparities.

Unfortunately, Healy said, it appears that sentencing reform - an initiative started under former MBA President David W. White in 2007 - would not include mandatory minimum sentencing reform, as the MBA had hoped for. However, it does still include CORI reform, which was good news, he said.

Delegates also unanimously approved a request from the Probate Law Section Council to support legislation regarding estate tax. Section Co-Chair Janice C. Nigro said the pending bill will provide relief for thousands of Massachusetts residents with existing estate plans containing formulas based on federal estate tax exemption amounts.

"Congress' failure to act has created havoc with countless wills and trusts" made before 2010, Nigro said.

Delegates unanimously approved supporting the legislation.

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