Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Ralph D. Gants joined
more than 500 people in calling for adequate legal aid funding at
the Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid on Feb. 22 at the
Statehouse's Great Hall of Flags.
The annual event calls on legislators to protect state funding for
programs providing civil legal aid to low-income Massachusetts
residents. This year's Walk to the Hill marked the first time a
sitting justice on the SJC attended. As co-chair of the
Massachusetts Access to Justice Initiative, Gants made a plea to
the governor and lawmakers to provide justice for all.
Massachusetts Bar Association President-elect Richard P. Campbell
told the overflow crowd, "As we make strides [in providing access
to justice], it's frustrating that resources continue to fall
short. In the long road to passing a budget, please remind
legislators that it's their constituents who face foreclosure and
who face court orders."
Advocates have been encouraged by Gov. Deval Patrick's decision,
in the midst of ongoing economic difficulties, to recommend level
funding of $9.5 million for Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp.
this coming fiscal year. State funding is more critical than ever,
as a 66 percent decrease in revenue from the Interest on Lawyers'
Trust Accounts program (IOLTA) since 2008 has taken its toll, as
has a 55 percent cut in grants to legal aid programs by MLAC during
Natasha Torres, an MLAC client, told of her battle to keep the
Oxford home she and her mother bought in 2005.
Torres, who uses a wheelchair, had difficulty finding a suitable
apartment, so when a real estate agency suggested they buy their
own home, it seemed like a good idea. Massachusetts Rehab helped
them make the house handicapped-accessible. However, eight months
after the purchase, her mother was laid off. The two sought loan
modification assistance from the lender, to no avail. After her
mother found another job and Torres found a part-time job, they
received notice that the house would be put up for auction. They
sought help from MLAC.
An attorney from MLAC has so far kept them in the home. Along the
way, their mortgage lender went bankrupt and they had to re-file
loan modification papers a second time. The family's economic
situation has improved considerably, but they now await federal
"We have never needed you more than we do now," said Robert Sable,
executive director of Greater Boston Legal Services in his remarks
to the Walk to the Hill audience. "This is the worst fiscal crisis
I have seen in 20 years."
For every client such as Torres who has received help, Sable said,
the agency turns two away. Level funding won't take care of that
shortfall, but without it, it will be much worse, he said.
Walk to the Hill is sponsored by the Equal Justice
Coalition, Massachusetts Bar Association and Boston Bar
Association, and it is co-sponsored by 30 county and specialty bar