MBA Annual Dinner highlights civics initiatives; awards lawyers for their commitment to justice

Thursday, May 16, 2019 By Cameron Woodcock
Thank you to the 2019 Annual Dinner event sponsors for their help in making the event a success
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Top: 2019 MBA Annual Dinner keynote speaker Barry C. Scheck, a nationally renowned trial attorney, professor and DNA-evidence pioneer.

Second from top: In honor of Barry C. Scheck’s appearance at the 2019 MBA Annual Dinner, the MBA donated $10,000 to the New England Innocence Project. From left: New England Innocence Project Executive Director Radha Natarajan, MBA President Christopher A. Kenney, Scheck, and MBA Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W. Healy.

Third from top (from left): Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Scholarship Winner Anna Shaddae Rodriguez and MBA Vice President Denise I. Murphy.

Fourth from top (from left): MBA 2019 President’s Award Honoree Christopher P. Sullivan and MBA President Christopher A. Kenney.

Fourth from bottom (from left): MBA Secretary Grace V.B. Garcia and MBA Chief Justice Edward F. Hennessey Awardee U.S. District Court Judge Timothy S. Hillman.

Third from bottom (from left): MBA Legislator of the Year State Rep. Christopher M. Markey (D-Dartmouth) and MBA Treasurer Thomas M. Bond.

Second from bottom (from left): MBA President Christopher A. Kenney, MBA Secretary Grace V.B. Garcia, 2019 Access to Justice Pro Bono Publico Awardee Stephen A. Smith, 2019 Access to Justice Prosecutor Awardee Adrian Bispham, Douglas M. Henry of 2019 Access to Justice Pro Bono Law Firm Awardee Sherin and Lodgen LLP, 2019 Access to Justice Legal Services Awardee Luz A. Arévalo, Jessica G. Kelly of 2019 Access to Justice Pro Bono Law Firm Awardee Sherin and Lodgen LLP, 2019 Access to Justice Lifetime Achievement Awardee Judith Liben, 2019 Access to Justice Defender Awardee Tinia L. Snow, 2019 Access to Justice Rising Star Awardee Gina Plata-Nino and MBA Vice President Denise I. Murphy.

Bottom (from left): MBA Secretary Grace V.B. Garcia, MBA President Christopher A. Kenney, MBA President-elect John J. Morrissey, MBA Treasurer Thomas M. Bond, MBA Vice President Denise I. Murphy, 2019 Annual Dinner Keynote Speaker Barry C. Scheck, and MBA Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W. Healy.

The Massachusetts Bar Association celebrated a year of successful civics initiatives and honored several justice-minded lawyers as it welcomed more than 1,000 legal professionals to the Westin Boston Waterfront for the sold-out 2019 Annual Dinner on May 9. 

MBA President Christopher A. Kenney used his opening remarks to highlight the MBA’s leadership role in addressing the universal need for improved civic literacy and for greater legal representation in trial and immigration proceedings. 

On the latter front, Kenney hailed the April launch of the MBA’s two-day Trial Academy, which provided young attorneys with training in effective trial procedure and subsequent pro bono opportunities. He similarly touted the importance of an MBA-sponsored educational program where lawyers from various practice areas learned to advocate for disabled immigrants during citizenship interviews and throughout the naturalization process.

Alluding to the central theme of his presidency, Kenney said the MBA “answered the call” when the local nonprofit organization iCivics needed funding to help introduce a revamped civics curriculum in Massachusetts secondary schools. Aided by the generosity of member attorneys, law firms and affiliated companies, the MBA’s February Civics Bee raised $15,000 to support iCivics in its mission of teaching students the fundamentals of American government. 

“Thank you to the MBA Civics Task Force for the tremendous job you did this year,” Kenney said, citing the leadership of MBA Secretary Grace V.B. Garcia, who chairs the task force.

Kenney also characterized 2018-19 as a milestone year for the MBA, from the Massachusetts Law Review publishing its 100th volume to the Lawyer Referral Service and the Tiered Community Mentoring Program celebrating their 45th and 10th anniversaries, respectively.

Keynote Address

This year’s keynote speaker, Innocence Project co-founder, professor and nationally renowned trial attorney Barry C. Scheck, focused his address on the steady rise of conviction integrity units (CIUs) and the corresponding surge in exonerations. According to Scheck, Innocence Project organizations and CIUs accounted for two-thirds of all exonerations recorded in 2018, which saw the highest annual total of vacated convictions since the innocence movement began in 1989. 

Scheck said the increasing acceptance of CIUs can be traced to 2007, when newly elected Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins created the first such program in the U.S. Many other progressive district attorneys have since followed the Dallas model in establishing 44 CIUs across the country, including in Massachusetts, where the MBA is currently co-chairing a statewide working group on conviction integrity.

Since their inception, Scheck said, CIUs have sought to bring together multiple agencies in a “non-adversarial search for truth,” with plausible claims of innocence thoroughly vetted and case files reviewed for potential new evidence. Scheck also explained that innocence organizations serve a larger purpose than strictly remedying wrongful convictions, aiming instead to meet the overarching goal of protecting public safety.
“It’s not just getting innocent people out of jail. It’s finding the person who really committed the crime and coming up with reforms that minimize wrongful convictions, protect the innocent and enhance the capability of law enforcement to find the person who really committed the crime,” Scheck said.

To shed light on the innocence movement in practice, Scheck shared the inspiring story of recent Louisiana exoneree Archie Williams, who served 36 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of rape and attempted murder. An Innocence Project client since 1995, when he first sent Scheck a written plea for legal assistance, Williams was released in March based on previously blocked DNA evidence linking another man to the crime. 

For Scheck, this case underscores the need for continued reforms to forensic science and eyewitness identification procedures, both of which contributed to Williams’ original conviction in 1983. Along those lines, he applauded Massachusetts for establishing an independent Forensic Science Commission as part of its criminal justice reform efforts, but stressed that the state must work to implement “sound science” practices in lieu of focusing solely on the Amherst drug lab scandal.

Prior to the keynote address, MBA President-elect John J. Morrissey announced that the MBA will donate $10,000 to the New England Innocence Project in honor of Scheck’s appearance at this year’s Annual Dinner.


Earlier in the evening, the MBA celebrated the accomplishments of the following honorees, who were recognized for their proven commitment to justice and their selfless service to the legal profession:

  • Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Scholarship: Anna Shaddae Rodriguez, Northeastern University School of Law
  • President's Award: Christopher P. Sullivan, Robins Kaplan LLP
  • Chief Justice Edward F. Hennessey Award: Hon. Timothy S. Hillman, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts 
  • Legislator of the Year: Rep. Christopher M. Markey (D-Dartmouth)
  • Prosecutor Award: Adrian Bispham, Suffolk County District Attorney's Office
  • Pro Bono Publico Award: Stephen A. Smith, Law Office of Stephen Smith
  • Legal Services Award: Luz A. Arévalo, Greater Boston Legal Services
  • Defender Award: Tinia L. Snow, Committee for Public Counsel Services
  • Rising Star Award: Gina Plata-Nino, Central West Justice Center
  • Pro Bono Award for Law Firms: Sherin and Lodgen LLP, Boston
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Judith Liben, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

Click here to view 2019 Annual Dinner Reception photos by Eric Haynes.

Click here to view 2019 Annual Dinner photos by Jeff Thiebauth.

The MBA thanks its 2019 Annual Dinner sponsors, including: