Swearing-In, Social Justice Resolutions Highlight First House of Delegates Meeting

Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020
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Top: Massachusets Supreme Judicial Court Justice Frank M. Gaziano administers the presidential oath of office to Denise I. Murphy.

Bottom: Massachusetts Bar Association President Denise I. Murphy addresses the House of Delegates at its Sept. 23 meeting.

The Massachusetts Bar Association's House of Delegates (HOD) took positions on several items of business, including adopting resolutions related to police reform and parenting legislation, at the first HOD meeting of the MBA’s 2020-21 membership year on Wednesday, Sept. 23.

MBA President-elect Thomas M. Bond began the meeting with a moment of silence in honor of the recently departed Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Following a warm introduction by Bond, and with several members of her family present, MBA President Denise I. Murphy was ceremonially sworn into office by Supreme Judicial Court Justice Frank Gaziano, who continued the tradition established a few years ago by Chief Justice Gants.

Murphy acknowledged Chief Justice Gants in her President’s Report, where she spoke about her goal of improving the well-being of the profession. Murphy, whom Gants appointed as co-chair of the SJC's Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being, said: "I feel him with us now in my heart and in my resolve to carry out his mission to ensure that attorneys have the resources and the options to manage the trauma and stresses of working in this profession.  … With his voice echoing in our thoughts, we at the MBA say to you, you are not alone."

Emphasizing her commitment to enhancing the MBA’s role as an ally to lawyers from diverse backgrounds, Murphy announced that the MBA has dropped its prior restriction against non-members speaking at MBA events in order to encourage greater involvement by others. She also asked each section counsel to appoint a liaison to the newly created MBA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, to help ensure that each MBA conference or seminar will be diverse this year. Section council leaders were asked to appoint liaisons to the MBA’s Well-Being Committee, as well. 

"We live in these COVID times, but this pandemic will not deter our goals," Murphy said. "We will improve the lives and well-being of all of us who work so hard for the benefit of others."

HOD Endorsements

HOD members then took up several items of business, beginning with the report from the Police Reform Working Group (PRWG), a collaboration of the MBA’s Criminal Justice and Civil Rights & Social Justice section councils, in cooperation with the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association and the Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys, which is comprised of defense attorneys, prosecutors, civil rights attorneys and a law enforcement officer.

PRWG co-chairs Charu Verma and Richard Cole, and members Kevin Powers and Beau Kealy, introduced their report and proposed resolution, which identified three primary areas of police reform: legal accountability; mandated mental health training and support; and standardized statewide training, hiring and retention. HOD members voted to endorse in principle the Report of the MBA's Police Reform Working Group in Support of Resolution on Systemic Police Reform, as well as the related Resolution on Systemic Police Reform.

Two resolutions introduced by the Criminal Justice Section Council and Young Lawyers Division via members Adrian Angus, Shayla Mombeleur and Emily Robey Phillips also received endorsement from HOD members. The first approved resolution acknowledged that "Black lives matter," and noted that "the MBA joins the Supreme Judicial Court in condemning racism that is the legacy of slavery and in calling for systematic change needed to make equity under the law an enduring reality for all." The second approved resolution, which was aimed at protecting peaceful protestors from excessive force, urged law enforcement agencies to "provide de-escalation training on appropriate use of force" and hold officers accountable for misconduct.

Following a Family Law Section Council Report by Family Law Section Chair Holly A. Hinte, HOD members also voted to support the Family Law Section’s Council's opposition to House Bill 4965 and Senate Bill 2905 relative to Uniform Parentage. While supporting the underlying principles of the bill, the Family Law Section Council argued that the bills, as currently drafted, are overly complicated, "would reduce the requirements to attain de facto parent status," and "expand the rights of de facto parents from visitation to full custody, including the standing to sue for legal and physical custodial rights that may be superior to the rights of legal parents, without the need for termination proceedings."

The MBA's Amicus Committee report was then introduced by Chair Thomas Carey, who asked for HOD approval for the MBA to sign an amicus letter to the SJC in the case of Estate of Jacqueline Ann Kendall vs. Executive Office of Health and Human Services (SJC-12881), which involves the question: "Whether MassHealth is entitled to recover benefits from a decedent's estate claimed more than three years after the decedent's death; including, whether the Uniform Probate Code, G. L. c. 190B, § 3-108, precludes such recovery; or whether G. L. c. 190B, § 803 (f), creates an exception to the limitation on presentation of claims set forth in G. L. c. 190B, § 3-108." HOD members voted to endorse filing of the amicus letter, which will urge the court to apply the arguments made in the amicus brief filed by the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, the Real Estate Bar Association in Massachusetts and the Abstract Club. 

Due to health and safety protocols related to the COVID-19 pandemic, most HOD members attended virtually via Zoom, with only a handful of officers and others at the MBA’s Boston office. As a result, the election to fill the three open Executive Management Board seats, and one additional EMB opening to fill out the remaining two-year term of Victoria Santoro Mair, who was elected MBA secretary, was handled by email with a deadline of Sept. 24. Those results will be announced in a future eJournal once finalized.