MBA’s House of Delegates Addresses Evictions, Prison Funding and Hampden Courthouse at September Meeting

Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021
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Photo Credit: Jeff Thiebauth
Top: Following HOD, MBA President Thomas M. Bond was ceremonially sworn in by SJC Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd.

The Massachusetts Bar Association took up proposals related to evictions, funding for prisons in Massachusetts and the Roderick Ireland Courthouse in Springfield during the first meeting of its House of Delegates (HOD) on Wednesday, Sept. 29. The meeting was conducted in person at the MBA’s Boston office, with a majority of members participating remotely via Zoom.

At the start of the meeting, MBA President Thomas M. Bond introduced his “people, programs and pipelines” agenda for the year, which is focused on improving diversity and inclusion at the bar. He explained that, in addition to seeking more active collaboration with affinity bar associations and their members, several MBA programs are uniquely positioned to take a leading role in addressing inequities, citing as an example the MBA’s Tiered Community Mentoring Program (TCM), which connects inner city high school students to college students, law students and lawyers. The MBA’s Leadership Academy, which trains newer lawyers with skills to advance their careers, also opens the door to leadership opportunities for lawyers from underrepresented communities, he said. This year, Bond said he is reaching out to each of the affiliated affinity bar associations and offering them membership in the MBA Leadership Academy for three of its young members.

MBA President-elect Grace V.B. Garcia echoed Bond’s praise of the MBA programs while recapping the successful TCM informational session, which was held a day earlier on Sept. 28. She also added that the MBA was actively seeking applicants for this year’s class of the Leadership Academy, with applications due Oct. 12. Turning to the MBA’s Lawyer Well-Being Committee, which she co-chairs, Garcia urged other organizations to take advantage of the guide, The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: A Toolkit for Bar Associations in Massachusetts, which her committee put together in collaboration with the Supreme Judicial Court Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being Committee. Looking ahead, she said the MBA’s Lawyer Well-Being Committee will be looking to speak to more law schools about well-being.

Giving his inaugural report as an officer, MBA Secretary Michael H. Hayden introduced the minutes from the May 2021 HOD meeting, which were approved by HOD vote. He then took the opportunity to invite MBA members to two upcoming “welcome back” receptions: an in-person reception at Marina Bay in Quincy on Oct. 21, and a virtual reception on Oct. 28.

During his report, MBA Chief Legal Counsel and Operating Officer Martin W. Healy updated HOD members on the Joint Bar Committee, which this year is chaired by MBA Past President John J. Morrissey.

Turning to legislative matters, Healy noted that the MBA is supporting the Trial Court’s request for passage of a $164 million IT bond bill, which would replace the MassCourts system with a new computer system with real-time electronic docketing and filing, among other improvements. He also noted that a bill authorizing remote notarizations is set to expire this December, but that there would be additional legislation seeking to make the change permanent.

HOD Endorsements

Following officer reports, HOD members took up four resolutions, including one from the Access to Justice Section Council, which asked the HOD to support, in principle, pending state legislation, S874/H1432, promoting housing stability and homelessness prevention in Massachusetts. Access to Justice Section Chair Elizabeth A. Soule and Lia Moreno from the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute explained that the bills would establish a right to counsel for eligible low-income tenants and owner-occupants facing eviction. After discussion, HOD members voted to endorse the measure.

The Criminal Justice Section Council brought a resolution seeking HOD approval to support, in principle, pending legislation, S2030/H1905, which would establish a five-year jail and prison construction moratorium in Massachusetts. Criminal Justice Section Council Chair Charu Verma explained that the measure was in response to another legislative proposal to invest $50 million to build a new prison for women.

Verma, along with Elizabeth Matos, director of Prisoners Legal Services; Hema Sarang Sieminski of Jane Doe Inc.; and Andrea James, a former lawyer and former inmate at a federal women’s prison in Connecticut who founded Families for Justice as Healing, explained that a new women’s prison is unnecessary due to the low prison population in the commonwealth where prisons have empty units. They also noted that the bill does not restrict prisons from making improvements or repairing conditions. After discussion, HOD members voted to endorse the measure.

Next, the Civil Litigation Section Council’s resolution called for the MBA to get directly involved in addressing health concerns raised by staff, attorneys and litigants regarding the Roderick Ireland Courthouse. Civil Litigation Section Council member Sheldon C. Toplitt explained that courthouse users in Hampden County have raised complaints about unsafe and unhealthy conditions at the courthouse for many years, where as many as 25 deaths from cancer have been attributed to the building. After discussion, HOD members voted to endorse the measure.

Francis Morrissey then gave a report on behalf of the Uniform Law Commission seeking HOD support, in principle, for pending legislation, H1832. The bill would provide clarity and certainty with respect to choice of laws by adopting the Uniform Voidable Transactions Act in place of the current Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act. The Uniform Voidable Transactions Act has been adopted in 22 states, Morrissey explained. HOD members voted to endorse the measure.

The next HOD meeting will be held on Nov. 17.