Wrongful conviction, estate tax measures approved at first HOD meeting of 2023-24

Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023
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Photo Credit: Eric Haynes
At a reception following the first House of Delegates meeting of the 2023-24 year, new Massachusetts Bar Association President Damian J. Turco was ceremonially sworn in by Trial Court Chief Justice Jeffrey A. Locke.

With the ceremonial passing of the gavel to new Massachusetts Bar Association President Damian J. Turco from immediate MBA Past President Grace V.B. Garcia, the MBA’s House of Delegates (HOD) opened its first meeting of the 2023-24 MBA year on Thursday, Sept. 28. The meeting resulted in the approval of measures introduced by the Taxation Law and Civil Rights and Social Justice section councils. 

Turco began his report by noting the number of MBA programs that were up and running since the start of the year, including several section-based conferences (Health Law, Probate Law and Family Law), and two new practice groups: Energy Law and Cannabis Law. He also announced the four presidential appointments to the Executive Management Board, including Shampagne L. Robinson, Marissa N. Soto-Ortiz, John J. Vasapolli, and Ruth A. Mattson.

In discussing the year ahead, Turco said the MBA’s agenda would be guided by three areas of focus, including: 1) access to justice issues, particularly eliminating the “justice gap”; 2) supporting and expanding innocence projects in Massachusetts; and 3) lawyer well-being. He also noted that he has been reaching out frequently to MBA members involved with the Lawyer Well-Being Committee; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee; the Young Lawyers Division and others as part of his efforts to encourage collaboration with each other and with section councils.

MBA President-elect Victoria M. Santoro said that the first program of the MBA’s 2023-24 Leadership Academy would be in person at the MBA’s Boston office on Tuesday, Dec. 5, noting also that an announcement about this year’s Leadership Academy class will be coming out soon. Santoro also announced that the MBA will coordinate a statewide weekly lawyer-for-the-day program for the entire Massachusetts Superior Court. The new program is expected to roll out in November to a group of volunteers who had volunteered for a previous pilot project concerning M.G.L. c. 30A appeals (judicial review of agency decisions).

Following approval of the minutes from the May 2023 HOD meeting, MBA Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W. Healy gave an update on several matters of interest to the MBA on Beacon Hill, including clemency reform, where the MBA is continuing to work with Gov. Maura Healey’s administration to have several provisions adopted from the MBA’s proposed clemency guidelines. Healy also mentioned that the MBA was advocating for a pending bill on housing evictions that would provide counsel for low-income tenants and landlords. In addition, he also announced that the Joint Bar Committee on Judicial Appointments was up and running with new chair Jane Eden, representing the MBA.

Looking ahead, Healy announced that this year’s State of the Judiciary Address would be webcast live on Dec. 12 at 4 p.m. Similar to last year’s program, the event will feature a keynote address from Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd, followed by a Q&A session with court leaders moderated by the MBA president.

New Business

The first order of new business was introduced by Taxation Section Council Chair Ruth A. Mattson, who asked HOD members to approve the section council’s request to have the MBA co-sign a letter with Mass. NAELA encouraging the Mass. Department of Revenue to review and reconsider its recently adopted estate tax position, which is contrary to federal caselaw and contrary to decades of MDOR’s past practice. The proposal was approved.

Civil Rights and Social Justice Section Council member Richard W. Cole then introduced a proposal for the MBA to support, in principle, three identical bills (S.1011, H.1752 and H.1820) related to compensation for victims of wrongful conviction. The bills would provide support for exonerees when they first get out of prison by increasing the amount of compensation, removing the $1 million cap on compensatory damages and changing the burden of proof. Radha Natarajan, the executive director of the New England Innocence Project, noted that the bills were supported by all three innocence-project organizations in Massachusetts. The HOD voted to support the measures.

The final presentation was given by Cole, Natarajan and Lisa Kavanaugh from the Committee for Public Council Services (CPCS), who announced a new MBA project to expand the capacity of innocence projects in Massachusetts through MBA volunteers. Cole noted that while the MBA’s work in this area had previously focused on the work of prosecutors’ offices, this new strategy would be focused on helping innocence projects, who typically operate with small staffs and limited budgets. They will be looking for MBA volunteers to take on innocence projects cases and eventually hope to develop a list of MBA volunteers with particular experience that innocence projects can draw upon for assistance.

The next HOD meeting is scheduled for Nov. 16.