Legislators restore funding for civil legal aid

Issue August 2003

The legislature blasted through Gov. Mitt Romney's vetoes last month, overriding 232 of his 372 vetoes.

Among the overrides were roll call votes to restore funding to Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee and Correctional Legal Services Committee. Romney had eliminated funding for civil legal aid when he signed the fiscal year 2004 budget on June 30.

Romney's proposal to eliminate the Boston Municipal Court also failed. The legislature overrode his veto to preserve and redistrict the BMC to include all of Boston.

The legislature also restored Appeals Court funding to the level previously proposed. Romney had proposed a $300,000 cut that would have undermined the progress that has been made in eliminating the case backlog.

The overrides followed intense lobbying by attorneys and the MBA. In March MBA officers and attorneys participated in two key programs - Walk to the Hill for Legal Aid and Lobby Day for Court Funding - to call on legislators to support adequate funding for both legal aid organizations and the court system. That effort continued even into the eleventh hour last month as legislators took up the overrides. Attorneys called and wrote letters to representatives and senators urging their support of the court system.

While the legislature overrode Romney's vetoes on the legal aid organizations, it had not as yet taken action on Romney's veto of the $13 million cut to Committee for Public Counsel Services' private bar counsel account.

CPCS will be unable to provide constitutionally mandated representation of indigent criminal defendants without funding. The legislature may take action on this veto when they resume formal sessions in September.

The $13 million represents 18 percent of the fund used to pay private bar counsel to represent indigent defendants and about 25 percent of the indigent court cost fund, according to Anthony Benedetti, general counsel for CPCS.

Benedetti said he is confident the Legislature will fully fund the account next year because providing counsel to indigent defendants is constitutionally required.