Leadership gathers in Sturbridge to celebrate educational project and conduct House of Delegates meeting

Issue January 2007 By Tricia M. Oliver

The Massachusetts Bar Association’s House of Delegates convened for the November meeting at the historic Old Sturbridge Village in south-central Massachusetts. The HOD business meeting followed a brief but poignant ribbon cutting ceremony signifying the re-opening of the village’s authentic 1796 law office exhibit.

The MBA sponsored the refurbishment of the educational exhibit and will continue its unique partnership with Old Sturbridge Village to offer more programming that supports the MBA’s heightened priority of "educating for democracy." Such activity aims to raise awareness of the crucial role of the legal system in society, while perhaps encouraging young people to pursue a career in law or become more active adult citizens in our democratic society.

OSV representatives joined the MBA delegation at the brief ceremony before delegates began their two-hour November meeting, which hosted a full agenda. Meeting highlights included delegates’ support of filing legislation clarifying the spousal testimonial privilege in criminal matters; supporting the Plain English Jury Instructions Project in civil cases; and supporting Senate Bill No. 340, which would provide the framework for civic education in Massachusetts.

MBA President Mark D Mason called the meeting to order and updated the group on key initiatives. Much of his report concentrated on the "educating for democracy" efforts of the association. Mason and other leaders have been involved in regional and national meetings discussing law-related education and other educational programming that promotes civics in education. Namely, the New England Bar Association Conference in October and a national conference in Washington, D.C. offered forums for such discussion and collaboration.

Mason also highlighted the pro bono efforts of the various sections and applauded the efforts of Jayne Tyrrell, who chairs the MBA’s Pro Bono Task Force. Later in the meeting, Civil Litigation Section Council Chair Jeffrey Catalano shared the progress of his section’s pro bono initiative, which included section council members volunteering at a shelter on Dec. 15 to work with the homeless concerning their legal needs and serving as coaches and/or judges in the MBA’s Mock Trial Program.

Plain and simple

MBA Vice President Valerie A. Yarashus and Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Peter W. Agnes Jr. presented information on the national movement involving Plain English Jury Instructions and recommended that the MBA support model jury instructions in civil cases. The group agreed and supported the Plain English Jury Instructions Project. Yarashus and Agnes will now communicate and bring the recommendation to the judiciary for approval and input.

"Judges should be aware that juries have been confused very often," said Agnes, who has served on the bench in both the District and Superior Courts for nearly 16 years and is co-chair of the courts’ Committee on Jury Instructions. "This is an opportunity to make a contribution to courts and justice."

New governor, changes in Legislature

MBA General Counsel Martin W. Healy reported on the new legislative landscape in light of the recent election results. "The MBA will have exciting times with new relationships both locally and federally," he said. Healy also explained that the Legislature will begin a two-year session in January and changes in legislative committees can be expected. Healy noted that judicial appointments would be very few for the rest of Gov. Mitt Romney’s term; but the governor has reported that several more appointments would be made, if not more.

Cyberlawyering coming soon

As part of her report, MBA Executive Director Marilyn J. Wellington discussed new collaboration with the Institute, developed by former MBA Executive Director Susan Waters and former MBA President Joseph Vrabel, among others. The relationship will improve the MBA’s "cyberlawyering" activity and allow for more convenient online continuing legal education offerings to its members. Progress on this project can be expected shortly after the first of the year, according to Wellington.

Clarifying spousal privilege

Criminal Justice Section Council Chair Lee J. Gartenberg, joined by members Michael Traft and Peter Elikann, presented a document clarifying the definition of spousal privilege and spousal immunity. This is a result of the court’s request for the necessary clarification of the statute concerning both issues. As described by Elikann, "we are trying to preserve the sanctity of the marital relationship and make the logical step that privilege should extend to all aspects of criminal proceedings. The delegates passed a motion allowing the Criminal Justice Section Council to file the recommended legislation.

A continued push for civic education

Following a presentation by Mason, the delegates voted to support Senate Bill No. 340, which would provide the framework for civic education in Massachusetts. This bill calls for the formation of a commission to tackle this broad subject. It is sponsored by State Sen. Richard Moore and will be re-filed in the next session.

An update from REBA

Real Estate Bar Association of Massachusetts President Robert Moriarty Jr. provided an informational report on conveyances and the unauthorized practice of law. According to REBA’s written ethics opinion on this dynamic, it is concluded that "it is in the public interest that when a conveyance is entrusted to another, it can be performed only by persons who have been trained in the law." The delegates applauded REBA’s work on this front and Mason expressed the MBA’s continued interest in working with REBA on this important issue.

The meeting came to a close following reports from the Labor & Employment and Civil Litigation Section Chairs Rosemary Pye and Jeffrey Catalano. Mason offered a special thanks to Pye, Catalano and all MBA section chairs who have had a running start on the year’s progress only two-and-a-half months into the association year.

The next HOD meeting will take place at Boston University Law School on Jan. 25.