House of Delegates holds first meeting of the 2007-08 association year

Issue October 2007 By Jennifer Rosinski

Massachusetts Bar Association President David W. White Jr. called his first House of Delegates meeting to order at the DCU Center in Worcester on Sept. 19. At its first gathering of the 2007-08 association year, the leadership voted to approve several proposals, including efforts to clarify the state’s drunk driving laws and establish a commission on judicial compensation.

Before the start of the meeting, an eight-member delegation of arbitrators from Cambodia attended a roundtable discussion on labor and employment issues hosted by MBA Past President Kay H. Hodge. The group from the Arbitration Council Foundation in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, has traveled the globe since its inception in May 2003 to learn about labor relations in other countries. (See story, page 9)

White called the meeting to order and outlined his initiatives for the year, which include supporting comprehensive reforms in two areas: state Criminal Offender Record Information laws and criminal sentencing.

Criminal Justice Section Council Chair Lee J. Gartenberg shared the MBA’s suggested changes to CORI when he testified before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary the day before the HOD meeting. A Criminal Sentencing Symposium will be held at the Great Hall in the Statehouse at 10 a.m. on Oct. 23. A legislative hearing before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary will follow the symposium.

White also shared his goal of making lawyers more environmentally conscious with the Lawyers Eco-Challenge. The Energy and Environment Task Force will publish Green Guidelines for attorneys later this fall and a contest will track energy reduction among practitioners.

“We have a three-part focus: saving energy, saving resources and corporate responsibility,” White said. “Massachusetts is already at the forefront of this important topic.”

Clarifying laws, supporting juvenile attorneys

Gartenberg presented two proposals the delegates approved. The first supports legislation that streamlines drunk driving laws in Chapter 90 of the Massachusetts General Laws in an effort to make them easier for the bench, bar and public to understand. The MBA’s Criminal Justice Section worked with the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association and the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles to reorganize the provisions and amendments into a coherent, logical proposal.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Fabbri, a member of the Criminal Justice Section Council, and Staff Attorney Andrea Nardone, both with the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, presented arguments in favor of the change. “We need to rewrite these laws so we can understand it. So the public understands it. It’s very convoluted,” Fabbri said. “We came up with something that would simplify and streamline the language.”

In a second vote, the leadership endorsed a letter – from the MBA’s Juvenile Justice Practice Group of the Criminal Justice Section Council – that asks the Supreme Judicial Court’s Standing Advisory Committee on the Rules of Professional Conduct to re-evaluate a proposal to change the Rules of Professional Conduct as they relate to the role of attorneys in juvenile court.

The proposal by the SJC committee changes Rule 1.14 from representing a minor client “under a disability” to “with diminished capacity.”

The change would require attorneys to act based on what is in their client’s best interest, even if it’s not something their client wants. The letter states that the proposal could erode the respect given to decisions made by minor clients and undermine the trust between minor clients and attorneys.

“Essentially, what we’re recommending the committee do is go back to the drawing board,” said the Hon. Jay D. Blitzman, associate justice of the Juvenile Court Department. “I’m really concerned limiting what an attorney can do can put an attorney in a box.”

Benefits for judges and their families

The delegates passed two proposals presented by Grace V. Bacon Garcia of the Civil Litigation Section Council. The house voted to support legislation establishing a Commission on Judicial Compensation, Benefits and Pensions. Also, the delegates unanimously voted to support bills allowing for maximum benefits to the family of judges who die from unnatural causes while performing his or her duties.

Diversity Task Force’s new program

MBA Treasurer Valerie A. Yarashus shared a new program being offered by the Diversity Task Force, of which she is co-chair. The Diversity School Fund is an essay contest that calls on students to write about lawyers who have inspired them. The task force will conduct off-budget fund-raising to pay for the initiative, which will be administered through the Massachusetts Bar Institute. “All of the money will go back to young people,” Yarashus said.

Ambitious legislative agenda

There are many legislative goals for the 2007-08 association year in addition to criminal sentencing and CORI reforms, MBA General Counsel Martin W. Healy told the delegates. “We’re off with a bang,” Healy said.

The MBA supports the supplemental state budget filed by Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray that includes $22.3 million to compensate private counsel for work performed during fiscal year 2007. The association is also working with other state bar associations and the American Bar Association to pass federal legislation that would forgive student loans for public sector attorneys. Healy also reported that Past President Edward P. Ryan Jr. will serve this year as co-chair of the Joint Bar Committee on Judicial Appointments.

New programs focus on students, veterans

MBA Executive Director Marilyn J. Wellington gave an overview of the Supreme Judicial Courts’ Judicial Youth Corps program, which this year added Worcester to its list. The Massachusetts Bar Foundation awarded the funds needed to provide 15 Worcester young people – in addition to a group from Boston – with a summer spent working and learning in the court system. “Our goal is to add another city a year,” Wellington said. “This year was our test year. It was a huge success.”

Wellington also shared the MBA’s newest venture, Serving Our Veterans in the Law. About 60 attorneys were taught how to provide legal aid to veterans – from federal and state appeals of benefits to medical care issues – by staff from the National Veterans Legal Services Program of Washington, D.C. at the MBA’s West Street headquarters on Sept. 27. Veterans will be aided at special Dial-A-Lawyer and traveling attorney programs this fall.

MBA Think Tank strategy

Douglas K. Sheff was the last to present at the Sept. 19 meeting. Sheff, tapped as the chair of the newly created MBA Think Tank, provided an overview of plans to create a long-term strategy for the association, as well as various enhancements in the areas of education, technology and communication.

Bylaw changes, elections

Also approved at the meeting were changes to the MBA’s bylaws and policies and procedures presented by President-elect Edward W. McIntyre and the election of the Executive Management Board for the 2007-08 association year.

The next HOD meeting will take place at 2 p.m. on Nov. 1 following a luncheon and preceding the MBA’s Annual Gala Dinner that evening at the InterContinental Hotel on Atlantic Avenue in Boston.