Logo for Liberty Mutual InsuranceWhen Kathy McGrath, the pro bono manager for Liberty Mutual’s legal department, heard about the Homeless Youth Handbook project, she immediately knew she would easily find willing volunteers. And she soon had 25 people signed up to help make a Massachusetts version of the Homeless Youth Handbook that the Baker McKenzie law firm had spearheaded in 10 places already.

“Liberty has a robust pro bono program,” she said, “and many of our lawyers and paralegals already had experience on key legal issues such as obtaining domestic violence restraining orders, finding housing, and accessing education.”

What subjects the volunteers didn’t already know, they were willing to learn about to make the handbook comprehensive and useful. 

Another motivation for Liberty getting involved with the handbook was the valuable organizational support from MA Appleseed. The staff at Appleseed greatly assisted the drafters from Liberty and Boston Scientific by compiling a thorough list of online research sources for Massachusetts law. Then the staff assembled a network of local subject matter experts, who they have been working with to review and edit the drafts volunteers submit to ensure the finalized handbook is thorough and accurate.                        

Participating in the handbook was a great fit for the Liberty legal department because one of the primary goals of the company’s charitable foundation is addressing homelessness, with a special emphasis on preventing youth homelessness. For example, in 2018, Liberty Mutual funded the purchase of Liberty House, a transitional residence for young people experiencing homelessness managed by Bridge Over Troubled Waters. The staff at Bridge Over Troubled Waters were excited when Attorney McGrath told them about the handbook, seeing it as providing legal information to supplement Bridge’s own app that helps young people experiencing homelessness navigate resources for shelter, meals, mental health, and more. In fact, Bridge agreed that it would have the final draft of the handbook reviewed by teenagers experiencing homelessness to confirm it was written and organized in an understandable way.     

“MA Appleseed has done a wonderful job coordinating the handbook project,” McGrath said. “With so many authors collaborating and experts reviewing the handbook sections, something this complex needed the structure that Appleseed provides. I think the handbook is going to be truly useful to homeless young people and the network of providers who guide them.”

“Not only has Liberty consistently been a champion of our most vulnerable youth over the years,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of MA Appleseed, “but we have been amazed by their tireless dedication to this project, especially during such a difficult time. As the world has shut down around us, the Liberty team and all our volunteers continue to write and turn in handbook chapters, which will enable us to get the finished resource into the hands of the young people who need it as soon as possible. We rely on pro bono assistance at MA Appleseed, and partners like Liberty are an extraordinary gift. I couldn’t be more grateful for their hard work and the time and energy they have donated to make this know-your-rights resource a reality.”

 

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Thank You, Jennifer Sunderland: Board Member, Boston Attorney, and Generous Monthly Donor!

 

Image of Jennifer Sunderland, Member of Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice's Board of Directors

Jennifer Sunderland, Board Member

Jennifer is a Massachusetts native who attended college and law school here and clerked for judges in the Massachusetts Trial Court and Supreme Judicial Court. As a public defender for four years, Jennifer witnessed the importance of expanding access to justice within our legal system firsthand. After working for three boutique law firms doing civil litigation, she started her own law firm with a former colleague this past January. They focus on criminal defense and business and employment litigation.

“When I first became involved in MA Appleseed, I particularly appreciated the organization’s approach of engaging stakeholders in order to develop evidence-based solutions,” Jennifer said. “It has a unique mission and approach, and I think its work fills a gap in finding solutions to systemic access to justice problems.”

Jennifer is a champion of MA Appleseed’s Board of Directors. She has spearheaded multiple events like last September’s Trivia Night during which her team, the Lady Killers, came close to winning the ultimate prize! A committed donor, she recently began giving on a monthly basis last November.

“By giving monthly, I can do my part to help ensure MA Appleseed has consistent and regular support,” Jennifer said. “Also, it’s easier because I can give a smaller amount over time rather than a larger amount at one time. Now that donating monthly is an option, I cannot see a downside to doing it. It also saves me from having to think about it because my donation is automatically processed every month – one less task to worry about!”

“Because MA Appleseed is a small organization, it has the ability to be nimble and flexible where other nonprofits might be burdened and slowed by bureaucracy,” she added. “However, because it is smaller, every bit of support counts!”

To join Jennifer and become a monthly donor, click here and sustain MA Appleseed’s work all year with a gift of $15 a month.

Jennifer Sunderland has been a member of Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice’s Board of Directors since 2016.  

 

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By Jake Hofstetter | Research and Policy Associate

The coronavirus crisis has impacted every part of society, and even public institutions are having to be flexible and creative to respond to the pandemic. Schools are using remote learning, governments are offering unemployment applications online, and libraries are lending e-books. The court system is no different. With social distancing in place and public gatherings prohibited, courts in Massachusetts have mostly closed and moved many of their hearings and services to remote formats. Although tragic, the COVID-19 pandemic creates an opportunity for us to experiment with new ways of delivering justice and to determine how well remote services and courts hearings work once the coronavirus emergency has subsided. The question will be not only how well these measures have functioned in a crisis, but what we can learn from remote services to potentially make our legal system work more fairly after the pandemic ends.

Massachusetts’ legal system has responded quickly to combat the spread of coronavirus. The Trial Court has closed all the Commonwealth’s courthouses and postponed all proceedings except for emergency matters related to criminal activities, child welfare, domestic violence, and other urgent concerns. According to the courts’ order, these hearings should be held remotely (if possible), using technological tools such as telephones or video conferencing. All non-emergency concerns have been delayed until at least May, and indigent litigants now are able to file their forms electronically (e-file) free of charge in cases where e-filing is available. Legal aid organizations have also begun to offer more remote services, and the six Court Service Centers, court-run centers that provide self-help assistance to litigants, have started limited remote services for cases that the courts are still handling.

What is happening in Massachusetts mirrors what is happening nationally. At least three quarters of states have restricted entry to their courthouses while every state has generally suspended proceedings or allowed local entities (like counties or cities) to suspend proceedings. Three states have mandated the use of remote/virtual hearings while many more, including Massachusetts, have partially required or urged the use of virtual hearings. These steps have led some states to use Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex, and other software to hold virtual hearings. All of these moves indicate that remote court proceedings and legal services are having a moment, the scale of which wouldn’t have been possible to imagine only a few months ago.

Remote services are not just convenient workarounds for our current crisis – they also represent powerful tools for increasing access to justice for everyone. Even when there are not travel restrictions or social distancing regulations, the act of coming to court can create a serious barrier for many working and low-income people. It requires taking a day off work, finding childcare, coordinating transportation, and other practical challenges for many litigants. Plus, most cases don’t require only coming to court once, they require multiple appearances that create an even larger burden, especially for court users without lawyers (self-represented litigants, or SRLs for short). On top of that, many litigants who seek to take advantage of free self-help services have to return to courts and wait in line for long periods due to limited capacity at Court Service Centers. Court buildings themselves are also intimidating for many people. Legal jargon, high-priced lawyers, and complicated forms can make anyone nervous, especially those without legal representation.

But it’s not just hearings and legal assistance that can go remote. Court systems can also use existing programs that allow litigants to fill out court forms online and then e-file their documents. Known as document assembly programs, this type of software guides users through an interview where they answer questions and enter information that pertains to their case. After the user completes the digital interview, the program takes the user’s information and automatically fills out the relevant legal form(s), similar to how Turbo Tax works. Document assembly programs not only make filling out confusing forms easier but also save litigants the time of having to come to court to file forms or get help filling them out. Efforts to use these programs to respond to the pandemic are already underway in Massachusetts. Suffolk Law School’s Legal Innovation & Technology Lab (LIT Lab) has already started an initiative, known as the Document Assembly Line Project, to take urgent forms from Massachusetts courts and “create mobile-friendly accessible versions of online court forms and pro se materials in multiple-languages.” In its finalized form, this program will let Massachusetts court users fill out documents online within the comfort and safety of their own homes.

Of course, remote services are not without drawbacks. Holding hearings over Zoom or a conference call presents the same challenges that normal staff meetings do: people talk over each other, internet connections go out, people get distracted. The same populations that already struggle with finding representation or navigating the legal system may not have access to strong enough internet connections or lack technological literacy to use software like Zoom or document assembly programs. For self-represented litigants, using a phone line may also increase confusion over what is going on in their cases. Regarding due process, advocates fear moving to entirely remote hearings may reduce the quality of representation and independent monitoring for defendants. For example, defendants can’t speak to their attorneys privately if they are participating in a conference call with a judge and prosecutor. Similarly, cases may not receive a full or fair hearing due to remote technology or the speed at which the court holds its Zoom call. Remote court hearings also mean a judge is only hearing a voice, not seeing a face, which can remove much of the humanity from what may be intensely personal cases. Any remote solutions will always have to balance these concerns with the convenience of taking court hearings and services online.

When this crisis is over and we are tempted to return everything to “normal,” it will be essential to take the time to look back, and evaluate whether remote services helped or, in some cases, hurt litigants’ efforts in court. This is a chance for us to see how well these tools can work, to test their capacity on a large scale, work out problems, and better understand how going remote can expand access to justice. Once the dust settles, we’ll also have a new trove of data, perspectives, and outcomes from which we will be able to analyze which emergency measures might be worth keeping around for the future. If court systems take advantage of those lessons learned, we’ll have the chance to lay the foundation for remote legal and court services that increase access to our courts and lead to a more welcoming system for all court users.

 

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Systemic injustice and legal crises don’t go away because of a virus. For those experiencing food insecurity, in need of medical support, and more, please check out the resources below provided by our friends at Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston: 

Need Legal Help or Support During COVID-19?

The public health crisis is unfolding rapidly so Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston created a landing page to share multilingual information. This information is accurate as of March 16.

The English version can be downloaded here. La información sobre sus derechos está disponible en español aquí.

Medical Support 

If you are undocumented and need healthcare, you may be eligible for MassHealth Limited, which provides care for medical emergencies, including visits to an emergency room. Public charge does not apply to MassHealth Limited. Visit the MA Connector or call 1-800-841-2900 for English and Spanish service.

All health insurance carriers are required to provide medically necessary telehealth, testing, counseling, treatment, and vaccination (once it’s developed and available) services without charging copays and coinsurance or applying a deductible.

Food Security

Many cities and towns will continue to provide free breakfast and lunch to students in their respective districts. Click on the city to see their meal schedules and locations: Boston, Brockton, Cambridge, ChelseaLawrence, and Lowell.

Unemployment Assistance

You may be eligible for unemployment benefits if you are quarantined or if you left work due to risk of exposure or to care for a family member. You don’t have to provide medical documentation, but you must: (1) remain in contact with your employer, and; (2) be available for work your employer may have that you’re able to do. To apply, please visit the Unemployment Assistance website. The state is moving to waive the one week waiting period for benefits.

Undocumented residents are not eligible for unemployment benefits. Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston is advocating for the creation of a Fund for Affected Individuals and Families to support people who don’t qualify for Unemployment assistance.

Protecting Workers

The Massachusetts Attorney General is accepting online complaints related to minimum wage, overtime payment, sick time, meal breaks, and worker protections. You can file a complaint with the Fair Labor Division here or call the hotline at 617-727-3465.

Victims and Witnesses of Crime

If you are the victim or witness of a crime, please file a report with the police or the District Attorney’s office. You have the right to report a crime even if you are undocumented. Immigration is prohibited from conducted arrests in Massachusetts state courthouses.

Driver’s Licenses (RMV)

The RMV will implement a 60-day extension to the current expiration date for Class D, Class DMs, ID cards, and Learner’s Permits within the RMV system. All individuals with expired/expiring credentials dated between March 1, 2020 and April 30, 2020, will continue to have an active status until sixty (60) days after the expiration date printed on their credential. This does not apply to immigrants whose end of stay in the United States is the same as the expiration date on their driver’s license, ID card, or Learner’s Permit.

Public Charge and Immigration Issues

Seeking testing, treatment, or preventative care for coronavirus will not be used against anyone in any public charge analysis. Remember that using public benefits will not impact you if you are a green card holder, U.S. citizen, refugee, asylum seeker, VAWA recipient, TPS holder, or holder of a U or T visa. Many benefits, including CHIP, WIC, LiHEAP, SSDI, free school lunch, and disaster relief, are not included in public charge. You can always call LCR’s English-Spanish public charge hotline at 617-988-0609 with any questions.

For assistance, call Lawyers for Civil Rights at 617-981-4308 or email office@lawyersforcivilrights.org

This information is accurate as of 5 PM on Monday, March 16, 2020.

Visit lawyersforcivilrights/coronavirus for regular updates.

Esta información está disponible en español aquí y en nuestra página de recursos del Coronavirus.

 

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Action Alert

In 2018 alone, more than 40,000 households in Massachusetts were served with eviction papers, and over 92% of these tenants were unrepresented. Women, families of color, and households with children disproportionately face eviction, and are forced to fight it on their own. The stakes are high and without a lawyer, many tenants do not know how to protect themselves in and out of the courtroom. From uprooting neighborhoods, pushing families into homelessness, and more, the impact of eviction can be swift, traumatic, and devastating.

As a member of the Massachusetts Right to Counsel Coalition, we believe that by establishing a right to counsel in eviction cases, we can ensure a fairer, more balanced process, prevent homelessness, displacement, unjust evictions, and create a path to housing stability.

Join the Coalition

Where Are We Now

In November, the Right to Counsel Coalition submitted a consolidated proposal, guided by these principles, that calls for:

  • providing an attorney for low-income tenants facing eviction in court and certain low-income owner-occupants of 1 or 2 -family homes seeking possession of their own and only home;
  • building the capacity of organizations to prevent evictions and homelessness, such as proactive education, housing stabilization assistance, and “upstream” support prior to court.

The Judiciary Committee is currently reviewing bills, including this consolidated bill. It must report all the bills out of the committee by next Wednesday, February 5th, or seek an extension of further time to consider the bill.

Read the Coalition’s Proposed Bill

Summary of the Coalition’s Proposed Bill

Section-by-Section Analysis of the Coalition’s Proposed Bill

What You Can Do

Please call, write, or email your Senator and Representative before February 5th and urge them to contact the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, Senator Jamie Eldridge and Representative Claire Cronin, and urge them to give the right to counsel bill a favorable report.

Sample Language:

Dear Senator/Rep______: 

One of the most important ways to fight homelessness is to prevent evictions. Over 92% of tenants facing eviction in court have no representation. Housing stability is one of the most pressing issues that our Commonwealth is facing. Over 120 organizations are part of a broad-based Right to Counsel Coalition. Please urge Judiciary Chair Cronin and Chair Eldridge to report a right to counsel bill out of the Judiciary Committee favorably. Now is the time. We can prevent the trauma that eviction is causing people in our community. Thank you.

If your Senator or Representative co-sponsored one of the Right to Counsel bills, please thank them and let them know we need their help to advance this bill. You can see if they co-sponsored one of the bills here!

Thank you for supporting low-income and unrepresented tenants and taking vital action to expand access to justice!

Resources

Find Your Legislator

Did Your Legislator Co-Sponsor a Right to Counsel Bill?

Growing List of Supporters for Right to Counsel

Fact Sheet

Letter from the Metro Mayors Coalition

Recent Press

Lawyers Weekly

Brockton Enterprise


Our 2020 Legislative Agenda

From ending student hunger, to preventing the suspension and expulsion of preschoolers, to ensuring youth experiencing homelessness can access the services and resources they need – there’s work to be done. Check out what other bills we’re supporting this year!

Our 2020 Legislative Agenda

 

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Massachusetts could increase access to justice through just one website

BOSTON, October 3, 2019 — A research report released today by the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice explores how the Massachusetts Trial Court could develop a new, online help center for court users.

The report details how the court system could use innovative technology, a free help line, and a revamped collection of informational materials to assist court users who are forced to represent themselves because they cannot afford to hire an attorney or do not qualify for legal aid. Over half of all civil court users in the Commonwealth represent themselves without the assistance of an attorney, according to the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission.

“Today in Massachusetts, most people who find themselves in civil court are there alone, without a lawyer to assist them. Usually, this is because they can’t afford to pay for legal help. They’re at risk of losing their families, homes, and livelihood not because they’ve done something wrong, but because they don’t know how to protect their rights,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. “One proven solution to this growing problem is for courts to provide free online self-help services.”

Court users and the staff who serve them report a need for answering basic logistical questions, providing legal information on case processes, and help with filling out court forms as the most in-demand services from court users.

Today’s report recommends options for expanding legal self-help services that also meet the needs of court users in Massachusetts, including:

  • Creating a LiveHelp center where court users could call or message attorneys with questions about their cases.
  • Developing new document assembly programs that would allow users to easily fill out legal forms online.
  • Revamping the existing informational webpage the court system provides to make it more complete and user-friendly.

As the report details, many other states have taken steps to provide expansive, more effective legal self-help materials through their court websites. Most states – including Massachusetts – have information on how to navigate court proceedings and different types of civil court cases, such as divorce, guardianship, housing, or small claims cases, available online. In addition, state courts in Maryland and Alaska have also developed LiveHelp centers where court users can call a free phone line and receive information and guidance from attorneys and paralegals. In New York, the court system has developed an extensive collection of document assembly programs that allow users to enter their personal information and then receive completed legal forms that they can file with the court.

“We hope the Virtual Court Service Center will be a lasting contribution to increasing access to justice in Massachusetts,” Silva added. “This report represents an exciting vision of how we can use technology to help an even greater number of people with their legal issues than ever before.”

The report, “Turning on the Lights: How the Massachusetts Trial Court Could Deploy a Virtual Court Service Center to Assist Self-Represented Litigants” is available online: https://massappleseed.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Court-Service-Center-Report-Final.pdf

About the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice:

Massachusetts Appleseed’s mission is to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues. We research the ways in which the justice system, schools, and government agencies are systematically failing our most vulnerable residents. We collaborate with community partners to ensure that recommended plans of action are practical and comprehensive. We advocate for the implementation of solutions that will create lasting change.

Contact Jake Hofstetter at 617-482-8686 or email jake@massappleseed.org for more information about this report.

 

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For Immediate Release

BOSTON, MA – The Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice welcomed Kevin J. Curtin, Senior Appellate Counsel/Grand Jury Director for Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan, to its Board of Directors at its Annual Meeting on June 27, 2019. Massachusetts Appleseed, a nonprofit organization that advocates for systemic reform in areas such as access to justice, youth homelessness, and education is pleased to have Mr. Curtin, a talented attorney and professor and resolute advocate for social justice, join its Board of Directors as it celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. 

“It is a great honor to be asked to serve in this role,” said Mr. Curtin. “I have known about the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice for as long as I can remember and I have deep respect for this remarkable institution, especially its focus on the underlying causes of core inequities in our society that trouble us all. I’m talking about issues like poverty, homelessness, racial and economic segregation, inefficient courts, ineffective governmental service providers and governmental social policies that – wittingly or unwittingly – create systemic unfairness and injustice.”

“I look forward to working with this talented Board and with our dedicated staff to advance Massachusetts Appleseed’s mission to provide meaningful access to justice for all,” he said. “Together, I hope we will continue to help bend what the Rev. Martin Luther King called the long ‘arc of the moral universe,’ so that the idea of justice may become a little more real in the world.” 

Kevin J. Curtin, Senior Appellate Counsel/Grand Jury Director for the Office of the Middlesex District Attorney.

Kevin J. Curtin serves as Senior Appellate Counsel/Grand Jury Director for Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan. He supervises the grand jury practice, writes and supervises appellate briefs, conducts oral arguments, manages Superior Court post-conviction matters, and advises the District Attorney and bureau chiefs. Mr. Curtin is a graduate of Boston College Law School and previously served as a judicial law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young. Mr. Curtin teaches at Boston College Law School, the National Trial Advocacy College at the University of Virginia School of Law, and in the Harvard Law School Trial Advocacy Workshop. He is a vice-chair of the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section Council and co-chairs the Section’s Committee on Appellate and Habeas Practice. Since 2016 he has served on the ABA’s Working Group on Building Trust in the American Justice System. He has consulted extensively for the Republic of Uzbekistan since 2015, visiting the developing constitutional democracy six times since then and participating in the historic law reform efforts ongoing in that nation. In 2017, he was named Prosecutor of the Year by the Massachusetts District Attorney’s Association and was honored by the Massachusetts Bar Association with one of its annual “Access to Justice” Awards. In November 2018, he received the American Bar Association’s Norm Maleng Minister of Justice Award. He joins the Board of Directors of Massachusetts Appleseed following in the footsteps of his father Jack Curtin, who was a leading advocate for legal aid and a former member of the Massachusetts Appleseed Board.

“Kevin Curtin is a true advocate for justice, and it is an honor to have him bring his years of expertise and his dedication to expanding access to opportunity for all to the Board of Directors,” said Melanie Todman, Chair of the Board. “To have Kevin continue the powerful and profound legacy of his father, Jack Curtin, on Massachusetts Appleseed’s Board is a remarkable gift, particularly as we celebrate our 25th anniversary.”

About the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice:

Massachusetts Appleseed’s mission is to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues. We research the ways in which the justice system, schools, and government agencies are systematically failing our most vulnerable residents. We collaborate with community partners to ensure that recommended plans of action are practical and comprehensive. We advocate for the implementation of solutions that will create lasting change.

 

Many thanks to our generous hosts at Scholars American Bistro & Cocktail Club and to everyone who joined us for our first-ever Trivia Night! It was a wonderful night with plenty of laughs, and we’re so grateful to all the teams who participated. A big congratulations to the winners, Team Lynn Legal Services and Alums!

Thank you to the sponsors who made this event possible:

Kathie and John Shutkin

Lynn Legal Services and Alums

 

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Action Alert

This week, the Conference Committee released its final, reconciled 2020 budget – a consolidation of the House and Senate versions totaling $43.1 billion. This year, our budget priorities included:

  • Support for Homeless Youth (Line Item #4000-0007)
    • $5 million to fund housing and support services for youth experiencing homelessness.
  • Safe and Supportive Schools (Line Item #7061-9612)
    • $508,128 to fund the Safe and Supportive Schools program and ensure all students are empowered to succeed in school.
  • Civil Legal Aid (MLAC Line Item #0321-1600)
    • $24 million to provide civil legal aid to low-income individuals and families.

I’m happy to report that the Conference Committee has recommended full funding for all of these line items! Thank you to the House and Senate leadership, and a special thanks to you! Each time you raised your voice and called your legislators to support your most vulnerable neighbors, you have brought us one step closer to a 2020 where we are equipped to support all Massachusetts residents in shelters, in school, and in the courts.

This year’s budget battle is almost over…but not quite yet. The Legislature has voted on the budget and now it heads to Governor Baker’s desk, where he will have ten days to veto line items – potentially eliminating the vital funding for the line items listed above.

You have stood alongside us and fought hard for these line items as the budget made its way through the House, the Senate, and the Conference Committee. Don’t let Governor Baker veto them now.

Please join us in contacting Governor Baker’s office to let him know that you support the Conference Committee’s recommended funding for services for youth experiencing homelessness, safe and supportive schools, and increased access to justice through civil legal aid.

Click here to call or email the Governor’s office now!

You can read more about these important line items below:

Housing and Support Services for Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Line Item #4000-0007

The Conference Committee adopted the Senate’s funding level of $5 million for support and services for youth experiencing homelessness! This is a long-overdue increase of $1.7 million from last year. Governor Baker’s administration highlighted its plan to end youth homelessness just a few months ago. Let him know that this funding level is a critical component of any solution to homelessness for young people in Massachusetts.

This increase to $5 million will fund vital services for one of Massachusetts’ most vulnerable populations and is an important step towards Governor Baker’s stated goal to address youth homelessness.

Please ask Governor Baker to adopt the Conference Committee’s recommended funding amount of $5 million.

Safe and Supportive School Environments

Line Item #7061-9612

In more good news, the Conference Committee has recommended $508,128 in funding for this essential line item, which is slightly ABOVE last year’s funding level. Many thanks to the Legislature for this welcome increase, particularly in a year when the question of school funding, and how well we are supporting our students, has been at the forefront of conversations across the state.

This increase will help continue the Safe and Supportive Schools program, which enables the development of school-wide Action Plans, facilitates the exchange of best practices, and ultimately works to empower all students to succeed in school.

Please join us in urging Governor Baker to include this funding level in the final budget!

Civil Legal Aid

Line Item #0321-1600

The Conference Committee has recommended the Senate’s funding level of $24 million in funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation line item, which funds free civil legal services that thousands of low-income residents of Massachusetts rely on each year. If Massachusetts believes in striving for 100% access to justice, this increase in funding is an absolute necessity.

The overwhelming need for increased civil legal aid continues to grow, with individuals and families in Massachusetts facing eviction, domestic violence, and other civil legal crises.

Please urge Governor Baker to adopt the Conference Committee’s recommended funding amount of $24 million in the final budget.


We’ve been fighting for these line items, which include much-needed increases in funding, since April, and you’ve been with us every step of the way. Please join us once again so that we can cross the finish line and ensure these line items make it into the final budget!

Click here to find the contact information for Governor Baker’s office. Then call or email and urge him to adopt the Conference Committee’s funding levels for support for youth experiencing homelessness, safe and supportive schools, and civil legal aid.

Thank you for your ongoing support and advocacy – we can’t do it without you!

 

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By Jake Hofstetter | Research and Policy Associate

In just two decades, cell phones have gone from convenient accessories for making calls to essential tools in our everyday lives. Without our phones we lose not only our capacity to entertain ourselves in waiting rooms, but also the ability to access a repository of information we need for every aspect of our lives. Because of our reliance on our iPhones, there are only a few places where visitors are banned from possessing cell phones: prisons, secret military installations, and, more surprisingly, 56 Massachusetts courthouses. Although well-intentioned, these bans separate court visitors and litigants from an essential tool in managing their cases, leaving many court users without attorneys at a serious disadvantage.

Cell phone bans exist to minimize distractions and make sure courthouses remain safe and confidential. Ringing phones and noises from videos or apps disrupt the functioning and integrity of legal proceedings. On the darker side, gangs or other criminals may use cell phones for photographing or intimidating witnesses and undercover police officers. Although these concerns are legitimate, they shouldn’t outweigh the harm that cell phone bans cause as well as the common-sense solutions that can prevent the misuse of cell phones without banning them.

Evidence from reporting, independent research, and the court system’s own internal investigation continue to show that cell phone bans are harmful to court users representing themselves without attorneys. A report from the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice published last summer demonstrated that cell phone bans prevent court users from presenting evidence, scheduling court dates, and referencing information needed for filling out legal forms. The fact that lawyers can bring their cell phones to court makes these policies even more unfair for those representing themselves. The court system’s own internal investigation, released by the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission last month, also found that blanket cell phone bans created “unacceptable hardships” and should be replaced with more permissive policies such as universal exceptions for those with official business at the court and storage options for facilities that truly need to prohibit cell phone use for security reasons.

Besides frustrating the efforts of those trying to represent themselves in court, cell phone bans also create serious burdens for all court visitors and users. Court users regularly use cell phones to manage childcare, transportation, and their absences from work. Since many people do not know about cell phone bans before coming to court and there are no options for storage, some court users may be left to decide whether to attend their court appearances or not. Others choose to hide their phones outside courthouses in the bushes or pay private businesses to store their phones. These options may lead to court users losing their phones or having to pay extra money, that they may not have to spare, to store them.

Most courthouses don’t need cell phone bans to be safe or orderly. In fact, many courthouses in Massachusetts (and across the country) do not have cell phone bans and function without serious disruptions or witness intimidation. Unfortunately, a minority of court users will always take calls in inappropriate places or, worse, record court proceedings for nefarious purposes. As the court system’s own internal investigation noted, however, it is fairer to court users to regulate the use of cell phones rather than the possession of cell phones. The first approach leads to reasonable policies where cell phone use can be restricted in certain facilities or courtrooms. The second approach creates an unfair burden on those who cannot afford to hire an attorney to represent them and makes it difficult for all members of our technology-attached society to use courthouses.

Changing cell phone bans in courthouses may seem like a small step, but it is an important one in expanding access to justice in Massachusetts. The growing numbers of people who must represent themselves in court already have trouble navigating our complex legal system without having to give up an essential tool like their smartphone. The court system and Access to Justice Commission deserve credit for their willingness to study this issue as well as their recognition that cell phone bans are harmful and should be replaced with more permissive and effective policies. These changes will also assure that our legal system remains fair and up to date with the rapid technological change occurring all around us.

 

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