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.

For Immediate Release

BOSTON, MA – The Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice Board of Directors unanimously voted to appoint Melanie L. Todman, Associate at Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP, to Chair of its Board of Directors at its Annual Meeting on June 27, 2019. She succeeds Martha Mazzone, Executive Vice President of Legal Transformation at Cobra Legal Solutions LLC, who served as Board Chair since 2014 and who will remain on the Board of Directors.

“It has been an honor to serve as Chair of the Board over the past several years, and I thank my fellow Board members for the opportunity,” said Martha Mazzone. “I join my colleagues in congratulating Melanie, a true advocate of social justice with a deep commitment to moving Massachusetts Appleseed’s mission and projects forward. I am confident that under her leadership, Appleseed will continue and expand its essential work to reform the systemic barriers that keep access to justice and equal opportunity out of reach for so many in our state.”

Additionally, the Massachusetts Appleseed Board of Directors elected John A. Shutkin, General Counsel at CliftonLarsonAllen LLP, as the new Vice-Chair. Justin J. Wolosz of Choate Hall & Stewart LLP has stepped down as Vice-Chair and will also continue to serve on the full Board of Directors. Massachusetts Appleseed, a nonprofit organization that advocates for systemic reform in areas such as access to justice, youth homelessness, and education is pleased to announce that Ms. Todman and Mr. Shutkin have assumed their new leadership roles.

Melanie L. Todman, Associate at Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP

Ms. Todman is an associate in Nutter’s Litigation Department. Her practice focuses on advising clients in internal governmental investigations and complex civil litigation relating to securities, insurance and reinsurance, commercial and product liability, government procurement, and municipal law. She has also spent time as a volunteer attorney in the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and prior to that, was a legal fellow at Heartland Alliance International in Chicago. While serving on the Board of Massachusetts Appleseed, she has been a champion of the organization’s access to justice work, devoting hours of pro bono time to its pilot project, Turning on the Lights: How the Massachusetts Trial Court Could Deploy a Virtual Court Service Center to Assist Self-Represented Litigants.

“I want to extend my deepest thanks to Martha Mazzone for her tireless work as Chair for so many years, and to the Board of Directors for their confidence in me to serve in this new role,” said Ms. Todman. “Appleseed’s work to break down systemic barriers affecting our most vulnerable residents is more important than ever, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Board to continue moving Appleseed’s vital mission and projects forward.”

John A. Shutkin, General Counsel at CliftonLarsonAllen LLP.

John A. Shutkin is the General Counsel of CliftonLarsonAllen LLP, based in its Lexington, Massachusetts office. His extensive legal experience includes serving as General Counsel for KPMG International and the law firm of Shearman & Sterling LLP. Throughout his career, he has devoted his time to working for communities in need, serving on the boards of Wisconsin Equal Justice Fund, Partnership for After School Education (PASE), the Bank Street College of Education, and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. Mr. Shutkin is a committed member of the Appleseed network and in the past, served on the Board of Directors at Massachusetts Appleseed’s sister center, Connecticut Appleseed. In his time on the Board of Directors, Mr. Shutkin has generously supported the organization’s programs and will be heading the new Governance Committee.

“There is nothing more critical right now than continuing to expand justice and equal rights for all of our residents in Massachusetts, and I am honored to have the opportunity to do so as Vice-Chair of Massachusetts Appleseed,” said Mr. Shutkin. “I thank my fellow Board members as well as Martha Mazzone for her years of leadership and wisdom, and I look forward to working with Melanie to make a real difference for Massachusetts’ most vulnerable communities.”

Massachusetts Appleseed is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and is thrilled to have Ms. Todman and Mr. Shutkin at the helm as the organization charts its path forward.

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.

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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Action Alert

Thank you to everyone who raised their voices and called their state senators to advocate for our FY20 budget priorities! The Senate debates have ended, the conferees of the Conference Committee have been decided, and the next stage of this year’s budget battle has begun! You can view the finalized Senate budget here, and take a look below to read more about where we stand on our budget priorities:

Housing and Support Services for Youth Experiencing Homelessness

As you may remember, the Senate Committee on Ways & Means released its FY20 budget proposal and recommended $5 million for support and services for youth experiencing homelessness (line item 4000-0007). Since this was the funding amount advocates requested, no amendment needed to be filed! However, since the final House budget only provided $3.3 million in funding for this line item, the Conference Committee is now tasked with determining the final funding level.

The funding level proposed by the Senate is an important increase to fund vital services for one of Massachusetts’ most vulnerable populations.

Please ask your legislators to urge the Conference Committee to include the Senate funding level of $5 million in the final budget.

Safe and Supportive School Environments

To ensure that all students are empowered to succeed in school, the Safe and Supportive Schools program needs continued funding at an adequate level. We are pleased to report that the Senate Committee on Ways & Means recommended $508,128 in funding for this essential line item (7061-9612), which is slightly ABOVE last year’s funding level. Once again, this meant that there was no need to advocate for an amendment to this line item during the Senate budget debate! However, because the House provided only $400,000 in funding for the Safe and Supportive Schools line item, it will be up to the Conference Committee to determine the final funding amount.

This line item provides critical funding to continue the Safe and Supportive Schools Grant Program, which enables the development of school-wide Action Plans and facilitates the exchange of best practices, and more.

Please join us in advocating for the Senate funding level of $508,128 in the Conference Committee’s final budget.

Civil Legal Aid

Each year we advocate for increased funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) because of the overwhelming need for civil legal aid for low-income families and individuals, which continues to grow.

The MLAC line item (0321-1600) funds free civil legal services that many low-income residents of Massachusetts rely on when facing eviction, domestic violence, and other civil legal crises.

Thankfully, Senator Cynthia Creem’s amendment to increase civil legal aid funding to $24 million was included in the Senate’s final budget! While still less than the $26 million MLAC initially requested, this is a much-needed increase that is greater than the $23.6 million in funding that the House allocated.

Please ask your legislators to urge the Conference Committee to adopt the Senate’s funding amount of $24 million in the final budget.

State ID for Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Senators Chandler and Welch filed Amendment #464 that would work to eliminate barriers homeless youth face in obtaining IDs.

Without state ID, youth experiencing homelessness are prevented from accomplishing many critical and daily tasks, from enrolling in education programs to something as simple as getting a library card.

The amendment would have established a process to waive the prohibitive $25 state ID card fee and created an alternative application process for those who cannot meet existing criteria (such as providing proof of residency). Unfortunately, these policy provisions were not included in the final Senate budget.

While we are disappointed by this development, we will continue to advocate for legislation currently before the Joint Transportation Committee (S.2043/H.3066), which would also ease the process for youth experiencing homelessness to obtain state ID. Click here for more information, and stay tuned to see how you can help advocate to get these common-sense reforms passed this year!


On To the Conference Committee!

The Conference Committee, made up of six legislators – three representatives, three senators – will review both the House and Senate budgets and work to reconcile any differences. The Committee has until July 1st to pass a final reconciled budget and send it to Governor Baker’s desk for approval.

This is a decisive moment for our budget priorities, and we can’t do it without you. When you contact your legislators in support of these funding levels, especially at this final hurdle, you’re helping ensure some of Massachusetts’ most vulnerable communities are supported and empowered to succeed in 2020.

Click here to find your legislator’s contact information. Then call or email both your state senator and representative and ask them to urge the members of the Conference Committee (listed below) to adopt the Senate funding levels for each of these important line items described above.

Thank you for your ongoing support and advocacy. With your help, we can ensure these crucial line items receive the funding they need in the coming year.

 

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Kristen Graves, Board Member

Can you tell me how you first got involved with MA Appleseed? What drew you to the mission?

I applied for a summer internship with MA Appleseed after my first year of law school, but I did not get the job! Instead, I ended up working for the City of Boston as a legislative assistant for the Boston City Council. Around that time, Board member Lawrence Friedman invited me to work with the Marketing Committee at Appleseed. We ended up organizing a big Board retreat and did a lot of strategic planning and organizational soul-searching. We hired a new Executive Director, streamlined our project portfolio, and developed a signature project. We also started the Good Apple Reception, both as a way to highlight “Good Doobies,” but also as a way to generate funds. Once I graduated law school and started working for Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) as a public defender, I was invited to join the Board.

I saw it as another opportunity to engage in social justice work from a systemic angle, with really smart, really well-connected people.

You weren’t just a Board member – you were actually the interim Executive Director for a period of time! Can you talk a little bit about that?

I was the interim Executive Director during my third year of law school and was asked to step in during a leadership transition. I helped run the Board meetings, hired interns for the summer, overhauled the office, and generally kept the lights on during a tough time for the organization. Afterwards, I went off to study for the bar exam, and the Board went on to hire the Great Joan Meschino as the new Executive Director! By then, the National Appleseed Center had a new Executive Director as well, and a great fundraising model. We used it ourselves, and that was our first Good Apple Reception. It was a game-changer for us.

What has surprised you most about working with MA Appleseed?

How much everyone is looking for ways to make a genuine impact.

What is your favorite memory from your time with MA Appleseed?

That moment when I looked at the financials and realized we actually had a budget and money to pay staff and work on projects. When I started working for MA Appleseed, we had maybe $5,000 in the bank.

What projects have been most meaningful to you?

The School-to-Prison Pipeline. I remember encountering the issue when I was interning for CPCS in their juvenile defender unit. I started talking to a few folks at Harvard Law School and the Georgia and Texas Appleseeds about the scope of the problem. I wasn’t sure what role MA Appleseed could play, but I knew we had to get involved in this issue. At that time, MA Appleseed was looking for a signature project and this seemed to be a good fit for us.

You’re a public defender, on the front lines of this kind of work. What’s your personal philosophy about access to justice?

That there isn’t enough of it. There’s more access to justice for criminal defendants than for any other litigants, thanks to Gideon. When I think of access to justice within the context of my work as a public defender, I think about it more in terms of having access to affordable and competent counsel. There needs to be a civil Gideon.

You’re departing from the MA Appleseed Board of Directors this year. Do you have any advice for current and future Board members, or any final thoughts with which to leave the organization?

Keep your eyes peeled. There are plenty of everyday issues that need to be addressed systemically. When you come across something in your daily work that doesn’t seem right, figure out how to leverage MA Appleseed’s resources to address it. Chances are pretty high that you aren’t the only one who has noticed that something about that needs to change.

Kristen Graves joined the Board of Directors of Massachusetts Appleseed in 2007, and we thank her for the years of passion and energy she has dedicated to promoting equal rights and opportunities for all Massachusetts residents.

 

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For Immediate Release

BOSTON, May 29, 2019 – The Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice applauds the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission’s conclusions in its recently released report that courthouse cell phone bans create “unacceptable hardships” for court users and visitors. The Commission’s report recommended that cell phone bans “should be phased out in favor of alternative security measures” that prevent the misuse of cell phones in courthouses while allowing court users access to their devices.

These findings echo a July 2018 report by Massachusetts Appleseed that detailed how cell phone bans prevent people without attorneys from presenting critical evidence stored on their phones or referencing relevant legal resources during their legal proceedings. Appleseed also found that these bans create serious hardships for low-income court users who are often unable to coordinate childcare, transportation, and their absences from work without access to their cell phones.

“The burden of courthouse cell phone bans falls especially hard on people with business before the court who cannot afford to hire an attorney to represent them, many of whom are also members of other vulnerable populations,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of Massachusetts Appleseed. “I’m thrilled to see the Massachusetts court system take another step closer to ensuring justice for all and am grateful to the Access to Justice Commission’s working group for its thorough and thoughtful study of this issue.”

Cell phone bans exist in 56 court facilities across Massachusetts, but the Commission recommended that the bans be reviewed and eliminated in most courthouses while providing exemptions for self-represented litigants in all courthouses during the transition period. In high-security risk courthouses where restrictions are deemed necessary, the Commission recommended that the bans could be replaced with either in-court storage facilities or Yondr pouches (tamper-proof containers that the phone’s owner can carry but have to be unlocked by security personnel). The Commission’s report also emphasized that the court system’s portable electronic device policies should focus on regulating the use of devices rather than the possession of them.

Massachusetts Appleseed’s report, Cell Phones in the Courthouse, an Access to Justice Perspective, can be found on its website: www.massappleseed.org.

 

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. Appleseed uses research, collaboration, and advocacy to advance social justice across the Commonwealth. For more information about Massachusetts Appleseed, visit www.massappleseed.org. Follow us on Twitter: @MassAppleseed.

Media Contact:
Deborah Silva, Executive Director, Massachusetts Appleseed
617-482-9111, deb@massappleseed.org

“Each line item, each number, is much more than just a number. It is a statement of the Senate’s priorities and our values and what we hold dear.”

Senate President Karen Spilka

With the House budget settled, it’s the Senate’s turn to look ahead towards 2020. The Senate Committee on Ways & Means released its budget earlier this month, and while several of the line items we support have been fully funded, there is still a funding gap for one critical issue — civil legal aid. And there’s also a chance to advance opportunities for youth experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts. Please take a moment and check out our budget priorities below and the amendments Senators Creem, Eldridge, Chandler, and Welch have filed for civil legal aid and for youth experiencing homelessness.

Your vocal support for these amendments and line items makes all the difference, and we can’t do this without you. Please join us and call your State Senator to ensure these key areas are fully funded and included in the Senate’s final budget!

First, the Good News…

Safe and Supportive School Environments

The Safe and Supportive Schools law, passed in 2014, was enacted to make the vision of safe and supportive whole-school cultures that address many barriers to learning a reality. I’m pleased to report that the Senate Committee on Ways & Means has recommended slightly above level funding ($500,000) for the Safe and Supportive Schools line item (7061-9612). This funding will be used to continue the Safe and Supportive Schools Grant Program, develop school-wide Action Plans, collect feedback from students, and more.

Youth Homelessness: Housing and Support Services

The Senate Committee on Ways & Means has recommended $5 million for housing and supportive services for youth experiencing homelessness (line item 4000-0007)! With reports of youth homelessness on the rise, it is critical that the state continue to invest in long-term solutions to build on past progress and provide much-needed support to vulnerable youth in Massachusetts. We look forward to advocating for the Senate’s recommendation when the Conference Committee convenes!

Budget Amendments That Need Your Support!

Civil Legal Aid

Civil legal aid organizations are often the last place low-income residents facing a civil legal crisis can turn to. For those dealing with life-altering legal issues such as eviction, domestic violence, and more, civil legal aid is a lifeline. We thank the Senate Committee on Ways & Means for recommending $22 million in its budget for civil legal aid, an increase of $1 million over last year.

But with civil legal aid organizations forced to turn away a MAJORITY of eligible residents seeking help every year, it’s still not enough.

Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem and Senate Judiciary Chair Jamie Eldridge have filed Amendment #976 to increase funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) line item (0321-1600) to $24 million.

As Senate President Karen Spilka said, the budget is a statement of our priorities and our values. We know civil legal aid is among our priorities, and we know it’s among yours. We must ensure it’s among the Senate’s as well.

Click here for more information about this issue.

Action You Can Take:

Click here to find your State Senator’s contact information TODAY and ask them to support Amendment #976.

Youth Homelessness: Massachusetts State ID

Without government-issued identification, youth experiencing homelessness are unable to complete many important and routine tasks, such as opening a bank account, enrolling in education programs, getting a library card, entering certain government buildings, and more. Right now, there are barriers in place that prevent youth experiencing homelessness from easily obtaining ID.

Some service providers for people experiencing homelessness estimate that half of their clients lack identification cards.

While we will continue to advocate for the passage of a refiled bill throughout the year that would eliminate these barriers, Senators Chandler and Welch have filed Amendment #464 that would address this issue now!

This amendment would establish a process to waive the $25 state ID card fee for youth experiencing homelessness (adding $50,000 to the Transportation Trust Fund, line item 1595-6368) and create an alternative application process if they cannot meet existing criteria (such as providing proof of residency). These are common-sense reforms that will enable youth experiencing homelessness to access the life-saving resources they need.

Click here for more information about this issue.

Action You Can Take:

Click here to find your State Senator’s contact information TODAY and ask them to support Amendment #464.


This time of year is so important, and I want to thank you for raising your voice and helping us get this year’s budget battles off to a great start.

By ensuring Amendments #976 and 464 are included in the Senate’s budget, we will have a better chance of obtaining adequate funding for civil legal aid and support for youth experiencing homelessness in the final budget that the legislature sends to the Governor this summer. Please call your State Senator and urge them to include civil legal aid and state ID for youth experiencing homelessness in their FY20 priorities.

Thank you for your continued support and advocacy.

 

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