News Releases
May 02, 2024

Policy and News from the Courts, Week of April 29


House Votes to Add Funding for SJC, Legal Services

Last week, the House of Representatives finalized its state-budget plan for Fiscal Year 2025, and we were focused on four amendments addressing BBA priorities, two of which were adopted: Reps. Michael Day and Ruth Balser were successful in increasing the appropriation for legal services, through MLAC, to $53 million—or $4 million more than in the current year.​ Rep. Christine Barber‘s amendment adding $420,232 to the SJC’s line-item, bringing their funding up to the required level to maintain the same level of service, also passed.

Unfortunately, Rep. Christopher Markey‘s amendment to increase compensation rates for private bar counsel was not adopted. And while the budget does include language to create an Access to Counsel Program in eviction cases, an effort by Rep. David Rogers to clarify that the program is to offer full, rather than limited, representation statewide was also unsuccessful.

Our attention now turns to the State Senate, which takes up the budget next and will hold a final vote this month. We will continue to advocate for adequate funding in each of these areas. Watch for a possible alert to BBA members in about two weeks, seeking help with amendments in that chamber.

SJC Committee Seeks Nominations for Pro Bono Awards and Honor Roll

The SJC’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services announced that it is seeking nominations for the 2024 Adams Pro Bono Publico Awards, honoring Massachusetts lawyers, law students, law firms, and legal organizations that have “demonstrated an outstanding commitment to providing pro bono services for the benefit of individuals of limited means.” These are due by June 28. (More here)

In addition, the Committee encourages submissions by lawyers, law students, law firms, and legal organizations who qualify for the Pro Bono Honor Roll by meeting certain criteria for the number of hours of pro bono legal services provided, on either an individual or an organizational basis. These submissions are due by September 30. (More here)

A ceremony honoring Adams Award recipients and Pro Bono Honor Roll participants, and a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Standing Committee, will be held on October 30 at 4 p.m. in the John Adams Courthouse.

BBA Supports BBO Name Change but Proposes Alternative Options

The BBA submitted formal comments last week on a proposal from the SJC and BBO to change the name of the latter to the Board of Bar Oversight. Our letter to the Court states that we “share the Court’s and the BBO’s concern that the Board’s current name does not fully convey that all members of the Massachusetts bar are recognized and valued” and support “a name change … by removing and replacing the word ‘Overseers’,” because of its racist historical connotation.

The letter goes on to say, “the term ‘oversight’ does not differentiate enough from the term ‘overseers’ to effect the intended purpose of distancing the Board from racially charged language that disserves the purpose of the Board.” We therefore urge the Board to consider alternatives for the new name, such as Registration, Monitoring or Supervision—all of which are used in other states, none of which carry racial undertones.

Criminal Law Section Comments on Changes to Package-Plea Rules

Last week, the BBA submitted informal comments to the SJC on behalf of the Criminal Law section, regarding proposed amendments to Rule 12 of the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure. These changes were prompted by a 2023 SJC decision on Commonwealth v. DiBenedetto, in which the Court, in a footnote, asked the Standing Advisory Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure to propose changes to require that, if a plea agreement is conditioned on the cooperation of more than one defendant, the plea judge be informed of the package nature of the deal.

In response, the section’s comments make two main points—first, that “the proposed language seems to assume the wrong directionality of coercion in [these so-called] package plea deals. Specifically, the amendments require disclosure of ‘whether the plea is conditioned on the actions of a codefendant,’ but the more important inquiry should be whether the resolution of a codefendant’s case is conditioned on the actions of the defendant.​” This is because, as stated in DiBenedetto, a Rule 12 judicial inquiry into the voluntariness of a plea is “incomplete if the judge is not made aware that the defendant’s codefendants had reason to pressure the defendant to plead guilty.”

Second, the section was concerned about the inclusion of “cooperation agreements” in these amendments, given that DiBenedetto does not mention them. “Cooperation agreements” generally refer to agreements to testify against or otherwise provide information about third parties, and the comments convey uncertainty about whether the new amendments would apply to them—​and, if so, whether the amendments would require disclosure of the terms of the agreements or just their existence, and what issues judges should consider in evaluating a cooperations agreement’s effect on the voluntariness of a plea. The comments go on to express concern that the amendments would make such agreements presumptively public, “which would create serious dangers to the pleading defendant.”

One New Judge Confirmed, Two New Nominations

This week, the Governor’s Council confirmed Rebecca Figueroa, Governor Maura Healey’s latest nominee to the BMC, to fill a vacancy left by retired Judge Michael Bolden. Judge Figueroa has worked in the Suffolk Superior Court’s Criminal Division since 2017, conducting proceedings such as arraignments, bail hearings, and pre-trial conferences, having begun her career as a public defender in the BMC’s Roxbury Division.

At the same time, the Governor made two nominations to the District Court:

  • Sarah Kennedy, a graduate of Suffolk Law School, has worked as a Middlesex County ADA, as supervising trial attorney in Lawrence for CPCS, and most recently as assistant clerk magistrate in the BMC’s Dorchester Division.
  • Edward Krippendorf, Jr., is in private practice at a Westwood firm that he co-founded, where he handles criminal defense, civil matters, and administrative law. He was previously a prosecutor with the Suffolk County DA’s Office, after graduating from New England Law | Boston.

BBA Leadership Meets with Land Court Bench

This week, BBA President Hannah Kilson and President-Elect Matt McTygue joined the Land Court’s Chief Justice Gordon Piper, several other judges, and top Court staffers for a discussion of issues facing the Court. Among the topics covered was tax-lien foreclosures, with the Court planning a clinic to help affected homeowners—and with fallout from the Supreme Court’s Tyler decision last May still reverberating through the legislative and judicial branches in Massachusetts. The Court also sought the BBA’s help in publicizing two upcoming vacancies on the bench and the Court’s recently launched initiative to offer remedies for homeowners with unconstitutionally biased covenants still in their deeds.