It’s been six months since the BBA’s Leadership Retreat, and many of the themes still resonate. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of member involvement in our year-round commitment to advocacy on behalf of the entire justice system.
January’s Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid was a good opportunity for our members to make a connection with elected officials — but that one-day event was only the start. Since then, we’ve sat down with the Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel Kate Cook and Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo to make our pitch for funding for civil legal aid, as well as the other parts of the justice system. We will continue to reach out to leaders in all branches of government.
We can always do more. Recently, the BBA’s Criminal Law Steering Committee’s Court Funding Exploration Subcommittee completed its Initial Report and Preliminary Recommendations, which was intended as a follow up to our fall retreat. The Report reflects the discussions and independent research of three members of the Criminal Law Section – Michael Avitzur, Georgia Critsley, and Lisa Hewitt. The Subcommittee made the following four recommendations:
- Reinstituting the BBA’s “Courthouse Road Show” – This concept is based on a prior BBA initiative in which BBA leadership invited their own legislators to tour the courthouse in their own district. This was an opportunity to meet Trial Court staff directly and to hear about the effects of the court budget and also the positive changes that have recently been implemented to meet funding challenges. The BBA hopes to carry out this new iteration across the state.
- BBA Budget Hearing Panel – The Subcommittee recommends that the BBA testify in support of more funding for the trial court at a public Joint Ways and Means Committee regional hearing. Great idea, and one we haven’t thought of before. We like this idea so much that we want to take it a step further. We are in the process of setting up meetings for BBA leadership with the Chairs of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees.
- Anecdotal Evidence Collection – To bolster our arguments at these meetings, the Report recommends that the Criminal Law Steering Committee initiate the collection of anecdotes from its own members and their colleagues to give legislators a personal take on those directly affected by the Trial Court’s budget. While the budget process necessarily entails a focus on numbers, it is important to not lose the human element – funding numbers affect people, and that is what these stories will help show.
- Statehouse Budget 101 – Advocating for the Trial Court and its budget requires knowing how the budget works and how public entities are funded. While attorneys practice in the courts, they are not necessarily experts in its funding structure or the state’s budget process. Thus, the Subcommittee recommends that the Steering Committee plan an event to educate the BBA membership on the budget process and legislative cycle timelines, as well as a primer on grassroots legislative advocacy strategies. This will also be a first, and we look forward to this program.
Stay tuned to hear more about the outcomes from the suggestions in this Report and to find out how you can get involved in advocating for the judiciary.
– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association