It’s been a busy past few weeks in the BBA’s Government Relations department. Although the legislature is not in formal session, we’ve had plenty of activities and events to keep us occupied. Here is a rundown of some of the recent goings-on.
Inspiring Public Service Leader Eugene O’Flaherty speaks to PILP
A couple weeks ago we attended a meeting of the BBA Public Interest Leadership Project (PILP), for an intimate discussion with former legislator and current City of Boston Corporation Counsel Eugene O’Flaherty. The presentation gave us a great opportunity to hear about the life and career of one of Boston’s most well-known public-service attorneys.
Eugene O’Flaherty spoke candidly and at length about his upbringing, legal work – often as a bar advocate, legislative career, and current role as Boston’s Corporation Counsel. When he was 26, O’Flaherty decided to run for a vacant State Representative seat in his district. Despite the fact that his opponent was a well-established and respected member of the community who vastly outspent him, O’Flaherty won the election. He credits this first victory to outworking his opponent – knocking on doors and speaking first-hand with the people in his district.
He was subsequently re-elected nine times, serving for 19 years, 12 of them as Chair of the Judiciary Committee. O’Flaherty described chairing this Committee as both a challenge and a triumph. He was pleased at his appointment to the post in 2002, but noted that his reaction may have demonstrated naiveté. The Judiciary Committee regularly considers many of the most contentious bills, and O’Flaherty explained that his service made him both appreciate the challenge of the position and grow a thick skin. He cited defeating the reintroduction of capital punishment as his greatest success in this role. O’Flaherty also noted close ties to his community as a driver of his success, explaining that his constituents tended to be highly politically involved and proactive in identifying issues of importance for him to champion.
This year, O’Flaherty made a jump to working as Corporation Counsel at the repeated requests of Mayor Marty Walsh, a close friend since the time they joined the Legislature. He told PILP about his adjustment – thus far it has been both demanding and gratifying, but certainly no small task to limit the city’s legal exposure across all areas of law, keep the city running smoothly, and help the Mayor implement his vision.
One thing is for certain, Eugene O’Flaherty is no stranger to serving the public and getting results in the face of great challenges. The PILP members were energized by his presentation and continued the discussion with multiple questions about his life and extensive career accomplishments. He ended his presentation by challenging PILP members to get involved with local government and the City of Boston by serving on one of its Boards and Committees. We learned a lot about a respected lawyer and public servant and were pleased to watch him inspire the next generation of public interest lawyers in Boston.
Leaders in the Fight against Opiate Addiction Come Together
The conversation from one of our recent blog posts continued in early September at “In Our Own Backyard: A Panel Discussion on the Opiate Epidemic in Massachusetts.” This discussion, hosted by The United States District Court, District of Massachusetts and held at the Moakley Courthouse, featured two panels of distinguished speakers sharing their work, observations, and ideas about how to solve the opiate crisis in Massachusetts.
The first panel featured Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Representative Randy Hunt, Doctor Alexander Walley, and U.S. District Court Judge Leo T. Sorokin. The second panel consisted of Quincy Police Lieutenant Patrick Glynn, Senior U.S. Probation Officer Andrew Laudate, Lahey Behavioral Health Services Representative Kevin Norton, Boston Medical Center Representative Colleen LaBelle, and Learn to Cope, Inc. founder Joanne Peterson. Here are some of the major points they discussed:
- The key to solving the opiate addiction crisis is combining enforcement, education, and treatment.
- Education must start for children in elementary school in addition to being generally available for everyone, especially parents.
- More first responders should be trained to administer Narcan, a drug which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
- Police and drug enforcement officers need to provide facilities for people to deposit their un-used prescription pills to avoid their misuse or theft.
- The Massachusetts prison system would better serve recovering addicts by shrinking or eliminating “queues” – to receive treatment. A great deal of data corroborates the fact that addicts who assent to treatment are far more successful if they receive that treatment immediately rather than having to wait for weeks or even months to begin.
- The state needs more treatment facilities and we must find ways to overcome the financial shortcomings facing these institutions.
- There are currently some effective programs that merit continuation and possible expansion such as the District Court’s CARE program whereby judges meet with drug addicts undergoing treatment to monitor their progress and assess the need for small responsive penalties. This program has a proven track record, allowing judges to be most responsive to a person’s needs and immediately reactive to potentially negative or dangerous behavior that could lead to recidivism or further drug abuse.
Civil Legal Services Achieve Breakthrough
We recently learned about a major SJC ruling that lowered the standard for defendants to have their case records sealed and giving judges further guidance on this issue. The ruling is the result of the hard work of Greater Boston Legal Services’ (GBLS) CORI & Re-entry Project. It will help individuals who are burdened by their criminal record, which can interfere with their ability to reintegrate in society by adding hurdles to tasks such as securing housing or a job.
Under the previous regime of the Commonwealth v. Doe case, litigants, who were often unrepresented, had to prove that: (1) the value of sealing their records clearly outweighed the constitutionally-protected value of the record remaining open to the public, (2) that there was a compelling state interest in sealing the record, and (3) that there was a risk of specific harm from the record. Otherwise judges had little guidance on the practice of record sealing.
The new case, Commonwealth v. Pon, lowers the record sealing standard to “good cause” and provides additional guidance for judges, advising them to consider the government’s interest in reducing recidivism, facilitating reintegration, and ensuring self-sufficiency by promoting employment and housing opportunities for former criminal defendants. Thus, future litigants need only share a present or foreseeable future disadvantage related to their CORI for the court to seal the record. MassLegalHelp offers assistance by way of information and forms to those seeking to seal their criminal records under the new ruling.
In all, the last few weeks have kept us busy, just the way we like it. We will continue to keep you in the know on all of our latest news and events.
– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association