We are all excited about this year’s BBA Annual Meeting Luncheon, which takes place next Friday, September 18, at the Seaport World Trade Center. (Tickets are still available. Further info here.)
The keynote speaker, as you’ve probably heard, is Governor Charlie Baker. But here, let’s throw a spotlight onto the two legislative honorees at the event, and the pivotal roles they have played in fighting for BBA priorities.
Speaker Robert DeLeo — a member of the state’s House of Representatives since 1991, and that body’s leader since 2009 – will receive a Presidential Citation from BBA President Lisa Arrowood. This award will be bestowed in recognition of his leadership in securing the enactment of a number of major legislative reforms that have maintained and built upon Massachusetts’ role as a national policy leader.
Speaker DeLeo has been a tireless supporter of both the judiciary and civil legal aid. It is in large part a testament to the Speaker that the courts have flourished in recent years, as he worked with former Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick Ireland on restructuring the court system and overseeing a much-needed judicial pay raise that will help assure that the Commonwealth continues to benefit from the highest-caliber judges. The Trial Court is still in the midst of implementing its recent strategic plan, and the justice system as a whole is again able to innovate — for example, through the implementation and expansion of specialty courts, court service centers, and probationary programs.
Speaker DeLeo has long been an advocate for civil legal aid. Under his leadership, the House has repeatedly passed budgets providing funding increases for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. Always concerned about the human side of public policy, the Speaker pushed the BBA Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid to include in its 2014 Investing in Justice report accounts of real people benefitting from legal services. While he certainly valued and appreciated the report’s ground-breaking econometric studies and statistical analyses of current legal-aid turn-away rates and the potential return on investment from legal-aid funding, he never lost sight of the real reason legal aid is important: It helps people secure and preserve life’s necessities, such as shelter or protection from abuse.
Our Distinguished Legislator Award goes to Representative John Fernandes, a House member since 2007 and currently the House Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. Chairman Fernandes has been the force behind many positive changes in the state. He co-chaired the Legislature’s Alimony Reform Task Force, which wrote and secured passage of sweeping reforms to modernize the Massachusetts alimony law, now hailed locally and nationally as a model for alimony reform. He also sponsored, and successfully shepherded through to enactment, the Post-Conviction Forensic Testing Law that provided a process by which individuals convicted of serious crimes can obtain access to testing of evidence such as DNA that may prove they were wrongfully convicted. This effort built directly upon the work of a BBA task force and their Getting It Right report.
In 2013, Representative Fernandes joined the BBA Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts. He was an integral member of the Task Force, providing many insights and strategic counsel on the interplay of civil legal aid and the Legislature. Since then, he has been one of the leading voices for MLAC funding, which culminated in an additional $2 million in the FY2016 state budget appropriation.
As Co-Chair of the Judiciary — a Committee which considers many BBA bills, among the hundreds before it each session — Representative Fernandes is already making an impact, and we look forward to continuing to work with him in this new role.
Similarly, we look forward to seeing all of you next Friday at the Seaport World Trade Center, as we honor these two outstanding elected officials before hearing from the Governor. Please join us.
— Michael Avitzur
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association