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Policy Library

Summer Summaries

August 28, 2014

As we at the BBA prepare to usher in a new program year and new president, Julia Huston, we’ve been keeping an eye on some recent legal events that may be of interest.

Civil Legal Aid

New American Bar Association (ABA) President William Hubbard announced that he will use his post to find ways to provide legal services to low-income individuals.  This is particularly timely for us given the impending release of the report authored by the BBA Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts.   The Task Force’s report is expected to be released in September, and its members will be honored at this year’s Annual Meeting on September 12.

Hubbard’s initiative is already underway with a Commission on the Future of Legal Services approved in June by the ABA Board of Governors.  In addition, in late spring of 2015, the ABA is planning to host a national conference on legal services delivery.  The ABA seeks to identify the most innovative practices from across the country with a focus on the use of new technology, especially in the field of communications, where a recent Legal Services Corporation study found that an overwhelming majority of individuals below the poverty level have cell phones, and nearly half have smartphones.

The ABA is also committed to continuing the Legal Access Job Corps program started by its former president, James R. Silkenat.  This program seeks to bring together two communities – those in need of legal aid and the growing ranks of unemployed and underemployed lawyers.  This summer the Legal Access Job Corps gave out “catalyst awards” to legal services offices, bar associations, and law schools to help fund projects employing new lawyers in innovative ways to address the legal needs of poor or moderate-income people.

We applaud the work of the ABA on this issue, and look forward to the findings of the conference.  Keep an eye out for our Task Force Report coming soon.

Marriage Equality

A few weeks ago we wrote about a Fourth Circuit case striking down Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage which appears bound for the Supreme Court.  In addition we noted a positive trend, a string of state and federal rulings supporting same-sex marriage over the last 14 months following the Supreme Court ruling’s ruling in the Windsor and Perry cases.  The BBA has long been a supporter of marriage equality, having filed amicus briefs in its defense in 2002, 2005, 2011, and for two cases in 2013.

It looks like another Circuit is following this trend.  This time the good news comes from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals where a three-judge panel struck down same-sex marriage bans in both Wisconsin and Indiana.  This was especially noteworthy due to the 7th Circuit’s traditionally conservative tone and the judges’ challenging questions to attorneys at oral argument, including what benefits society gained from barring same-sex marriages and whether children of same-sex couples might suffer psychologically if their parents had to try to explain why they were not allowed to be married while other children they interacted with had legally married parents of opposite sexes.

We are tracking these cases and keeping an eye on the U.S. Supreme Court docket to see whether they will weigh in next session.

From the SJC

On Monday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled, in the case of Commonwealth v. Jose A. Guzman, that a law requiring GPS monitoring during probation for those convicted of certain “noncontact” sex offenses involving a child did not give a judge discretion on whether to impose GPS monitoring.

In that case, a Superior Court judge had declined to include GPS monitoring as a condition of probation, despite the fact that the defendant plead guilty to a sex offense involving a child, an offense requiring GPS monitoring as a condition of probation by law.  The defendant claimed that the law violated procedural due process rights and protections against unreasonable search and seizure by requiring the same probationary measure for any sex offense involving a child, from pornography (as was at issue in this case) to sexual assault.  The SJC rejected these arguments, finding that the law was Constitutional and the Superior Court judge erred.

We are looking forward to seeing many of you in the coming weeks here at 16 Beacon and at the Westin Copley for Annual Meeting while we get back into the swing of things for the 2014-15 program year.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association