Massachusetts State House.
Policy Library

Taking Advocacy on the Road

October 11, 2012

This year we’d like to take our advocacy on the road and actually visit courts throughout Massachusetts with our state legislators. BBA President J.D. Smeallie hopes to start with the court closest to his home – Salem District Court – accompanied by his state representative and state senator.  Currently, J.D.’s district is represented by State Representative Jerry Parisella – a lawyer legislator – and outgoing State Senator Fred Barry. (Running to replace Senator Barry are Joan Lovely, an attorney and Salem City Council President, and Richard Jolitz, a paramedic and dispatcher.)

Here’s why: The BBA wants the opportunity to ask questions, share concerns and ideas on a friendly, informal basis with judges and legislators at the same time. The visits may also be a tutorial on how particular courts operate and the role they play in the lives of their constituents.

We want legislators to be able to experience in person the volume and complexity of judges’ work and to see how our courts have been faring during the last few years of fiscal uncertainty. We hope to create a shared understanding between these two co-equal branches of government about the need for adequate funding of our justice system.

Salem District Court is just the starting point. Enlisting our bar leaders, we plan to invite legislators to join us on visits to a number of other courts serving the communities in which our leaders live.

So despite the perception that the Legislature is dominated by lawyers, the numbers tell a different story. As of right now we have 54 lawyer legislators; 42 in the House and 12 in the Senate. Considering the House has a total of 160 members and the Senate a total of 40, the number of lawyer legislators is relatively small.

With Election Day less than one month away, these numbers could shift. We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: The BBA is a nonpartisan organization, and we do not endorse parties or candidates.

However, we are keenly interested in the makeup of the Massachusetts Legislature, and the impact that has on court funding. As the number of lawyers in the legislature declines, it is incumbent on us to help frame the debate in terms of the important role courts play in the lives of constituents.

Advocating for our state courts is one of the BBA’s top priorities. We’ve done it in the past (see our work on Court Advocacy Day and our report on the court’s budget) and we’ve done it well. But this is a permanent campaign requiring that we continue our advocacy efforts.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association