Monthly Archives: October 2019

SJC: School Assembly Amendment Applies Retroactively

Legislation geared toward keeping kids out of the school-to-prison pipeline by prohibiting criminal proceedings against juvenile students for “disturbing a school assembly” based on in-school conduct must be applied retroactively to cases pending when the law was enacted, according to a recent high court decision.

The Supreme Judicial Court, siding with the position of the Committee for Public Counsel Services and others, found that it would be “repugnant to the purpose of the Legislature’s amendment of the school assembly statute” to have the law apply prospectively.

The student who was being prosecuted under the old version of the law was represented in his appeal to the SJC by Eva Jellison, a private attorney assigned to the case by CPCS.

“The disturbing a school assembly offense was a major factor in the school-to-prison pipeline. For example, in 2016, 250 children were charged solely with disturbing a school assembly,” Jellison said. “The children that this offense affected the most were black, brown, LGBTQ, poor, and disabled.”

The SJC vacated a lower court’s adjudication of delinquency against the juvenile and remanded the case for dismissal.

“The legislative intent was to reduce the number of kids involved in the juvenile justice system,” said Afton M. Templin, director of juvenile appeals for CPCS’s Youth Advocacy Division. “We are pleased with the decision, and we are hopeful that this reduces the number of kids in the school-to-prison pipeline.”

CPCS’s Youth Advocacy Division filed an amicus brief, which was written by private attorney Melissa Allen Celli. The brief urged the high court to apply the law retroactively. Citizens for Juvenile Justice, the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee, Massachusetts Appleseed, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Anti-Defamation League all signed onto the brief.

This marks the second time the SJC sided with CPCS regarding the retroactivity of the Criminal Justice Reform Act. Earlier this year, the high court found that the Legislature’s revised definition of “delinquent child” in the Act must apply retroactively.

Press Contact:
Bob McGovern

Boston Globe Shines Light on Impact of DCF Office Moves

The Department of Children and Families has recently moved some of its field offices from city centers to areas that are not as accessible to parents who have lost custody of their children and are attempting to participate in visits with their children.

The Boston Globe’s Kay Lazar chronicled this concerning trend in a recent article, and Michael Dsida, deputy chief counsel for Committee for Public Counsel Services provided insight.

“Our clients are … poor and disproportionately dependent on public transit or the kindness of friends,” Dsida said. “When [public transit] is taken away or significantly scaled back, it makes it harder for them to see their children and their children to see them.”

A letter sent by CPCS attorney Catherine Sinnott to DCF was also quoted in Lazar’s article.

In a blunt letter to DCF, the state public defender’s agency said the Lowell relocation to Chelmsford “has been a disastrous move for the families that DCF serves.” The letter describes significant gaps in the schedule for the single bus line that stops close to the new office park in Chelmsford. And parents are expected to play with their children in grim, windowless rooms.

“Visits are bleak at the DCF facility,” it says. “There is nothing to engage a family near the Chelmsford office, no outdoor playground, no local fast food chain, no urban street to stroll along and window shop.”

Press Contact:
Bob McGovern

Seeking Counsel for Child Welfare Appeals

The Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) is seeking private attorneys to join the Children and Family Law (CAFL) Division appellate panel.  CAFL appeals are appeals of final judgments in care and protection, termination of parental rights, guardianship of a minor, contested adoption, and other child welfare proceedings.  Most cases concern intervention by the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families in family life.  The work of the CAFL appellate panel attorneys includes interviewing and visiting clients, conducting legal research, writing motions and briefs, and arguing cases before the Massachusetts Appeals Court and Supreme Judicial Court.  All CAFL appeals get oral argument.  Private panel attorneys handle the vast majority of CAFL appeals; other CAFL appeals are handled by the CAFL Appellate (staff) Unit.  This posting is not for a staff position; it is for private attorneys to obtain certification to receive, and be compensated for, CAFL appellate appointments.  Compensation is $55/hour.  New CAFL appellate attorneys receive free mentoring for several years.  Private panel attorneys submit bills to CPCS and must agree to follow all billing and other requirements set forth in the CPCS Assigned Counsel Manual, available at:

Applicants must be admitted to the Massachusetts bar or be eligible for admission by June 30, 2020. Admission into the training is competitive and not all applicants will be admitted.  All admitted applicants must attend the three-day CAFL appellate training program scheduled for May 5, May 6, and May 7, 2020, at the office of Community Legal Aid, 405 Main Street, Worcester, Massachusetts.  The agency actively seeks to diversify its private attorney panel membership. Qualifications can be found here.

Applications are due on March 31, 2020, but will be accepted on a rolling basis until the training is filled.  Applications are available here: CAFL Appellate Panel Application – May 2020

Kindly direct any questions to Andrew Cohen, CPCS/CAFL Director of Appellate Panel, at:


CPCS Attorney Wins Leadership Award

Mona Igram, the attorney in charge of the Committee for Public Counsel Services’ Youth Advocacy Division office in Lowell, has been honored with the Lawrence Bar Association’s Leadership Award.

The award is given yearly to an attorney “who serves not only their clients and other constituents, but also generously gives back by donating services, money, and most importantly, time to make their communities a better place,” according to the bar association.

She received the award on Oct. 24 at the Andover Country Club.

Igram, who has been attorney in charge of the Lowell office since 2011, said “it is an honor to receive the Leadership Award from my colleagues” at the bar association.

“Being able to work on behalf of young people in the city of Lawrence has been one of the true highlights of my career as a public defender,” Igram said. “Their resiliency, imagination and drive to create a better life for themselves is truly inspiring.”

Joshua Dohan, director of the Youth Advocacy Division (YAD), said he was “delighted but not surprised” to hear that Igram received the prestigious honor.

“Mona has long been an important leader of the Juvenile Defense Bar in Massachusetts and an inspiration to anyone interested in reducing racial and ethnic disparities in our society,” Dohan said.

Igram first joined YAD as a consultant to the Juvenile Defense Network in 2008. She participates regularly in legal education training sessions for lawyers, community organizations and youth.

Prior to joining YAD, she was in private practice with the Law Offices of Aruri & Igram in Lowell, representing youth and adults in delinquency, criminal defense, and care and protection matters in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Prior to her time in private practice, she was a staff attorney with the New Hampshire Public Defender, where represented adults and juveniles in criminal cases.

She is a graduate of the University of Iowa and the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Law.

The Youth Advocacy Division  ensures that every child from an indigent family in Massachusetts has access to zealous legal representation that incorporates a Youth Development Approach, resulting in fair treatment in court.

Press Contact:
Bob McGovern

CPCS Statement on Chief Justices’ Letter to ICE

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants and Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey wrote a letter to United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), urging the federal agency to stop deporting defendants awaiting trial without notifying attorneys involved in the ongoing cases.

Below is a statement from Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel for the Committee for Public Counsel Services:

“ICE must stop ripping our clients away from their right to a fair trial, and we agree with Chief Justices Gants and Carey that this is a practice that severely interferes with the state criminal process. We urge ICE to consider the wishes of Massachusetts prosecutors, judges and public defenders and allow our criminal justice system to operate unimpeded.”

Press Contact:
Bob McGovern