Monthly Archives: September 2020

Thoughts on Losing Two Legal Legends

The following was sent by CPCS Chief Counsel Anthony Benedetti to the entire agency regarding the passing of Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants and Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

This past week brought devastating news to the legal system, the commonwealth and the nation. We lost two legal legends with the passing of Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants and Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Their tireless, standard-setting work changed the trajectory of the law for years to come.

Ginsburg ensured that so many received equal protection under the law, believing that “We, the People” in the Constitution should be as all-encompassing as possible, and include all those left out when it was first written. She was a trailblazer specifically in moving the law dramatically toward recognizing gender equality. Ginsburg became a cultural icon and a role model later in life, in large part due to her blistering dissents in numerous cases in which she was on the losing end but knew that she was on the right side of history. Her career has launched thousands of legal careers. Many of those who she inspired show up in our courts every single day and fight for the rights of those who have the least. Her spirit lives on through your advocacy and empathy, and I am proud to call you colleagues.

More locally, Ralph Gants fought tirelessly to allow everyone to have access to the courts, and he forced the legal system to take a long, hard look at the inequities that persist today. He was a champion of civil legal aid and supported our mission to provide top-level representation to the people of this commonwealth. Along the way, he managed to find the time to connect with many of us personally. The bipartisan tributes to the Chief Justice say it all. He was fair, fearless and left the SJC in a better place than where he found it.

Losing both of these legal giants this week is painful and has understandably left many feeling sad, lost and discouraged. But the legacies of Ginsburg and Gants will not and cannot simply be left to history. Neither of them would have accomplished what they did if they succumbed to feelings of hopelessness. Their legacies will continue on through us – and not just public defenders and lawyers. They will carry on through every person who continues to believe that the law is for the many, not the few. We will continue our fight with their legacies, and that guiding principle, in mind. As RBG said: “If you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself… something that makes life a little better for people less fortunate than you.”

Committee Meeting Agenda – September 17, 2020 Meeting

Due to social distancing, the Committee will be conducting all matters virtually

  1. Approval of minutes of the July 15, 2020 meeting
  2. Amicus Request(s)
    1. Commonwealth v. T.J., A Juvenile, SJC-12986
    2. Commonwealth v. Keith Winfield, 2019-P-871 (Reporting Only)
  3. Monthly Financial Overview Report
  4. Commitments $10,000 and Over Report
  5. COVID-19 Status Update
  6. Litigation Update:
    1. Carasquillo
    2. DOC
    3. City of Springfield
  7. Chief Counsel Report

Registration is required to join the meeting.
Register in advance for this meeting:
https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAsceuopjgjHN1nicuo3tIl08vr_4qfbbW_

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

 

 

CPCS Chief Counsel Discusses Civil Rights and Criminal Justice at Boston College Law Rappaport Center Event

Committee for Public Counsel Services Chief Counsel Anthony Benedetti joined Hon. Geraldine Hines, former Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court; Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights; and Carol Rose, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts for a discussion about civil rights and criminal justice on Sept. 3.

The discussion was hosted by Boston College Law’s Rappaport Center.

Tribute to Attorney Ed Barshak, Early Pioneer in Massachusetts Indigent Defense

Edward J. Barshak, a titan in the Massachusetts legal industry and a trailblazer in the fight for the right to counsel, passed away last month. He was 96 years old.

Barshak spent his career pushing to create a better legal system for all people. He is an important figure in the history of indigent defense in Massachusetts, serving as the main litigator in Brown v. Commonwealth, the landmark Supreme Judicial Court decision that created a right to counsel for criminal defendants under the Massachusetts constitution. Six years later, the United States Supreme Court found that the federal Constitution bestowed the same rights in Gideon v. Wainwright.

Attorney Barshak served as the chair of the Massachusetts Defenders Committee, the precursor to the Committee for Public Counsel Services, for several years in the mid-1970’s.  He forcefully fought for federal funds for the MDC, demanding that public defenders receive the same level of funding as prosecutors.  He was a leader in establishing the Committee policy that staff attorneys would not represent co-defendants and obtained the backing of the SJC in support of that policy.  Finally, he also was instrumental in the establishment of the Roxbury Defenders Committee.

His career is filled with examples of stepping up to represent those who needed an attorney to fight for them against the power of the state.   When attorneys were accused of associating with communist activities during the Red Scare, Barshak rose to the occasion and represented them.  When a person was federally charged after advocating resistance to the Vietnam War draft, Barshak represented him – advocacy that led to the conviction being vacated by the First Circuit.

Barshak served as president of the Boston Bar Association from 1974 to 1976 and was honored with the BBA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014. While heading the BBA, he helped create the Legal Advocacy and Resource Center, which continues to connect low-income individuals with free legal advice and referrals. He was also instrumental in the creation of the Judicial Nominating Committee.

“1970’s Boston was a time of upheaval and controversy. The city’s future stood on a knife edge, with communities torn apart by the contentious desegregation of Boston Public Schools and resulting busing crisis,” the BBA wrote, when giving Barshak the Lifetime Achievement Award. “At the time, the BBA was not known for weighing in on community issues. Ed, with a steadfast belief in the nobility of the legal profession, believed that lawyers could help guide progress and make a difference.”

Barshak also served as a Director for the Lawyers for Civil Rights, Chair of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners and also Chair of the Joint Bar Committee on Judicial Appointments

In 2016, the Edward J. Barshak Fund for Justice was established to provide litigation resources for anti-discrimination cases brought by the Lawyers for Civil Rights.

Barshak was the recipient of the NAACP Boston Branch Special Award for Legal Assistance on a Continuing Basis. He also won the Anti-Defamation League’s William O. Douglas First Amendment Freedom Award.

Anthony J. Benedetti
Chief Counsel
Committee for Public Counsel Services
44 Bromfield Street
Boston, MA 02108