Monthly Archives: May 2021

Defenders in the News

Hello and welcome to the third edition of Defenders in the News. 

On the last Friday of every month we will publish a list of news items, awards or big decisions involving anyone under the CPCS banner. If we missed anything, or if you spot an article that needs to be included in the weeks ahead, feel free to send it to CPCS Communications Director Bob McGovern at: rmcgovern@publiccounsel.net.

The Biden administration ended a federal agreement with the Bristol County sheriff’s office to house civil immigration detainees. A number of defense attorneys, public defenders and civil rights lawyers flagged the horrible conditions at the facility and have been involved in various efforts to get people released. Ira Alkalay, John Swomley, Mario Paredes, Ben Haldeman, Jim Vita, Jen Klein and Victoria Kelleher and others have been involved in advocacy regarding ICE detainees at the Bristol County facility.

The Massachusetts Bar Association presented its 2020 Outstanding Young Lawyer Award to Anne M. Stevenson, a private panel attorney. The annual award recognizes a young lawyer who has demonstrated outstanding character, leadership and legal achievement, and has contributed service to the community. Stevenson protects the rights of youth in Children Requiring Assistance (CRA) cases and adults with mental illnesses in civil commitment hearings. 

The Massachusetts Bar Association presented its Access to Justice COVID-19 Impact Award to the Committee for Public Counsel Services’ Nancy Baratta and Ann O’Connor for going “above and beyond during these challenging times to address legal needs arising from the pandemic.”

Wendy Wayne, director of the immigration impact unit at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, is quoted in this Law360 article about a lawsuit brought by CPCS and others challenging ICE’s Trump-era practice of conducting civil immigration enforcement actions near Massachusetts courthouses. The group dropped this suit after the Biden administration’s decision to stop the practice. 

Xiomara Hernandez and Kate McCay, private panel attorneys, were recognized by their peers “for their tremendous work on behalf of their client” in Doe, No. 6969 v. Sex Offender Registry Board, 99 Mass. App. Ct. 533 (2021). In 2005, their client was denied an attorney in a classification hearing, despite the client’s request for representation. Kate McCay moved to vacate that decision and reopen the hearing. The Sex Offender Registry Board took the position that they had no power to reopen a hearing and convinced the Superior Court to dismiss the client’s request. The Appeals Court found that the Board was wrong and ruled that the Board has the inherent authority to reopen a decision to mitigate a miscarriage of justice.  The Court also chastised the Board for its inadequate colloquy concerning waiver of counsel. Although the Court ultimately affirmed the Board’s decision, Xiomara and Kate’s client will receive a new hearing by operation of statute. By pursuing their arguments about representation, Xiomara and Kate changed the law for the better and guaranteed that their client would get a new hearing.

Rebecca Kiley and Benjamin H. Keehn, staff attorneys for CPCS, were mentioned in this Law360 article on the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision articulating that evidentiary hearings can be conducted virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic without violating a criminal defendant’s state and constitutional rights. Despite ruling that a virtual hearing would not be unconstitutional, the justices found that Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Mary K. Ames abused her discretion in August when she denied a bid from defendant John W. Vasquez Diaz to delay his hearing on the motion to suppress until it could be held in person.

Dave Rangaviz, a staff attorney, is quoted in this CommonWealth Magazine piece on the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision to hear a case about the police practice of designating people as gang members. Rangaviz said gang lists have “extreme racial disparities” and are “based on completely untested, unempirical and therefore unreliable criteria for so-called gang membership.”

Eric Tennen, a private panel attorney, is quoted in this Mass Lawyers Weekly article about a Superior Court judge allowing “cell tower dump” evidence. The judge in the case validated two warrants seeking cell site location information for every individual who communicated with any of the four major service providers near the scene of an alleged crime. Tennen argued that the searches lacked probable cause and that the warrants were essentially unparticularized general warrants.

Rebecca Jacobstein, head of CPCS’s Strategic Litigation Unit, is quoted in this Boston Globe article on Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins’ new effort to potentially overturn charges in tens of thousands of criminal cases built on drug evidence tainted by the ongoing state drug lab scandal.

Merritt Schnipper, a private panel attorney, is quoted in this CommonWealth Magazine piece about one of his clients being freed after more than four decades behind bars for a crime he insists he did not commit. 

Mass Lawyers Weekly had a story on a series of decisions limiting the admissibility of blood-alcohol content evidence in drunken driving cases and quoted a number of defense attorneys. Joseph D. Bernard, Michael A. Contant and Erin R. Opperman all gave comments for the piece.

Committee Meeting Agenda – May 19, 2021 Meeting

The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m.  Registration is required – details below.

  • Approval of minutes of the April 15, 2021 meeting
  • Amicus Request – Commonwealth v. Ernest Monell – FAR-28219
  • Contract – FY 2022 Juvenile Supervising Attorney
  • Commitments $10,000 and Over Report
  • Monthly Financial Overview Report
  • FY 2022 Budget Update
  • Personnel Subcommittee Update
  • Chief Counsel Report
  • Executive Session
    *Equity Adjustment
    *Staff Supplemental Payment Proposal

    Registration is required to join the meeting
    When: May 19, 2021 05:30 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
    Topic: CPCS Committee Meeting
    Register in advance for this webinar:
    https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_py_LKIFBSL6H0jFIVeQLaA

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

Baratta, O’Connor Win MBA’s COVID-19 Impact Award

Children and Family Law attorneys Nancy Baratta, Esq., left, and Ann Balmelli O’Connor, Esq.

The Massachusetts Bar Association has announced that it will present its Access to Justice COVID-19 Impact Award to the Committee for Public Counsel Services’ Nancy Baratta and Ann O’Connor for going “above and beyond during these challenging times to address legal needs arising from the pandemic.”

Baratta and O’Connor, who are both involved with the CPCS Children and Family Law Division’s COVID Legal Response Team, will be presented with the award at the MBA’s free, virtual Annual Meeting on Tuesday, May 25, at 5:30 p.m.

“This is wonderful recognition for the hard work that Nancy and Ann have done over the last year to ensure indigent clients continued to receive the zealous advocacy that they are entitled to and deserve,” said CPCS Chief Counsel Anthony Benedetti.

Baratta, a CAFL managing director, created the COVID Legal Response Team, which is charged with ensuring that attorneys continue to zealously represent clients despite the many obstacles caused by COVID-19. The response team is made up of private attorneys, staff attorneys and a social worker. O’Connor, a CAFL attorney in charge, took a leadership role on the COVID Legal Response Team from the outset.

“Families involved in state intervention cases brought by DCF have faced even more challenges in over the last 14 months than they do in ordinary times,” said Michael Dsida, Deputy Chief Counsel for CPCS’s Children and Family Law Division. “Thanks to Nancy’s and Ann’s leadership and dedication, along with great work from the rest of the COVID Legal Response Team, parents and children were provided far more access to justice than they would have otherwise had during the pandemic.”

The team continues to ensure that each of the more than 900 attorneys taking cases for indigent parents and children had the tools to access justice. Whether it was by phone, Zoom, or in person, every attorney had the resources to support their practice. Through their leadership, Baratta and O’Connor helped to ensure that thousands of parents and children received high-quality legal representation under incredibly stressful circumstances.

In nominating Baratta and O’Connor for the award, attorneys Debbie and Cristina Freitas wrote:

“The pandemic may have paralyzed the economy, but these two very dedicated leaders ensured that it would not paralyze justice. They mobilized (and often created!) the resources, trainings, ideas, and support to keep zealous and high quality representation of indigent parents and children a priority throughout the pandemic using a relatively unprecedented model of partnership. It was through their creativity and resolve that parents and children did not wait indefinitely to have their cases heard, to visit with each other, or to secure needed services. Nancy and Ann moved quickly to create and implement an innovative and creative program to address the barriers the COVID-19 pandemic put in the way of accessing justice and in doing so, ensured that justice was not delayed or denied for thousands of indigent parents and children.”