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.”