Author Archives: rmcgovern

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.”

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.

Dsida Wins NACC Outstanding Legal Advocate Award

Michael Dsida, Deputy Chief Counsel of the Committee of Public Counsel Services’ Children and Family Division

Michael Dsida, Deputy Chief Counsel of the Committee of Public Counsel Services’ Children and Family Law Division, has been named the winner of the National Association of Counsel for Children’s Outstanding Legal Advocate Award.

The award is presented to individuals who demonstrate “excellence in legal or policy advocacy throughout their career in child welfare.” Dsida will be presented with the award on August 28 at NACC’s 43rd National Child Welfare Law Virtual Conference.

“I am deeply honored by this award. I’m also proud of what it says about the outstanding advocacy provided by our private attorneys and our staff,” Dsida said. “Their work in protecting the rights and advancing the interests of children and indigent parents who are involved in Juvenile Court cases brought by the Department of Children and Families is as challenging and as important as any legal work can be.”

Dsida has been with CPCS since 2006, and has made it his mission to provide top-tier legal services to the children and parents the agency serves. He is responsible for overseeing staff in trial, appellate, and administrative offices and the nearly 900 privately assigned counsel who take CAFL cases through CPCS.

“Mike has been a tireless advocate for assuring that the lawyers handling these cases receive the training and support they need to develop and maintain their expertise,” wrote a team of CPCS attorneys and administrators in their letter nominating Dsida for the award. “Mike may be the most client-centered lawyer in the state. His first and last consideration to any decision is: ‘What is best for the client?’”

Dsida has been charged with overseeing CAFL’s rapid expansion during the past two decades and – through calm, confident leadership – led an effort to add offices and attorneys while not sacrificing quality representation.

“This is well-deserved recognition for Mike Dsida. He has been invaluable to the growth of CAFL and the success of the division in zealously representing individual clients and aggressively advocating for policy and legal changes that would make the system fairer,” said Anthony Benedetti, Chief Counsel for CPCS.

Prior to his time at CPCS, Dsida founded and directing the Civitas Child Law Clinic at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where he was also a faculty member. Shortly after his graduation from Harvard Law School, he served as an Assistant Public Guardian in Cook County, Ill. and represented children in child welfare cases while training and supervising staff attorneys to do the same.

As a litigator, Dsida argued a number of significant cases before both the Illinois Appeals Court and the US Supreme Court that focused on the rights of children. He has argued cases regarding the state’s requirement to make reasonable efforts prior to removal of a child, ensuring siblings remain placed in foster care together, and the need for mandatory permanency hearing for children.

“Mike has a very obvious respect for the population that CAFL serves and goes to great lengths to ensure their rights are protected,” Dsida’s nominators wrote. “Mike’s devotion to his work has earned him the respect of the entire CPCS community.”

CPCS Statement on Pride Month

It is incredibly fortuitous that I am able to share some thoughts in honor of LGBTQ Pride Month  so soon after the U.S. Supreme Court, in an historic 6-3 decision, definitively ruled in the Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia case that employment discrimination toward LGBTQ individuals violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). In Bostock, the Court considered the definition of sex under the Title VII law against employment discrimination. The Court found that even if Congress had chosen not to apply this law to LGBTQ individuals, the “necessary consequence” of the term sex and how is has been construed over decades of jurisprudence means that “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.” This is a major pronouncement ensuring the most basic and critical of equal employment rights, and I am excited and delighted to share in this moment with our LGBTQ CPCS colleagues as we celebrate Pride Month.

Due to the pandemic, June 2020 will be the first time that Pride Month across the United States will not be celebrated in the open, loving and vibrant way lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people have known for 50 years. Pride month is seen by most for celebrating being able to be out and open as LGBTQ people, but this month also serves to support people who cannot safely or comfortably come out in all or part of their lives, and those who are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity.

As we celebrate Pride month, I ask that everyone think about how we can support our LGBTQ colleagues, clients and community, whether they are out to us or not. Tragically, this time is roiled by the racially motivated murders of George Floyd in Minnesota and Ahmaud Arbury in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, along with countless prior killings and daily acts of bias and hate rained upon Black people across the United States. Even as we embrace the history leading to increased rights within the LGBTQ community, we cannot ignore the connection of race-based hatred, violence and killings to this movement, or to the onslaught of outrage, pain and injustice Black and Brown people continue to experience every day.

The first Pride event celebrated a clarion demand for equal rights and freedom that exploded from the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City. Stonewall was a frustrated, angry and determined community response to brutal police and political reproaches toward people seeking only the free expression of their humanity and sexuality. The Stonewall activists were led by many would-be CPCS clients – poor, homeless, young, Black and Brown people, as well as others across the LGBTQ community.

The history and key players around the Stonewall riots provide an instructive moment on injustice, responsive advocacy and cross-cultural challenge. Members of the LGBTQ community could dance and engage at the Stonewall Inn, a Mob run bar near NYU and local parks where community members hung out, slept and shared company. Stonewall was rundown and subject to recurring, orchestrated police raids where payoffs gained advance warnings, even as the Mob blackmailed more affluent patrons on threat of exposing their sexuality. Transgender individuals and others openly reflecting their pride were subject to arrest and abuse, in some instances, for not wearing three pieces of “gender appropriate” clothing consistent with birth gender.

On June 28, 1969, yet another early morning raid, without warning because the police went unpaid, triggered the Stonewall Riots. This time, customers and local neighbors rebelled against the unjust harassment, beatings and arrests. Demonstrators chanted, overturned cars and set them on fire, threw items at the police, and set the Stonewall Inn on fire, after the cops retreated into the building. Two transgender women of color, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, were advocates for homeless gay, lesbian and transgender people of color, and helped inspire and leverage the outrage that became six nights of street protest. This incident turned the tide on LGBTQ oppression in the United States and around the world. Sadly, however, many in the white, middle-class LGBTQ liberation movement that benefitted from Stonewall showed Johnson and Rivera scorn, because of an unwillingness to accept transgender people as part of the movement. Their advocacy and organizing for homeless transgender youth of color and broader leadership are now recognized across the LGBTQ community, though neither woman survived to fully relish this embrace – Marsha P. Johnson died in a reported 1992 suicide suspected to have been murder, and Sylvia Rivera died of liver cancer in 2002.

Today, the seeds planted by the Stonewall Riots of 1969 have blossomed into rights that prior generations could only dream of, including marriage equality, state and local LGBTQ rights legislation, LGBTQ leadership in government and federal hate crimes laws. Nonetheless, unequal treatment persists, including the lack of broader federal legal protection, repressive state and local law and policy and unrelenting hate crimes.

We celebrate the fight Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera waged to gain rights denied for so long, and the achievement of equality that has made a difference for many, but fails to reach our clients. This recognition must be in the face of the ignorance and hatred that still impact LGBTQ people, and that has been thrust into our awareness as Black people are killed, in the case of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, as she slept in her bed. Our advocacy mission challenges each of us to understand and leverage the complex mix and meaning between and among poverty, race, sexual preference, gender identity, age and disability, along with the goals and wishes of our clients, to embrace their humanity on behalf of justice rightfully deserved. Later this month, we will share information and data on the work of CPCS on behalf of LGBTQ individuals across our divisions, as well as the challenges we face in our advocacy on behalf of these clients.

As we praise the leaders of the LGBTQ community and celebrate great achievement, including our LGBTQ coworkers, family and friends, we must dedicate unwavering support, advocacy and achievement behalf of the struggles that continue in this community. Sylvia, Marsha and their children would expect nothing less of us. Happy Pride Month!

Anthony J. Benedetti,
Chief Counsel

Public Defender Appointed to BPD Reform Task Force

Roxbury Defenders Attorney-in-Charge Allison Cartwright

Allison Cartwright, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Committee for Public Counsel Services’ Roxbury Defenders office, has been appointed to a Task Force charged with reviewing Boston Police policies and making recommendations for progressive reform.

The Boston Police Reform Task Force was launched earlier this month by Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. It will review Boston Police’s use-of-force policies, recommend rigorous implicit bias training for police officers, improve the current Body Worn Camera program and look for ways to strengthen the city’s existing police review board, known as the Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel or Co-op Board.

“As a public defender and a resident of Boston, I am honored to be appointed by Mayor Walsh to sit on the BPD Task Force,” Cartwright said. “One of the most important issues we are facing as a city, and as a nation, is to critically review policing in our communities, in particular for people of color. The work that we do with this Task Force will have a long-lasting impact on those who are affected by police and the criminal justice system.”

Walsh created the new Task Force to ensure that commitments made as part of the “Mayor’s Pledge” translate into immediate action. Mayor Walsh signed the “Mayor’s Pledge” issued by the Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. The “Mayor’s Pledge” commits the City of Boston to the following actions:

  1. Review police use of force policies
  2. Engage communities by including a diverse range of input, experiences, and stories
  3. Report review findings to the community and seek feedback
  4. Reform police use of force policies

The Task Force will produce recommendations by July 14, 2020. Aligned with President Obama’s “Mayor’s Pledge,” the community will have until July 31, 2020 to review recommendations and provide feedback to the City of Boston. Mayor Walsh will announce reforms to be implemented as a result of the Task Force and the community’s input by August 15, 2020.

In addition to Cartwright, the Boston Police Reform Task Force includes:

  • Wayne Budd, former United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts (Chair)
  • Joseph D. Feaster, Jr., Chairman of the Board, Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts
  • Tanisha Sullivan, President, NAACP Boston Branch
  • Darrin Howell, President, DRIVE Boston Community Resources Inc. & Political Coordinator, 1199SEIU
  • Superintendent Dennis White, Chief of Staff, Boston Police Department
  • Marie St. Fleur, former Massachusetts State Representative, Boston
  • Rev. Jeffrey Brown, Associate Pastor, Historic Twelfth Baptist Church, Roxbury
  • Eddie Crispin, Boston Police Department Sergeant and President of MAMLEO (Mass. Assn. of Minority Law Enforcement Officers)
  • Jamarhl Crawford, Resident & Activist

Press Contact:
Bob McGovern
rmcgovern@publiccounsel.net
617-910-5758

CPCS Statement: No Lives Matter Until Black Lives Matter

In 2014, we all bore witness to the video footage of a white police officer gunning down Michael Brown, a black and unarmed, recent high school graduate.  Since that unforgettable date and time, the blood of black men and women has been mercilessly spilled, and their lives cut short by police brutality, in nearly every state in the country:

See their names, say their names:       

  • Sylville Smith, 23 – Wisconsin
  • Korryn Gaines, 23 – Maryland       
  • Joseph Mann, 51 – California
  • Philando Castille, 32 – Minnesota
  • Gregory Gunn, 56 – Alabama
  • Freddie Gray, 25 – Maryland
  • Alton Sterling, 37 – Louisiana
  • Paul O’ Neal, 18 – Illinois
  • Antwun Shumpert, 37 – Mississippi
  • Akiel Denkins, 24  – North Carolina
  • Aaron Bailey, 45 – Indiana 
  • Keith Childress, 23 – Nevada
  • Felix Kumi, 61 – New York
  • James Leatherwood, 61 – Florida
  • Donnie Sanders, 47 – Missouri
  • Danny Washington, 27 – Pennsylvania
  • Tyre King, 13 – Ohio
  • Tamir Rice, 12  – Ohio
  • Marcus Peters, 24 – Virginia
  • Walter Scott, 50 – South Carolina
  • Channara Pheap, 33 – Tennessee
  • Jesse Quinton, 35 – Idaho
  • Gregory Griffin, 46 – New Jersey
  • Deravis Rogers, 22 – Georgia
  • Isaiah Lewis, 17 – Oklahoma
  • Naeschylus Vinzant, 37 – Colorado
  • Jacai Colson, 28 – Maryland
  • Yvette Smith, 47 – Texas
  • Atatiana Jefferson, 28 – Texas             
  • Pamela Turner, 45 – Texas
  • Sandra Bland, 28 – Texas
  • Miriam Carey, 34 – DC                
  • Ahmaud Arbery, 25 – Georgia
  • Breonna Taylor, 26 – Kentucky
  • Michael Brown,  18 – Missouri
  • George Floyd, 46 – Minnesota              

Perversely, this list is not exhaustive but it does serve to illustrate and document the pervasive, ubiquitous and inescapable reality of American apartheid. This has been one of the most troubling and daunting periods in our history as a nation. The unfathomable pain and suffering that is continually being unleashed upon the Black community by law enforcement is relentless. We shall not stand silent and do nothing. Silence is compliance.

From brutal slayings to the disruption of even simple ordinary life choices, such as, birding in Central Park, sleeping in your bed, taking a swim in the swimming pool where you live, barbecuing in the park, or even not being in the mood to wave and smile at a white woman in a neighboring home to your Air BnB, the weaponization and inherent fear of black skin remains one of America’s favorite past times.

“When the color of your skin is seen as a weapon, you will never be seen as unarmed.”

We stand now, not just as lawyers, administrative staff, social workers and investigators who have dedicated our lives to ensure justice for the least amongst us, but we also stand in solidarity with our Black colleagues and the Black community that has now, for centuries, been ravaged by hate, oppression, fear and death. We must do all within our power to eradicate this pervasive and lingering ideology that black people be brought to heel under the yoke of white supremacy. We must speak out, stand up, and stay vigilant to guard against our own implicit bias, and privilege, in order to push towards a common goal to eradicate racism in this state and this nation.

I will not pretend to imagine what it is like to be a person of color and have to deal with this daily tragedy and heartache.  I share this message, which has been built with the voice of Black leadership within CPCS, to ensure that our voice is complete and inclusive and thank Arnie Stewart and Nan Whitfield specifically for their contributions.

Please stay safe, healthy and working toward the tomorrow we want and must achieve.

No Lives Matter Until Black Lives Matter

Anthony J. Benedetti
Chief Counsel
Committee for Public Counsel Services

Future Roxbury Defender Wins MBA Scholarship

Hakeem Muhammad

Hakeem Muhammad, a future Committee for Public Counsel Services public defender, has been selected as the 2020 recipient of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Scholarship.

The $10,000 scholarship is awarded annually to a graduating law student who is committed to providing legal assistance to underrepresented individuals and communities in Massachusetts upon graduation.

“The Massachusetts Bar Association is very pleased to present this scholarship to Hakeem, who has already demonstrated an impressive dedication to protecting the rights of others through his past public interest experiences,” said attorney Francis C. Morrissey, chair of the MBA’s Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Scholarship Committee. “We look forward to welcoming him as a member of the Massachusetts Bar, and we wish him well as he gets ready to begin his career as a public defender in Boston.”

Muhammad, a Northeastern University School of Law Public Interest Law Scholar, was an intern at CPCS’ Roxbury office last summer. He will begin his legal career as a Roxbury Defender.

“We are excited to have Hakeem join our team of dedicated, hardworking Roxbury Defenders,” said Allison Cartwright, Attorney-in-Charge at the Roxbury CPCS office. “This is especially so as Hakeem interned at our office last summer and is familiar with the communities we serve.”

While interning with CPCS, Muhammad helped argue that a defendant charged with attempted murder had been unlawfully arrested based on false statements attributed to him by police. He also helped file a successful motion to suppress evidence that was seized without probable cause from a homeless African American teenager’s car.

“Agents of the State are more likely to trample upon the constitutional rights of defendants from inner-city neighborhoods that have been impacted by poverty and institutional racism. Such defendants are more likely not to receive the same level of quality representation that the Harvey Weinsteins, O.J. Simpsons and Lori Loughlins of the world acquire. This is very unjust. I look forward to contributing to the zealous representation of the indigent as a future trial attorney in Roxbury,” Muhammad said.

Muhammad is also the recipient of the Walter B. Prince Fellowship – a one-year program that provides financial and training support to an outstanding attorney at the beginning of their career.

The fellowship was created this year to honor the legacy of firm co-founder Walter Prince, whose early career included work with the Roxbury Defenders. The recipient of the fellowship will spend a year working and training as a public defender while being compensated by Prince Lobel.

Prince was a Roxbury Defender from 1974 to 1976, and he was the chairman of the Committee from January 1992 through November 1993.

CPCS Statement on Coronavirus Pandemic

PRESS RELEASE

The Committee for Public Counsel Services today announced that it is taking aggressive actions in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 among its employees and the public, and — with the dangers of the ongoing pandemic in mind — public defenders across the commonwealth will be heading to court next week to ask for the release of its most-vulnerable clients.

In order to provide as much social distancing as possible, the state public defender office is instituting a remote work policy. Starting on Monday, all employees across the state who can work remotely will do so. Continue reading

Public Defender Added to Access to Justice Commission

The Supreme Judicial Court has added a public defender to the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission.

Adrian Angus, a trial attorney in the Worcester Superior Court Office of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, was named to the Access to Justice Commission last week. The commission, created in 2005, seeks to improve access to justice for people who are unable to afford an attorney for essential civil legal needs, such as cases involving housing, consumer debt and family law.

Angus has also served as a member of the Access to Justice Council of the Massachusetts Bar Association and as a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union of Central Massachusetts.

She joins, Leemarie Mosca, president and executive director of Rosie’s Place, and Gladys Vega, executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative, as new members of the commission.

“We are delighted to welcome these new members to the Commission,” said Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, who co-chairs the Commission, in a statement. “The new members include a public defender, the head of Boston’s pioneering provider of shelter and support services for women, and the leader of an innovative community organization known for helping children, immigrants, and refugees. Each of these new members is familiar with the barriers that too often block access to justice for the Commonwealth’s residents, and they will each bring an important perspective to the Commission’s ongoing efforts to remove those barriers.”