Author Archives: rmcgovern

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.”

VIDEO: YAF Wins 2020 Reginald Heber Smith Award

The Youth Advocacy Foundation (YAF), the nonprofit arm of the Massachusetts juvenile public defender agency, is the 2020 winner of the Reginald Heber Smith Award for Excellence in Legal Services.

The award, presented by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, goes to an organization that has exhibited innovation and excellence in legal advocacy. YAF received the award at the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly 2020 Leaders in the Law event on March 5.

Below is the video that was shown at the event:

“The work that we do at the EdLaw Project is transforming for the children and it is the same thing that many of you are trying to do for your own children, which is to make sure they have the best opportunity for educational success.  As you saw in the video, this work can have life-changing impact,” said Marlies Spanjaard, executive director of the Youth Advocacy Foundation, during her speech at the event. “Whether that means getting a child help in learning to read or clearing up a disciplinary incident or an unfair disciplinary practice, it is incredibly meaningful and gratifying to be a part of that change. It helps me—and all of us at the EdLaw Project—to feel good about the future and about the foundation we are laying for the next generation. Receiving this award tonight affirms that our work is important to all of you, too, and for that we are deeply grateful.”

Through zealous legal representation and community-based services, YAF fights to decrease the risk of chronic court involvement and to increase the chances that young people will grow into healthy, thriving adults.

YAF’s innovative EdLaw Project has been in existence since 2001 and has provided direct representation to nearly 2,000 children. Through the EdLaw Project, court-appointed attorneys across the state receive specialized training and support to help them incorporate education advocacy into their practice.

“I am grateful to be among so many leaders in the law. As I look around the room and see so many of my colleagues, it is truly gratifying to have an event that brings together such a cross-section of so many practice areas,”  Spanjaard said. “Though we may have diverse practice areas and interests we also have a lot in common.  This night showcases that we all share a commitment to excellence in our practice. We care about our work.  A big part of what makes me care about my work is the children we serve, and I imagine that this is something you can all relate to.”

SJC: Ask if Passenger Can Drive Before Impoundment

Police must ask an arrested driver whether they want a passenger to drive their vehicle to a safe location before authorities can decide whether it’s “reasonably necessary” to impound and conduct an inventory search, according to the Supreme Judicial Court. 

“We conclude that, where officers are aware that a passenger lawfully could assume custody of a vehicle, it is improper to impound the vehicle without first offering this option to the driver,” Justice Barbara A. Lenk wrote in a decision issued Monday. “Absent such an inquiry, the police cannot conclude that impoundment is ‘reasonably necessary.’”

Committee for Public Counsel Services appellate attorney Patrick Levin argued that the requirement for police to honor a practical alternative to impounding a vehicle “would be rendered meaningless if police were permitted simply to impound the vehicle without inquiring into an obvious, readily available alternative.”

Levin added that the police should have the burden to “make a reasonable inquiry” to the arrested individual’s wishes when there are alternatives to impoundment “readily apparent at the scene.”

Lawyers for the ACLU of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys wrote an amicus brief siding with CPCS.

Randy Gioia Outlines Concerns about Videoconferencing

Randy Gioia

Defense attorneys across the Commonwealth have voiced concerns about the prospect of expanding the use of videoconferencing in criminal proceedings.

District Court Chief Justice Paul C. Dawley has been accepting comments on a draft standing order outlining the use of videoconferencing.

Randy Gioia, deputy chief counsel for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, explained his reservations about expanding the practice to Mass Lawyers Weekly for a recent article on the ongoing controversy:

Gioia said he appreciated Dawley’s willingness to listen to the bar’s concerns but fears the expansion of videoconferencing will be a “step backward” after great progress on criminal justice issues.

Gioia said he does not understand why judges look so favorably on a process that “detracts from the dignity of the court and dehumanizes the person on the other end of the screen.” …

Gioia noted that it is fairly common for a defendant in the courtroom to whisper to his attorney: “What the prosecutor said isn’t right. Here’s what really happened.”

But that conversation cannot happen with videoconferencing, at least not without a significant interruption of the proceedings, he said.

Theoretically, a judge could tell a defendant, “If at any time you need to say something to your lawyer, just let me know and I’ll stop the proceedings,” Gioia said. But he said he has never seen or heard of that happening.