Author Archives: rmcgovern

Defenders in the News

Hello and welcome to the fourth 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:

Randy Gioia, deputy chief counsel for the Public Defender Division of CPCS, was quoted in this Berkshire Eagle article about Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington’s failed attempt to have a district court judge removed from the bench over a series of rulings unfavorable to prosecutors. “Calling for a sitting judge to be removed from their post based on a decision a prosecutor disagrees with is both concerning and dangerous,” Gioia said in a statement. “It sends a message to other judges that they need to fall in line or else face an attack on their livelihood, and it ignores the other avenues available when a party disagrees with a judge’s decision.” In a separate piece, the board of directors of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers was quoted as being “deeply concerned” about Harrington’s effort to “undermine the independent decision-making of a sitting judge by engaging in an ex parte communication with the Court about pending cases brought by your office.”

Debbie Freitas, a private panel attorney, was quoted in this New York Times article about juveniles being arrested and the effects these moments have on children. Debbie and her sister, Cristina Freitas, were quoted in this Boston Globe article about the challenge of finding beds for at-risk children in Massachusetts and how DCF has had kids sleeping in its offices. “The lack of foster homes has been a chronic issue,” Cristina Freitas said. “But the lack of any placement at all has come over the last month.”

Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel for CPCS, was quoted in this Globe article about a Boston Police scandal involving an alleged overtime scheme. In discussing what the allegations mean for police and their honesty, he said “if a police officer is dishonest in one case, it raises legitimate questions in their other cases.” 

Benedetti was also quoted in this MassLive article about Worcester DA candidate Blake Rubin and lawyer Angela Cavanaugh being found not guilty of witness intimidation. Benedetti said, “Rubin and Cavanaugh were targeted for doing their job advising and representing their clients When prosecutors seek criminal convictions against defense lawyers based on a web of nefarious inferences and the testimony of immunized witnesses, they send an intimidating message to all defense lawyers that your freedom and livelihood are at risk if you do your job and represent clients zealously. That kind of message, especially coming from prosecutors, is extremely dangerous and obstructs our system of justice.”

Benedetti’s testimony during the inaugural hearing of the Joint Committee on Racial Equity, Civil Rights, and Inclusion was quoted in this CommonWealth Magazine article. He testified “that in soliciting ideas from public defenders on how to address racism, he received dozens of responses touching on topics ranging from courts and the foster care system to education and the environment. ‘No single approach is going to solve every problem,’ he said.”

Patrick Levin, a staff attorney with CPCS, was quoted in this Mass Lawyers Weekly article about a recent SJC decision that opened the door for criminal defendants who have been held based on dangerousness under G.L.c. 276, §58A during the pandemic to pursue motions for reconsideration. Levin called the decision “an enormous improvement over the status quo.”

Rebecca Jacobstein, head of CPCS’ Strategic Litigation Unit, is quoted in this Salem News article about a recent Supreme Judicial Court hearing where CPCS and others continued their fight for prisoner rights during the pandemic. Jacobstein “argued that all jails should be providing options for remote visits with clients that mirror as closely as possible in-person, contact visits, with the ability to share documents and bring in third parties such as interpreters or experts.”

James Doyle, a private panel attorney, wrote two separate articles for The Crime Report. In one piece, he explores three ideas that could potentially improve discourse surrounding the criminal legal system. Doyle also wrote a piece called “The Perils of Justice ‘Colonialism.’”

David R. Rangaviz, a staff attorney for CPCS, is quoted in this Mass Lawyers Weekly article about an SJC decision tossing out evidence from a GPS ankle monitor that showed a defendant’s movements. Rangaviz “noted that injustice often results from what turns out to be faulty assumptions about the reliability of evidence gained through technology.” He said the SJC’s ruling “is pushing trial judges to scrutinize evidence a little more on the front end and not take for granted its reliability because it has superficial appeal.”

Lisa Hewitt, general counsel for CPCS, was quoted in this CommonWealth Magazine article about the mandated reporter commission. Hewitt said that the testimony at the commission’s public hearing was “poignant and enlightening.” She said the child welfare system disproportionately affects families of color, and any change “needs to be viewed through that lens and must strive to mitigate and not exacerbate this problem.” Hewitt added “the work highlighted the need for further substantive discussion and input from affected communities. It also highlighted the need to look at the mandated reporter law in relation to the entire child welfare system.”

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:

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.

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.”

Defenders in the News

Hello and welcome to the second 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:

Cristina Rodrigues, a CPCS staff attorney, won the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ prestigious Hines-Burnham Award for her outstanding contribution to racial justice and civil rights. The Hines-Burnham award is reserved for attorneys who have demonstrated excellence and innovation within the first 10 years of criminal defense practice.

Joe Schneiderman, a private panel attorney, was quoted in a Boston Herald article about his victory in Commonwealth v. Ulani. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court vacated a contempt judgment against a juvenile, and found that a lower court judge abused her discretion by not taking the teenager’s status as a juvenile into account. Schneiderman called the decision “a banner, positive, landmark win for children throughout the commonwealth. Children in juvenile court shall not be treated as criminals.”

Randy Gioia, deputy chief counsel for CPCS’s Public Defender Division, was interviewed by GBH about the resumption of jury trials. Gioia said, “we all know that studies have shown that racial and ethnic minorities have suffered disproportionately from COVID, and they’re less receptive to taking the vaccine. We’re concerned that they’ll be less likely to appear for jury duty, and an accused person won’t have a jury that represents a fair cross section of the community, like the person is entitled to.”

Jeffrey Baler, a private panel attorney, earned a victory for his client in Commonwealth v. Williams, where the Supreme Judicial Court vacated a murder conviction because “the trial judge abused his discretion in excusing a juror who professed an inability to begin deliberations anew after the discharge of another juror.”

Jacqueline M. Dutton, Attorney-in-Charge of the combined District and Superior Court Office in Worcester, was quoted by the Telegram in its piece about Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. failing to disclose information about an integrity unit created after a complaint about the Worcester PD. Dutton said, “I would expect, as a lawyer, under ethical rules to do justice, that they would want to follow up on concerns about integrity — even just to say, ‘We looked into it, and there’s nothing there.’”

Anne Stevenson, a private panel attorney, was quoted in a Patch article about Marblehead’s search for a new police chief. Stevenson said “civil rights and equality are things that we need to look at, and make sure that the new candidate is going to put us in a good position and shares our values in that respect.”

Victoria Bleier, a staff attorney, was quoted in a CommonWealth Magazine piece about the effect the pandemic has had on the child welfare system in Massachusetts. Bleier said, “there are huge due process implications with terminating a parent’s rights and permanently severing the connection a child has with the parent over Zoom.”

James Doyle, a private panel attorney, was quoted in a New Yorker article about Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist who studies how false memories can affect our daily lives. Doyle said that Loftus’ “work changed the whole story of what an eyewitness case was about, and destabilized a solid and routine part of the criminal caseload.”

A CPCS staff attorney and her client were quoted in a Marshall Project article about how video chats replaced in-person visits between parents and their children placed in foster care. The client, discussing the practice, said “it’s just impossible to bond with her over the screen. Ever since, I’ve been asking basically, ‘Can I hold my daughter?’”

Lisa Billowitz, a private panel attorney, was quoted in a Boston Globe article about the Supreme Judicial Court reducing the sentence of her client, Raymond Conception, from first degree murder to second degree murder due to his cognitive impairment. Billowitz said she was “pleased that the SJC held that Raymond’s unusual vulnerabilities — including his intellectual disability and the coercion by adult gang members — warranted a reduction to second-degree murder, with an earlier opportunity for parole.”

Defenders in the News

Hello and welcome to the first 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:

James Doyle, a private panel attorney, had two pieces published in The Crime Report, a nonprofit multimedia information and networking resource based at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. In one article, Doyle discusses the importance of conviction integrity units, and in the other he examines what effects – if any – punishing prosecutors can have on the system.

Cristina Rodrigues and Connor Barusch, CPCS staff attorneys, were referenced in a Boston Globe article about one of their clients and how community groups, including the Bail Fund, helped her pay high bail. 

Michael Waryasz, a private panel attorney, was quoted in a Boston Globe story about one of his clients, Antonio Cruzado Jr., in which the newspaper examined Massachusetts’ controversial three strikes law. The Globe also spoke to Cruzado’s supporters, who “say his punishment is unjustly harsh and shows how habitual offender laws can reinforce racial disparities that run through the criminal justice system.”

CPCS joined a group of organizations in a letter to the Boston Globe pushing back on a Globe article that was critical of compassionate release. CPCS joined Prisoners’ Legal Services, Real Cost of Prisons Project, Coalition for Effective Public Safety, Criminal Justice Policy Coalition, The F8 Foundation, Northeastern University School of Law Prisoners’ Assistance Project and the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in signing the letter.

Lisa Steele, a private panel attorney, did an interview with The Connecticut Case Law Podcast about the recent decision in State v. Gomes and her role in the case. In Gomes, the Connecticut Supreme Court ordered a new trial in a case where a jury instruction about inadequate investigation by police. Steele also had a piece on alibi defenses featured as the cover article for Champion, a National Association for Public Defense publication. (Click here for the article)

Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel for CPCS, was quoted in a CNN story about Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins’ “Hinton Lab Initiative,” which is geared toward vacating the drug convictions for all whose evidence certifications were conducted in the William A. Hinton State Lab between May 2003 and August 2012. Benedetti also wrote a column in CommonWealth Magazine on Public Defender Day discussing the pandemic and the inequities in the criminal legal system.

Anne Bader-Martin, a private panel attorney and founder of One Can Help, won the second annual Massachusetts Bar Association Juvenile & Child Welfare Award “in recognition of her tireless work on behalf of the juvenile and child welfare community.” Bader-Martin also had an article published in the ABA Journal about the inextricable connection between poverty and the juvenile court system. One Can Help, the nonprofit Bader-Martin leads, is featured in the article. The nonprofit “exists to provide the missing resources foster children, at-risk youth and underserved families urgently need to remedy court concerns, improve difficult lives and build better futures.”

Rebecca A. Jacobstein, Director of Strategic Litigation at CPCS, was referenced in a Mass Lawyers Weekly article about a single justice Supreme Judicial Court hearing in which she and other advocates argued that the county houses of correction are restricting attorney access and failing to provide comprehensive COVID-19 testing to asymptomatic prisoners. Jacobstein and attorneys for the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers have argued “the Houses of Correction (HOCs) failure to conduct routine, comprehensive COVID-19 testing and to meaningfully reduce their populations, as well as five HOCs’ failure to provide meaningful, timely, and confidential modes of communication between incarcerated individuals and their lawyers, violate constitutional guarantees concerning cruel and unusual punishment, due process, and the right to counsel.” Jaconstein and staff attorney Dave Rangaviz are also referenced in this iPondr piece about COVID-19 in jails and prisons

Barbara Munro, a private panel attorney, recently had second degree murder conviction vacated by the Massachusetts Appeals Court in Commonwealth v. Fahey. The court found that a new trial was warranted “based on the cumulative effect of the prosecutor’s improper cross-examination and inflammatory closing argument.

Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly recognized private panel attorneys Elliot Weinstein, Victoria Kelleher, Patricia DeJeunas, John Barter and John Warren on its list of 2020 Lawyers of the Year.

In memoriam: John Dingee was a CPCS Bar Advocate in Bristol and Plymouth Counties. He passed away recently at the age of 48. Two months prior to his diagnosis, he achieved his career goal and was appointed to the Superior Court Murder List.  Colleagues say he was a zealous and passionate attorney but he was always polite, respectful and a joy to work with whether you were working on his team or as an adversary.

CPCS Attorneys Selected for BBA Leadership Program

Two Committee for Public Counsel Services public defenders have been selected to participate in the Boston Bar Association’s Public Interest Leadership Program.

Jim Barakat

Jim Barakat, with the Children and Family Law Division’s Brockton office, and Schuyler Daum, with the Public Defender Division’s Quincy office, will be part of an impressive class of attorneys who will participate in the 10-month program. The Public Interest Leadership Program (PILP) is geared toward promoting civic engagement and public service by advancing the leadership role of lawyers in service to their community, their profession, and the Commonwealth.

“Being a public defender, and advocate for the indigent, I hope to gain insight and implement ideas that my private firm counterparts have in regard to executing public interest initiatives, but I also hope to meaningfully add to the discussion by bringing my own ideas to the table,” Barakat said. “I hope to raise awareness of what CPCS does, advocate for the population we assist, and lift the voices of our clients during the PILP meetings at the BBA over the next year.

This selective program attracts a diverse group of attorneys who have graduated law school within the last 10 years and have demonstrated a commitment to pro bono and public service.

Schuyler Daum

“I’m excited to join the Public Interest Leadership Program to develop a new toolkit with which to fight for justice in the criminal legal system,” Daum said.

This year’s Public Interest Leadership Program (PILP) will be in a virtual format and has been designed to provide leadership and professional development training across key areas, including effective organizational leadership, diversity, equity and inclusion, pro bono engagement, and board service.

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