On February 26, 2018, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Gants and Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey hosted the “Springfield Summit on Child Welfare Attorney Crisis.” The purpose of this unique event was to discuss the initiatives and plans to increase the capacity and improve the quality of child welfare/state intervention practice in the Hampden Juvenile Court. Also participating on the panel were Juvenile Court Chief Justice Amy Nechtem, Hampden County Juvenile Court First Justice Lois Eaton, CPCS Chief Counsel Anthony Benedetti, Deputy Chief Counsel Mike Dsida, Department of Children, and Families Chief Counsel Andrew Rome. Attending were several elected officials from western MA, court personnel, Department of Children and Families attorneys, and over two dozen private panel attorneys.
The counsel crisis (which had over 120 clients awaiting the appointment of counsel) was temporarily relieved on February 23, when over 30 attorneys appeared to accept new assignments at the temporary rate of $75/hour. However, there was much discussion as to how difficult it is to manage a financially successful practice in this area. Discovery issues, billing requirements, courthouse facilities, and other challenges were raised by attorneys.
The local elected officials seemed open to learning more about these issues and hearing from attorneys. Many learned of the severity of the problems when their constituents called them requesting help because their case couldn’t go forward as there were no available attorneys. The officials expressed appreciation of the need to pay a higher hourly rate and their need to hear from their constituents.