Category Archives: Chief Counsel’s Office

Another Huge Loss in the Indigent Defense Community

10/6/11 3:40:14 PM -- Boston, Massachusetts Portrait of BU Law Professor Robert Spangenberg  Photo by Vernon Doucette for Boston University Photography

Bob Spangenberg – taken in 2011 when he joined the faculty at Boston University Law School

Sad news as another giant from the indigent defense world has passed away.  Robert (Bob) Spangenberg, who spent a lifetime working to improve access to counsel for the poor in criminal and civil cases died late last month at age 83.

In the 1960’s, as an advisor to the Lyndon Johnson administration, Bob was instrumental in the creation of the Office of Legal Services, the precursor of the Legal Services Corporation.  Having helped establish the largest national civil legal aid funder, Bob turned his attention to Boston, where he helped found the organization now known as Greater Boston Legal Services.  Before settling in the Commonwealth, Bob was called back to Washington to serve as Special Assistant to the first Director of the National Legal Services Program.

Bob returned to Boston to become the Executive Director of the Boston Bar Association’s Action Plan for Legal Services.  During his tenure, The Action Plan conducted in-depth research into the legal needs of the Commonwealth’s indigents. The Action Plan’s findings helped prompt the 1983 legislation which created the Committee for Public Counsel Services.  Bob served as a CPCS board member from its inception until 1995 and remained a strong supporter in the years after.

In 1985, Bob formed The Spangenberg Group (TSG).  For a quarter of a century TSG conducted research and provided technical assistance to civil and criminal legal systems around the United States and throughout the world.  During this period Bob testified before Congress and numerous state legislatures, leading to positive change in the delivery of legal services in many jurisdictions.  TSG’s work contributed to a critical rate increase for CPCS private assigned counsel.   Bob and TSG provided key information and expertise to CPCS in the Lavallee (Nathaniel Lavallee, et al. vs. The Justices of the Springfield District Court, 442 Mass. 228 (2004)) and the Arianna  (Arianna S., et al. v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, et al., SJ-2004-0282 (filed June 28, 2004)) cases.  As result of Lavallee and Arianna, the state legislature enacted hourly rate increases in criminal, juvenile and child welfare cases, and instigated the creation of the first CPCS District Court staff offices.

In 2009, Bob received the Champion of Indigent Defense award for outstanding efforts in making positive changes to indigent defense systems from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.  The National Legal Aid and Defender Association Reginald Heber Smith award, as well as the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense Robert O. Dawson award were presented to Bob in 2008.  In addition, Bob was the recipient of the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID) Lifetime Achievement Award.

Bob was extremely generous with his time and expertise, always willing to answer a call for advice.  He maintained a keen interest in CPCS, often calling to check in on the never-ending battle for increased funding, or to get more details about a story he had seen in the press.

Bob Spangenberg will be sorely missed.  His work benefitted scores of individuals.   Although still inadequate, because of Bob the services available to indigent defendants and civil legal aid clients in the Commonwealth are significantly better than those provided in most other parts of the country.

Anthony J. Benedetti
Chief Counsel
Committee for Public Counsel Services
44 Bromfield Street
Boston, MA 02108

 

Massachusetts Has Lost An Indigent Defense Giant

Schaefer #2Gerry Schaefer surrounded by old colleagues at the CPCS 25th Anniversary Party in 2009.

Attorney Gerry Schaefer, former head of the Massachusetts Defender Committee (MDC), passed away earlier this month at his home in Easthampton, MA.  Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Gerry, I’ve heard many heartfelt and remarkable stories from long time and former defenders.  They speak of him fondly as they have relayed their stories of what he meant to indigent defense in Massachusetts.  I believe the last time Gerry was seen by many was in July 2009 at the Committee for Public Counsel Services 25th Anniversary celebration held at the John Adams Courthouse at which he made a rare appearance. Continue reading

Honoring the Best in Indigent Defense

On May 24, 2016, at the John Adams Courthouse, CPCS honored exemplary attorneys – both public and private – social workers, investigators, and professional administrative staff who dedicate their careers to overcoming injustice and championing the cause of zealous representation and effective assistance of counsel.

In describing this year’s event, CPCS Chief Counsel Anthony Benedetti said, “This year we recognized ten outstanding individuals who have made and continue to make extraordinary contributions to indigent defense. Not all of the honorees are attorneys because the best, most effective representation happens when attorneys, investigators, social workers, and other support staff expend a united effort on behalf of our clients. Zealous advocacy is only attainable through the best efforts of a team, a team made up of a variety of individuals.” Continue reading

Supporting an Open Data Standards Approach for MassCourt Data*


The following is an open reply to the Massachusetts Trial Court’s call for comments regarding its Proposed Uniform Rules on Public Access to Court Records. It is the joint comment of multiple organizations and individuals. CPCS is a signatory, and this post is meant to provide some context explaining why. For a complete list of signatories, visit http://ma-court-comment.github.io/


Given that the adoption of a common data standard for the Massachusetts legal community offers the promise of increased efficiency, lower information sharing costs, and improved access to courts, we propose that the Massachusetts Trial Courts adopt a set of data standards to facilitate sharing information between the Trial Courts and other stakeholders, and that all data deemed publicly available be made accessible in a machine readable format consistent via an application programming interface (API) overseen by the courts. This would supersede the need for the Courts to create multiple, disparate portals for various stakeholders, as described in Rule 5. It would also simplify the procedures described in Rule 3 as the use cases envisioned could be conducted over the API.



Continue reading

Gideon Anniversary – Why the Rights of the Accused Matter

Although the American tradition of providing a zealous defense, even for unpopular defendants, goes back to John Adams, it was not until March 18, 1963, that the U.S. Supreme Court declared that Clarence Earl Gideon had not received a fair trial because he was too poor to afford counsel.  Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335  The ruling was momentous because it guaranteed the right to counsel to every person, regardless of economic or social status.  Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Hugo Black declared, “In our adversary system of criminal justice, a person [hauled] into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.  This seems to be an obvious truth…. lawyers in criminal court are necessities, not luxuries.”

Here is what the right to counsel means today:  On February 10, 2016, George Perrot was released from prison after serving 30 years for a crime he did not commit.  He got out because of a dedicated team of pro bono lawyers and public defenders that fought for justice, even though their client appeared to be guilty of a heinous crime.  They were a team that stood up to a prosecutor who had engaged in what the court called egregious misconduct; a team that listened to him and exposed the junk science that helped lead to his conviction; a team that humanized him before a judge with the courage to correct a grave injustice.  In the process, this dedicated team of advocates even brought a measure of vindication to the victim of the crime, who insisted from the outset that the police arrested the wrong man.  In seeking justice for Mr. Perrot, these lawyers defended all of us from the misuse of forensic evidence, the abuse of governmental power, and an undermining of the public trust in our court system.

This is important because, popular culture aside, the majority of people in need of public defenders are not drug lords, murderers, or even dangerous.  Rather, most indigent who are accused are homeless, have problems with substance use, are veterans with PTSD, or are struggling with mental illness.  They are young people caught up in delinquency procedures because they have been underserved by their school systems.  They are your friends, family, and neighbors charged with relatively minor, non-violent offenses, and are at little or no risk of chronic court involvement.  However, without an effective attorney those involved in the court process – regardless of the severity of the alleged crime – are at great risk of losing housing, being excluded from school, losing their driver’s license, paying substantial fees and fines, being deported, being involuntarily confined to a mental health facility, or losing their children.  This system continues the cycle of poverty that in particular affects urban communities of color.  The modern public defender not only protects the legal rights of the accused, he or she also helps clients become productive citizens by getting them into school, setting them up in drug treatment, arranging for parenting classes or anger management, helping vets get housing and medical care, and so much more.

I have the privilege to serve as Chief Counsel of the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), the Massachusetts public defender agency.   Every day I am reminded of how lucky I am to be able to work with the dedicated lawyers, social workers, investigators, and other professionals that make up the indigent defense bar in Massachusetts.  These lawyers, many of whom are private attorneys who accept court appointments for very little money, dedicate themselves to advising and advocating on behalf of each and every client they are assigned.  In reality, they are fighting for the right of all of us to live in a society in which everyone is treated fairly regardless of our wealth, race or social standing, regardless of our age or mental status, and regardless of what bad acts we have been accused of committing.  Fairness is the most fundamental value underlying a democratic society and a healthy public defender system is a critical component of a fair and effective court system.  

National Public Defender Day – Friday March 18th

This Friday, March 18th, marks the 53rd anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, and the first nationwide celebration of Public Defense Day.  CPCS is joining the National Association for Public Defense (NAPD), Gideon’s Promise, and other indigent defense organizations across the county in a social media campaign to celebrate and commemorate the event.  As we all know, Gideon v Wainwright is the U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision that created a right to counsel for people too poor to afford to hire a lawyer.  Our campaign is designed to highlight the important and excellent work that everyone in the CPCS indigent defense community does every day on behalf of our clients in both criminal and civil cases.  Whether we are a CPCS lawyer, investigator, social worker or social service advocate, a member of the CPCS staff, or private counsel, we are all “public defenders” on #PublicDefenseDay; we all fight against injustice, abuse of power, and inequality; and we all fight for people, seeing and affirming their human dignity and value, and vindicating their legal and human rights. Continue reading

REMINDER – AWARD NOMINATIONS

Award nominations are currently being accepted for the Duggan, Marshall, Donovan, Blitzman, Winchester, Liacos, Mellen, Addams and Goyette Awards. Nominations must be submitted no later than March 4, 2016. All nominations must include a written explanation of why the nominee should be honored, and should be submitted to Ms. Denise Simonini, Executive Assistant to the Chief Counsel, Committee for Public Counsel Services, 44 Bromfield Street, Boston, MA 02108, by fax to 617-988-8495 or by email to dsimonini@publiccounsel.net. The Committee will present the awards at an Awards Ceremony on May 24, 2016 at 5:00 p.m. at the John Adams Courthouse in Boston.