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
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
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.
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.
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
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 email@example.com. 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.
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.
All nominations 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 email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nominations must be submitted no later than March 4, 2016. All nominations must include a written explanation of why the nominee should be honored.
CPCS Innocence Program Director Lisa Kavanaugh – Co-Counsel in Groundbreaking Case
On January 26, 2016, Judge Robert J. Kane overturned the 24-year-old rape conviction of George D. Perrot, ruling that scientific consensus indicates that the key, expert testimony of a FBI hair analyst would today be flawed and, therefore, inadmissible.
CPCS Innocence Program Director Lisa Kavanaugh is quoted in an article released by the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University saying, “Although the decision does not bind other courts, Judge Kane’s careful analysis ‘is very significant’ and could influence judges in other jurisdictions.”
To read the entire article visit: http://www.brandeis.edu/investigate/innocence-project/george-perrot/index.html
A new law will go into effect 90 days after it was signed by Governor Baker on January 25, 2016. This law ends the civil commitment of women with alcohol and substance use disorders to prison.
Chief Counsel Benedetti said, “The practice of sending women to Framingham who are struggling with alcohol and substance use has ended. This is a tremendous step that will aid many of our clients. It is also encouraging to see that Massachusetts has come to understand that placing persons with alcohol and substance use disorders in facilities used to house persons convicted of criminal offenses should not and cannot replace those providing treatment services.”
According to Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, “By Feb. 9, fifteen beds at Taunton State Hospital will be available for women under the civil commitment process known as ‘Section 35’. Twenty-eight new beds have opened at the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital in Jamaica Plain, where nurses are still being hired.” She continued, “There are six women now civilly committed for substance abuse at Framingham who will either move to the hospitals or end their commitment before then.”
A Legislative conference committee is continuing deliberations on the remaining provisions of the Opioid bill from which the new law was generated.
Related news articles and the Governor’s press release on the matter can be found at: http://www.masslive.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/01/massachusetts_stops_sending_wo.html, http://www.tauntongazette.com/article/20160125/NEWS/160127299, and http://www.mass.gov/governor/press-office/press-releases/fy2016/bill-signed-ending-civil-commitment-at-mci-framingham.html
By Michael A. Cohen July 04, 2015
As Americans celebrate America’s 239th birthday Saturday, we should pause to thank those who defend and uphold our freedoms every day.
No, I don’t mean the armed forces. They certainly do their part — and their courage and service to the nation is unquestioned. But what about the unsung protectors of freedom? Like, for example, public defenders.
The right to counsel is a fundamental constitutional protection. For those who are arrested and can’t afford a lawyer — as we’ve all heard on countless episodes of “Law & Order’’ — “one will be appointed for you.” More often than not, the lawyer that Americans receive is an underpaid, understaffed defense attorney whose job it is to protect you from the awesome power of the state to take away your liberty. It doesn’t matter if one is guilty or innocent; the right to counsel is sacrosanct and so too is the responsibility of that lawyer to provide the best possible defense. None of this is meant to slight prosecutors, who have the duty of upholding the rule of law, or judges, whose job it is to ensure that the receipt of justice is swift, fair, and without prejudice. But when it comes to defending Americans’ most basic freedom from the state, it’s hard to think of a purer example than public defenders. Continue reading