Category Archives: General Counsel’s Office

Public Defenders Seek Fair Retirement Classification

From L-R: Ziyad Hopkins, a staff attorney for CPCS, Mark Larsen, director of CPCS’s Mental Health Division, Pasqua Scibelli, a CPCS staff attorney with the Alternative Commitment and Registration Support Unit, and Norma Wassel, director of the agency’s social service advocacy, testify at the State House on Nov. 12, 2019.

Prosecutors and public defenders have stressful jobs, and both are frequently placed face-to-face with the trauma that inevitably surfaces when working in the criminal justice system. 

But when it comes to retirement, assistant district attorneys and those who work for the Committee for Public Counsel Services are treated much differently. Prosecutors receive enhanced retirement benefits, while CPCS staffers are placed in the lowest retirement classification of anyone in the courtroom.

In response, CPCS representatives went to the State House on Nov. 12 to ask for equal treatment.

“Our attorneys have to be exposed to the same emotionally stressful and traumatic events as the district attorneys, and therefore it is only fair that they are given the same rates of compensation, which includes the same retirement,” said Pasqua Scibelli, a CPCS staff attorney with the Alternative Commitment and Registration Support Unit.

Norma Wassel, director of social service advocacy for CPCS. asks lawmakers to “balance the scales of justice” when it comes to the agency’s retirement classification.

CPCS staffers and leadership testified before the Joint Committee on Public Service and described the need for retirement parity with state prosecutors – arguing that CPCS’s retirement classification should be shifted from Group 1 to Group 4. 

“I feel strongly that the job we do provides real justice in our system, but we have jobs where inherently there is stress and some physical danger,” said Norma Wassel, director of social service advocacy for CPCS. “I hope you would balance the scales of justice the way that we do.”

In 1996, state law was amended to include district attorneys and assistant district attorneys with 10 years of service in the Group 4 retirement classification. For years, CPCS has filed bills petitioning the Legislature to equal treatment for its attorneys, investigators and social workers.

Mark Larsen, director of CPCS’s Mental Health Division, said his attorneys experience “vicarious trauma” through their interactions with clients who “are at their most vulnerable and agitated when we meet with them.”

“One of our attorneys got a call from a very distressed client from one of the hospitals, and they were threatening suicide. She went and met with him for several hours. One of his concerns was that he couldn’t trust the staff,” Larsen said. “After several hours of working with this suicidal patient, he was able to return to his unit and eventually engaged with the staff. He was eventually discharged.”

Ziyad Hopkins, a staff attorney who has worked for CPCS for more than 20 years, said he has also received a call from a suicidal client. 

“I drove to the client’s house, and tried to help them in this time of crisis,” Hopkins said. “Luckily, I was able to. I am proud that people can turn to me, and I am proud to be in that role, but it takes a toll.” 

CPCS staff attorney Ziyad Hopkins tells lawmakers that public defenders often carry the trauma of their clients.

He added that changing CPCS’s retirement classification would help him with his two passions – the law and his family. 

“I am loyal to the rule of law, and I am proud to work with my brothers and sisters at the Bar and upholding the rule of law,” Hopkins said. “I am also devoted to my family – my wife and my two daughters – and believe the passage of this bill will allow me to honor both: My loyalty to the rule of law and the devotion to my family.”

CPCS Brings Gideon to the State House

Chief Counsel Anthony Benedetti

In recognition of the 55th Anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, CPCS held an informational forum for Legislators and their staff on Gideon and the right to counsel at the Massachusetts State House on March 20, 2018.  Although a majority of those attending were staff, several legislators, including State Rep. Joan Meschino (D-Hull), State Rep. Jack Lewis (D-Framingham), and State Rep. Chynah Tyler (D-Roxbury) were on hand for a portion of the day’s event.

CPCS Chief Counsel Anthony Benedetti thanked the audience for

SJC Chief Justice Ralph Gants

Sen. William Brownsberger

attending and recognized guest speakers, SJC Chief Justice Ralph Gants and Senate Judiciary Chairman William Brownsberger (D-Belmont), for agreeing to share their perspective on why the right to counsel is so important.  Both speakers focused their remarks on quality counsel and why it is necessary if we are to fulfill Gideon’s promise.  Chief Justice Gants explained that expecting attorneys, both public and private, to accept cases for inadequate compensation leads to a dearth of quality counsel.  He called attention to the fact that public attorneys who represent the liberty interests and rights of the Commonwealth’s indigent do not make nearly as much as Executive Branch attorneys who do important work, but who do not face the same burdens and complications as public defenders, especially risking a client’s freedom.  Sen. Brownsberger spoke to his personal experience as a member of the private bar who accepted indigent cases and the difficulties attorneys face, including the lack of trust clients have for most public and private assigned counsel when their they are first assigned.

Before showing the film, “Defending Gideon”, Chief Counsel Benedetti gave a brief history of the right to counsel in Massachusetts, noting, “In Massachusetts, we have unwaveringly upheld this freedom far longer than most other states with the right to counsel having a long and legendary history.  When Gideon was decided, the belief that the right to counsel is fundamental was very old news in the Commonwealth – by nearly 200 years.”  He took the audience from 1770 Colonial Massachusetts with John Adams and the Boston Massacre to 1963 and the Commonwealth’s direct involvement with Gideon because of Massachusetts Assistant AG Gerald Berlin’s amicus brief in support of Mr. Gideon and the right to counsel.

The Chief Counsel closed by telling the audience, “Although we are here to celebrate Gideon, we must also defend it.  As states across the nation struggle with dwindling fiscal resources the right that Gideon secured is in jeopardy….‘Defending Gideon’ tells the story of Clarence Earl Gideon and the successful outcome of his efforts, and it alerts us to the risks challenging the right to counsel that he so persuasively won.”  He added, “Unlike many other states, the Massachusetts system provided through CPCS has been lauded as ‘the best statewide indigent defense program in the country’, it has often been a model to which other states turn when they are looking to improve their systems, and we continue to work tirelessly with the help of both the Legislature and the Court to make certain that we protect the right to counsel and provide the highest quality, zealous representation possible to our clients.”

 

CPCS Atty. Wendy Wayne and Other Advocates File Writ of Protection Asking SJC to Block Immigration Arrests at Massachusetts Courthouses

On March 15, 2018, the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) Immigration Impact Unit, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice (LCCR) and Greater Boston Legal Services filed a petition in the Commonwealth’s highest court, seeking a “writ of protection” to prevent federal immigration officials (ICE) from arresting individuals on civil immigration matters while they attend to court business.  Continue reading

CPCS Plays Major Role in Massachusetts Wrongful Conviction Day

The CPCS Innocence Program led by CPCS Attorney Lisa Kavanaugh was one of several sponsors of the Massachusetts Wrongful Conviction Day held at the Massachusetts State House on October 2, 2017.

Supporters of amending Massachusetts law relative to wrongful convictions and forensic science evidence assembled at the State House to educate members of the House and Senate, their staff, and the public on the causes and remedies of wrongful convictions and the tremendous personal, social, and emotional costs wrongfully convicted, innocent people and their families endure.

The event, which took place on International Wrongful Conviction Day, featured a variety of speakers who appeared at intervals throughout the day and were followed by a brief film made by students of the Harvard Law School Criminal Justice Policy Program and filmmaker and Harvard Law School Lecturer Rebecca Richman Cohen – Racing Horse Productions.  The film, which concentrates on the need for forensic justice, highlights the experience and struggle of exoneree Victor Rosario.  To view the film visit: https://vimeo.com/218886228.

Presenters included State Senator Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville), State Senator William Brownsberger (D-Belmont) and recent Massachusetts exonerees, Fred Clay and Victor Rosario, clients of Atty. Kavanaugh, who poignantly relayed their own wrongful conviction experiences.  Both served more than 30 years each in prison for offenses they did not commit.

“Wrong became right, after I spent more than three decades of waiting for science to catch up,” expressed Victor Rosario, 2017 Massachusetts Exoneree.

Also presenting were family members of exonerees who explained how wrongful convictions disrupted their and their families’ lives.  The legal community and forensic science and wrongful conviction experts from sponsoring organizations provided details of what is currently happening with wrongful convictions and in the world of forensic science, and addressed the changes that are needed.

In addition to CPCS and the CPCS Innocence Program, sponsors of the event were the New England Innocence Project, the Boston College Innocence Program, and the Harvard Criminal Justice Policy Program.

State Senator William Brownsberger (D-Belmont)

State Senator Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville)

Director of CPCS Innocence Program Atty. Lisa Kavanaugh

New England Innocence Project Staff Attorney Radha Natarajan

Fred Clay – Recent Massachusetts Exoneree

Victor Rosario – Recent Massachusetts Exoneree

Beverly Rosario – Wife of Victor Rosario

Forensic Scientist Steve Laken, PhD.

Farak Press Conference

The Committee for Public Counsel Services and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts held a press conference on Thursday, November 30, 2017, in anticipation of the District Attorneys dismissing thousands of cases linked to Amherst State Chemist Sonia Farak’s criminal misconduct.


CPCS Deputy Chief Counsel Randy Gioia and CPCS Atty. Rebecca Jacobstein were among those who addressed the media.

Deputy Chief Counsel Gioia opened his statement by acknowledging how the war on drugs turned into a war on poor people and people of color.  He said, “This case is a reflection of how a misguided war on drugs turned into a war on poor people and people of color.  If you’re wealthy and white and you have a drug problem, you quietly go to drug rehab.  If you’re a poor person, you can’t quietly go to drug rehab; more likely you get arrested and maybe you get put on probation or maybe you go to jail.  And it turns out, for thousands of people the system that sent them to jail or put them on probation was rotten to the core.”

Atty. Jacobstein, who has clients who suffered because of Farak’s criminal misconduct and because of the subsequent misconduct of two assistant attorneys general, expressed outrage at the resulting injustice.  She stated, “When the news of the Amherst Lab scandal broke, there were people in prison based on tainted Farak drug certificates.  Some of them filed motions to stay their sentences and got out; they went home, returned to their families, while the justice system attempted to sort out what had happened.  And then, because the Attorney General’s Office hid exculpatory evidence and lied to the court, the justice system got it wrong….One of my clients had to go back and serve 15 more months in prison, 15 months he would not otherwise have had to serve, because attorneys at the Attorney General’s Office just didn’t care about how their dishonesty would affect him, or anyone else for that matter.  My client doesn’t get that time back.  Nor do any of the other defendants who lost months or years of their lives while the truth was being concealed.  This is an outrage.”

Deputy Chief Counsel Gioia’s and Atty. Jacobstein’s full statements can be read by clicking here.

Others who participated in the November 30th press conference were ACLUM Executive Director Carol Rose, ACLUM Legal Director Matthew Segal, ACLUM Staff Attorney Carl Williams, and Nicole Westcott, one of the thousands of individuals who were impacted by Farak’s tainted evidence.

To read the various press articles on this matter click:  Farak – Press Coverage Articles.

CPCS Alerts Media of Petition Seeking Relief from Convictions Tainted by Amherst Lab Chemist and the Misconduct of Two Assistant Attorneys General

Upon filing a petition at the SJC that seeks relief for the thousands whose cases were tainted by Amherst Drug Lab Chemist Sonia Farak and further exacerbated by the misconduct of two assistant attorneys general, CPCS sent out the following press release:

CPCS Files Petition Seeking Relief from Convictions Tainted by Amherst Lab Chemist and the Misconduct of Two Assistant Attorneys General

 (Boston) – Today the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) filed a petition in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on behalf of thousands of potential clients, requesting that the Court dismiss with prejudice every case tainted by the misconduct uncovered recently at the Amherst Drug Laboratory by chemist, Sonia Farak.  This action comes after the dismissal of thousands of other convictions tainted by another state laboratory employee, Annie Dookhan. Continue reading