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.

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