The Berkshire Eagle – Attorney Richard LeBlanc

The Berkshire Eagle
Monday, June 11, 2018 9:51 am

STEPHANIE ZOLLSHAN — THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
Attorney Richard LeBlanc of Pittsfield has received the Edward Duggan Award from the state Commission of Public Counseling Services for his work as a public defender in the Berkshires. Tuesday, May 22, 2018.

“It’s all I ever wanted to do”: A love of the law led Richard LeBlanc to become a public defender. Now, he’s being honored for his “zealous advocacy.”

Attorney Richard LeBlanc of Pittsfield has represented countless clients facing long odds in Berkshire courtrooms. Including two of the most notorious defendants in county history, Lewis Lent and Wayne Lo.

PITTSFIELD — Richard LeBlanc’s mother loved novels that were written by mystery writers.
They included books by Erle Stanley Gardner, who created Perry Mason, a Los Angeles defense attorney who fought long odds trying to clear his clients from seemingly insurmountable situations.  Mason’s exploits became the subject of one of the most beloved and long running crime dramas in television history. LeBlanc’s whole family were big fans of the show; Rick especially liked the way it contained realistic interpretations of the law.

“The law was right down the line,” said LeBlanc, a Pittsfield native who graduated from Taconic High School in 1971. “It just fascinated me the way the whole thing worked.”
Fast forward several years. LeBlanc turned his love for Mason into a love for the law into a career as a public defender — “it’s all I ever wanted to do” — where he’s often found himself representing clients facing the same situations that his television alter ego was up against. He’s represented two of Berkshire County’s most notorious defendants, convicted child serial killer Lewis Lent, and convicted school shooter Wayne Lo. Continue reading

MBA and CPCS Issued Statement on Judicial Independence

CPCS and the Mass Bar issued a joint statement on Friday, June 8, 2018, responding to those calling for the removal of Judge Timothy Q. Feeley.  CPCS and the Mass Bar warn that removing a judge because he or she made an unpopular decision would threaten the independence of the Judiciary.  See statement below or view statement at the following link:  MBA/CPCS Statement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 8, 2018

CONTACTS: MBA: Kelsey Sadoff (617) 338-0680; Cameron Woodcock / (617) 338-0675; CPCS General Counsel Lisa Hewitt (617) 910-5717

Mass. Bar Association and CPCS Warn Removal of Judge
Would Threaten Judicial Independence

BOSTON, Mass. —Massachusetts Bar Association President Christopher P. Sullivan and Committee for Public Counsel Services Chief Counsel Anthony J. Benedetti release the following statement in opposition to calls for the removal of Superior Court Judge Timothy Q. Feeley:

The recent uproar related to Judge Timothy Q. Feeley’s lawful sentencing of convicted drug dealer Manuel Soto-Vittini illustrates the absolute importance of preserving an independent judiciary. As the public outcry increases, facts get distorted, and misinformation travels faster than it can be corrected. Continue reading

Press Release

In response to call for the removal of Judge Timothy Feeley, CPCS and the MBA issued a joint statement in support of the Judge and highlighting the importance of an independent and impartial judiciary.  See statement below:

CPCS and MBA: Support Impartial Courts

– Agree Attacks against Judge Feeley Detrimental to Fair Judiciary –

  Boston – In support of fair and impartial courts, the Committee for Public Counsel Services, joined by the Massachusetts Bar Association, today released a statement about efforts by some who are calling to remove Judge Timothy Feeley because of a recent sentencing decision.

“Our forefathers were careful in crafting both our nation’s tenets and in Article 29 of the Bill of Rights of the Massachusetts Constitution. If we begin to remove judges because we don’t like their decisions, then we begin to undermine our judicial system and the judicial impartiality that is so vital in maintaining a fair judiciary,” said Anthony J. Benedetti, chief counsel for the Committee for Public Counsel Services.

“An independent judiciary is a cornerstone upon which this country was founded. Our citizens are entitled to no less than a free and independent judiciary bound by the rule of law and not the vagaries of public opinion and political consequence,” said Christopher P. Sullivan, president of the Massachusetts Bar Association. “Individual attacks and overly broad intrusions will have a chilling effect on the judiciary and will erode public confidence in the judicial system,” said Sullivan.

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2018 Awards Ceremony – CPCS Honors Outstanding Achievements in Client Centered Advocacy

On Thursday, April 26, CPCS had the pleasure of honoring exceptional members of our community – attorneys from the public and private counsel divisions, as well as a social worker, investigator and administrative professional – who work tirelessly to insure that CPCS meets our mission:  to fight for equal justice and human dignity by supporting our clients in achieving their legal and life goals; to zealously advocate for the rights of individuals; and to promote just public policy to protect the rights of all.

Gathered at the John Adams Courthouse were honorees, members of the staff and private bar, friends, family and clients of the honorees, as well as Committee members. The ceremony was a moment to pause and to celebrate the outstanding work of colleagues on behalf of their clients, not just over the course of the last year, but for their perseverance over the course of their careers.

The 2018 honorees:

Anthony Benedetti presenting the Thurgood Marshall Award to Nancy Bennett at the CPCS Annual Conference

NANCY T. BENNETT, Thurgood Marshall Award. The Thurgood Marshall Award honors a person or persons who champion the cause of zealous representation for the poor, and the right to effective assistance of counsel for all.

Nancy T. Bennett devoted almost four decades of her professional life to championing and advancing the cause of zealous representation for the poor. She was relentless, dedicated and effective in vindicating the right of the indigent not only to receive legal representation, but to receive zealous and effective assistance of counsel.  (continue reading here)

 

Norma Wassel presenting the Jane Addams Award to Norman Beach

NORMAN BEACH, Jane Addams Award for Outstanding Social Service Accomplishments. The Jane Addams Award for Outstanding Social Service Accomplishments honors a staff social worker or social service advocate who exemplifies a commitment to clients through his or her advocacy, support and dedication. The Addams Award recognizes the profound impact of social workers and social service advocates serving as members of a legal team. It is named for Jane Addams, a pioneer in establishing the field of social work and the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  (continue reading here)

 

Randy Gioia presenting the Carol Donovan Award to Wendy S. Wayne

WENDY S. WAYNE, Carol Donovan Exceptional Advocacy Award. The Carol A. Donovan Award for Exceptional Advocacy is presented to the lawyer, public or private, whose representation of poor people facing the awesome power of the state is most reminiscent of Carol’s fierce commitment to their vigorous and effective representation, and the cause of equal justice for all.

Perhaps, this year, more than any other year, the awesome power of the state is being felt  (continue reading here)

 

 

Priscilla Duffy presenting the Edward Duggan Award-Private Counsel, to Jeanne Earley (right)

JEANNE EARLEY, Edward J. Duggan Award for Outstanding Service-Private Counsel. The Edward J. Duggan Award for Outstanding Service, Private Counsel is given to an Assigned Private Counsel and is named for Edward J. Duggan, who served continuously from 1940 to 1997 as a member of the Voluntary Defenders Committee, the Massachusetts Defenders Committee, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services.  The award has been presented each year since 1988 to the private attorney who best represents zealous advocacy   (continue reading here)

 

 

Debra Krupp presenting the Maura Mellen Award to Bonnie E. Mullen (left)

BONNIE E.MULLEN, Maura Mellen Administrative Professional Award.  The Maura Mellen Administrative Professional Award honors an administrative staff member who has made an outstanding contribution to the delivery of zealous and effective advocacy for CPCS clients. The award recognizes that administrative staff members perform many critical roles in the provision of zealous representation to CPCS clients.

Bonnie Mullen has been an outstanding member of the CPCS staff for 39 years.  She is the consummate Administrative Assistant – smart, professional, highly organized, dedicated,  (continue reading here)

 

 

Karen Owen Talley being presented with the Liacos Award by Mark Larsen

KAREN OWEN TALLEY, Paul J. Liacos Mental Health Advocacy Award. The Paul J. Liacos Mental Health Advocacy Award recognizes a public defender or private attorney whose legal advocacy on behalf of persons involved in civil and/or criminal mental health proceedings best exemplifies zealous advocacy in furtherance of all clients’ legal interests.

Since her graduation from New York Law School in 1995, Karen Talley has dedicated her career to representing people with mental and or physical disabilities and has zealously advocated for their right to self-determination and  (continue reading here)

 

 

Michael Dsida presenting the Margaret Winchester Award to Ann Balmelli O’Connor

ANN BALMELLI O’CONNOR, Margaret Winchester Child Welfare Advocacy Award. The Margaret Winchester Child Welfare Advocacy Award honors a staff member or a private attorney who, through his or her zealous advocacy and extraordinary commitment to children and parents in care and protection and other Massachusetts child welfare cases, is a model for other advocates seeking to protect the rights of children and parents.

Ann O’Connor started her career in 1991 as a DSS trial lawyer.  She quickly transitioned to (continue reading here)

 

 

Ryan M. Schiff (right) being presented the Jay D. Blitzman Award by Josh Dohan

RYAN M. SCHIFF, Jay D. Blitzman Youth Advocacy Award. The Jay D. Blitzman Award for Youth Advocacy is presented to a person who has demonstrated a commitment to juvenile rights, which is the hallmark of Judge Blitzman’s long career as an advocate.  The award honors an advocate who has exhibited both extraordinary dedication and excellent performance to assure that children accused of criminal conduct, or otherwise at risk, are treated fairly and with dignity in the courtroom,  (continue reading here)

 

 

Richard D. LeBlanc (right) receiving the Edward Duggan Award-Public Defender from Randy Gioia

RICHARD D. LeBLANC, Edward J. Duggan Award for Outstanding Service-Public Defender. The Edward J. Duggan Award for Outstanding Service, Public Defender is given to a Public Defender and is named for Edward J. Duggan, who served continuously from 1940 to 1997 as a member of the Voluntary Defenders Committee, the Massachusetts Defenders Committee, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services. The award has been presented each year since 1988 to the public defender who best represents zealous advocacy — the central principle governing the representation of indigents   (continue reading here)

 

Eddie Coren, Jr. (right) receiving the Maria Souto-Armand Goyette Award from Richard Slowe

EDDIE COREN, JR., Maria Souto-Armand Goyette Investigator Award. The Maria Souto-Armand Goyette Award honors a staff investigator for outstanding investigative work. Maria Souto was an indefatigable CPCS investigator in the Boston office. Armand Goyette, the first investigator at the Massachusetts Defenders Committee, was recognized as a consummate criminal defense investigator who provided outstanding service for over 25 years.

This year’s recipient is Eddie Coren Jr. For the past five years, Eddie has worked as a criminal (continue reading here)

 

Springfield Summit

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.

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 2018 ANNUAL AWARDS CEREMONY

YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED TO ATTEND
THE COMMITTEE FOR PUBLIC COUNSEL SERVICES
2018 ANNUAL AWARDS CEREMONY
TO HONOR MEMBERS OF OUR STAFF AND PRIVATE BAR
__________

Thurgood Marshall Award
Nancy T. Bennett
(to be awarded at the Annual Conference on May 15, 2018)

Jane Addams Award for Outstanding Social Service Accomplishments
Norman Beach

Edward J. Duggan Public Counsel Award for Outstanding Service
Richard D. LeBlanc

Edward J. Duggan Private Counsel Award for Outstanding Service
Jeanne Earley

Maura Mellen Administrative Professional Award
Bonnie E. Mullen

Paul J. Liacos Mental Health Advocacy Award
Karen Owen Talley

Margaret Winchester Child Welfare Advocacy Award
Ann Balmelli O’Connor

Jay D. Blitzman Award for Youth Advocacy
Ryan M. Schiff

Carol A. Donovan Award for Exceptional Advocacy
Wendy S. Wayne

Maria Souto-Armand Goyette Investigator Award
Eddie Coren, Jr.
_________

RECEPTION TO FOLLOW AWARD CEREMONY

PLEASE RSVP HERE

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

Private Counsel Compensation Hearings – SPRINGFIELD HEARING POSTPONED

DUE TO THE ADVERSE WEATHER PREDICTED FOR TUESDAY, MARCH 13, 2018, THE SPRINGFIELD HEARING IS BEING POSTPONED. 

A NEW HEARING WILL BE SCHEDULED IN SPRINGFIELD AND NOTICE OF THAT EVENT WILL BE PUBLISHED SHORTLY.

Pursuant to M.G.L. ch. 211D, § 11 (Establishment and Review of Compensation Rates) CPCS will be holding hearings in order to solicit input on the current rates of compensation for attorneys who accept appointments to represent indigent persons.  All persons who accept these appointments are invited to attend and to provide input on this issue.

March 6, 2018                                              March 13, 2018
4:30 – 6:00 p.m.                                           3:00-4:30 p.m.
Taunton Superior Courthouse                  Springfield Hall of Justice
9 Court Street                                              50 State Street
Taunton, MA  02780                                   Springfield, MA  01103

March 20, 2018
John Adams Courthouse
Great Hall, 2nd Floor Conference Suite
One Pemberton Square
Boston, MA  02108
4:00 -5:30 p.m.

Written Testimony may be emailed to Denise Simonini at:  dsimonini@publiccounsel.net

Please include subject line:  “Public Compensation Hearing”

THE HISTORY OF THE ROXBURY DEFENDERS – February 13, 2018 – First Church Roxbury

Last Tuesday night I, and many other people, attended an event entitled “The History of the Roxbury Defenders” at the First Church in Roxbury.  The event was cosponsored by the Roxbury Historical Society and the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry.  It was great. A group of four former Roxbury Defenders, and the current Roxbury Defender Attorney-in-Charge,  spoke to a large group of neighborhood residents, and many CPCS people about their experiences as attorneys of color bringing equal justice and high quality legal services to an underserved community.  The speakers were former SJC Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, former SJC Associate Justice, Geraldine Hines, former Roxbury District Court Presiding Justice, Milton Wright, former Boston Juvenile Court Justice Leslie Harris and current Attorney-in-Charge of the Roxbury Defenders, Yolanda Acevedo.  The group was moderated by long-time State Representative, Byron Rushing.  Each speaker told of their experiences that illuminated the depth of the struggle they faced and continue to face fighting for equal justice in their community.  The history of the Roxbury Defenders is fascinating and inspiring.

Former SJC Chief Justice Roderick Ireland spoke first.  Justice Ireland was the first black person appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court in 1997, more than 300 years after the formation of the Court.  The SJC was formed in 1692 as part of the charter for the Province of Massachusetts Bay.  In 1971, when Ireland was twenty-seven years old, he and Wallace Sherwood formed the original Roxbury Defenders. At the time, people in Roxbury received legal representation in criminal cases from the Massachusetts Defenders Committee, but there was no permanent public defender office in Roxbury. The Roxbury Defenders office was the first.  Sherwood and Ireland established the Roxbury Defenders in an energetic and inspired manner.  They hired a small staff and set out to be pioneers and great lawyers.  They challenged systemic issues.  At the time, pre-trial court hearings were not recorded.  Ireland and Sherwood brought a lawsuit, challenging the lack of recording. Although they did not win the case, their challenge was the first step towards the recording of all court proceedings.  Also, at that time, judges could interrupt and stop probable cause hearings if they determined they had enough evidence for probable cause.  These judicial interruptions often denied defense counsel the opportunity to complete cross-examination of prosecution witnesses or to present witnesses.  The Roxbury Defenders challenged this practice as a violation of the defendant’s right to call his own witnesses and the SJC agreed.   Aside from legal challenges, the early Roxbury Defenders sought to increase community awareness of legal issues.  They produced a local radio show, called “Legal Line”, on which they answered questions from listeners and discussed topical legal issues. By the time Ireland left the Defenders in 1974, they had established a social services department and published a weekly newspaper. They were handling about 1500 cases a year and the office eventually grew to about 12 lawyers.  Geraldine Hines and Margaret Burnham (first black woman judge in Massachusetts) were early staff attorneys.

Geraldine Hines, who was the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Judicial Court, spoke about the struggle for black women attorneys in Boston in the early seventies. Justice Hines put it politely when she said: “there were cultural issues to fight through”.   She was a Roxbury Defender in 1973 when she was sitting in a Roxbury courtroom, waiting to have her case called.  She sat until her case was the only one that had not been called.  The judge asked her: “Ms. Hines, are you a lawyer?” Hines replied: “I have sat here all day and you haven’t asked anyone else that question.” She refused to answer the question and the judge left the bench without calling her case.

Milton Wright, another former Roxbury Defender, who went on to become the Presiding Justice in the Roxbury District Court, also spoke about the struggles he faced as a black attorney in Boston.  Wright spoke about a time, in the early 80s, when he was working as a Roxbury Defender.  He went up to the lock-up to see his client.  He was blocked by a court officer, who asked: “Who are you?”  He responded: “I’m Mr. Wright, who are you?”  Wright, who is also a professional singer – he is known as the “singing judge” – always wanted to be an entertainer but said that nothing compared to being a Roxbury Defender.

Leslie Harris, another Roxbury Defender, who became a juvenile judge, spoke about his path to the Roxbury Defenders.  Harris started out as a grade school teacher in Boston and was inspired by Judge David Nelson, who was the first black person to be appointed to the federal bench in Massachusetts.  He remembers Nelson urging teachers to become probation officers so they could assist underserved young people.  Harris became a probation officer but was inspired by watching attorneys in court.  He decided he wanted to become an attorney, specifically a Roxbury Defender.  He went to law school and was soon hired as a Roxbury Defender.

Yolanda Acevedo, the current Attorney-in-Charge of the Roxbury Defenders, spoke about her long career as a Roxbury Defender.   Yolanda has been a Roxbury Defender since 1982;  her entire legal career.  She has been the Attorney-in-Charge for the last five years.  Yolanda spoke about the inspiration she has continuously received from the Roxbury Defenders, especially in her early days, when she worked with John Amabile – currently a preeminent private criminal defense attorney in Massachusetts – and Martha Reeves – currently a federal Administrative Law Judge. Yolanda also spoke of her struggle as a woman Hispanic attorney, recounting that she was asked if she was the court interpreter.

As the evening began to wind down, moderator Byron Rushing stated that things had improved for poor black people in the criminal justice system.  Justice Hines pushed back.  She said racial disparity is still a major problem in the Massachusetts criminal justice system.  She cited Massachusetts’ poor record of racial disparity in sentencing and the persistence of implicit bias in all aspects of the criminal justice system.  Yolanda also mentioned the many injustices that continue, including the imposition of extraordinarily high bails that keep accused people locked up and the persistence of minimum mandatory sentences that prevent the client’s life story from being considered by the sentencing judge.

This event drew a large group of people from the community and from CPCS.  The Roxbury Defenders is an institution in Roxbury and is part of the proud history of CPCS and a tribute to its fight for equal justice.  Here are some photographs from the event.