The Children and Family Law Division (CAFL) of the Committee for Public Counsel Services is seeking qualified attorneys to represent children and indigent parents in care and protection/termination of parental rights and child requiring assistance cases in the Juvenile Court. The first four days of the training (September 12-13 and September 19-20) will be presented at MCLE, 10 Winter Place, Boston, MA 02108.  The next two days, applicants are able to choose between September 25 & 26, which will be presented at Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) 10 Winter Place, Boston, or September 26 & 27, which will be presented at the Massachusetts Bar Association, 1441 Main Street, Springfield. One-day mock hearings will be scheduled throughout the state on October 7, 10 and 11, 2019.

There is a significant shortage of CAFL lawyers in western Massachusetts.  The need is most critical in the Springfield Juvenile Court.  As a result, we are particularly interested in applicants who are able to accept CAFL appointments in Springfield as soon as possible after successfully completing the certification training.

Application Submission:  Admission to the CAFL trial panel is by application only.  Applicants must be members of the Massachusetts Bar or be admitted to the Bar of another state and be eligible to practice law in Massachusetts.  All attorneys who accept CPCS assignments are required to maintain malpractice insurance.

We will give preference to attorneys who commit to practicing in western Massachusetts and to attorneys who submit completed applications by Monday, July 22, 2019. We will continue to accept applications after that date, particularly from those planning to practice in western Massachusetts.

More information and the application can be found here.


The Mental Health Litigation Division (MHLD) of the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) is now accepting applications to its Fall 2019 Civil Commitment Certification Training.

In Massachusetts, people experiencing psychiatric distress can be involuntarily detained at psychiatric facilities, committed for up to six months, and treated with medications against their wishes. This substantial deprivation of liberty entitles these clients to court-appointed counsel to ensure that all their rights under the law are protected.

This certification training will be held in Worcester on October 16, 17, and 18 (all day), and on October 29, 2019 (this last day will be a mock trial; you will be scheduled for either the morning or afternoon session, to be determined).

Please complete the application here:

The application deadline is September 6, 2019. Applicants to the program must be accepted before registering. The cost of the training is $125.00.

For more information or questions about the Mental Health Litigation Division Civil Commitment Certification Training, please contact Miriam Ruttenberg at (617) 910-5782 or mruttenberg@publiccounsel.net.


The CPCS Mental Health Litigation Division is now accepting applications for an Appellate Certification Training taking place this October.  The training will take place in Worcester over the course of three days:

Wednesday, October 2, 2019 from 8:45 – 4:30**
Thursday, October 3, 2019 from 8:45 – 4:30
Friday, October 4, 2019 from 8:45 – 4:30

Applicants to the program need to be accepted prior to registering for the training. 

**Current Mental Health Litigation panel members in good standing can opt out of attending Day One of this training, which will be a “Mental Health 101” course for those not currently on the Mental Health Litigation Trial Panel.

To apply, please download the application from our website at: https://www.publiccounsel.net/mh/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/CPCS-Mental-Health-Appellate-Panel-Application-June-2019.doc

Deadline to submit the application is August 30, 2019.

Further Information:

For further information regarding the appellate panel certification process, please contact Karen Talley at (508) 583-0560 or ktalley@publiccounsel.net.


SJC rules that Discharge in mental health commitments means: Discharge

In a major decision (Pembroke Hospital v. D.L. (May 23, 2019)) the SJC ruled that when a petition for commitment under Chapter 123 is denied, the respondent cannot be held for further evaluation at the petitioning facility or another facility barring new evidence “that failure to hospitalize such person would create a likelihood of serious harm by reason of mental illness.” M.G.L. chapter 123, sec. 12(a). An “involuntary readmission pursuant to § 12 must be based on new information that was unavailable to the judge during the previous petition hearing. Here, as the judge denied the first petition — finding D.L. not to be a danger to himself or others — Pembroke needed new information pertaining to D.L.’s dangerousness in order to readmit him properly pursuant to § 12.” Pembroke v. D.L. at footnote 13.

In this case, Pembroke failed to discharge D.L. within the meaning of G. L. c. 123 after the denial of its petition to continue D.L.’s confinement; this was a violation of the statute. See G. L. c. 123, § 6 (a). In addition, Pembroke’s § 12 (a) application to South Shore for evaluation and subsequent readmission and involuntary confinement of D.L. was an “abuse or misuse” of § 12. See G. L. c. 123, § 12 (b); Magrini, 451 Mass. at 784, 889 N.E.2d 929. Finally, because D.L. was not held lawfully under § 12 (b), the District Court did not have jurisdiction to rule on the petition for civil commitment pursuant to G. L. c. 123, §§ 7 and 8. For these reasons, the decision and order of the Appellate Division denying D.L.’s motion to dismiss is reversed. The order of civil commitment pursuant to §§ 7 and 8 is vacated.

Congratulations to Devorah Borenstein who argued and briefed the case, Director of Mental Health Appeals, Karen Talley  for her support and Bar Advocates, Mike O’Brien & Joan Legraw, who were trial counsel in the successive petitions.

Good Work of Public Defenders Leads to Outstanding Results in the SJC

Recently, the outstanding efforts of public defenders – and assigned counsel – have led to great results for our clients in the Supreme Judicial Court.  This Tuesday, the SJC issued two groundbreaking decisions expanding access to post-conviction forensic analysis under G.L. c. 278A, in Commonwealth v. Williams and Commonwealth v. Putnam.  And just two weeks earlier, the Court decided in Commonwealth v. Feliz and Commonwealth v. Johnson that the attachment of a GPS monitor is a constitutionally significant search that cannot be imposed on a mandatory basis.

Lisa Kavanaugh, Director of the CPCS Innocence Program, submitted an amicus brief in Williams and Putnam, along with exoneree Dennis Maher and attorneys from the New England Innocence Project and the Boston College Innocence Project.  Both cases were argued by Merritt Schnipper, who was assigned counsel.  The SJC adopted the arguments made by the defendants and amici, holding that a claim of factual innocence can be asserted by a defendant who claims that no crime occurred.  As a result of the hard work of the advocates involved, Massachusetts has become one of a very small number of jurisdictions that recognize self-defense as a form of factual innocence.

David Rangaviz of the Public defender Division Appeals Unit represented Mr. Feliz in the SJC, in his appeal from the mandatory imposition of a GPS monitor pursuant to G.L. c. 256, §47, following his conviction on child pornography charges.  Mr. Feliz was represented in Suffolk Superior Court by Public Defender Division staff attorney,  Alyssa Hackett.  The SJC held that the imposition of the GPS monitor is a search that cannot comport with article 14 unless a judge makes an individualized determination that the Commonwealth’s interest in imposing the GPS monitor outweighs the privacy invasion occasioned by such monitoring.  Given the record establishing the very onerous nature of a GPS device (Alyssa presented evidence showing that Mr. Feliz’s device frequently lost signal, often requiring him to leave his workplace to walk around outside – or risk arrest), his perfect compliance with probation, and his low risk of re-offense, the SJC struck the probation condition subjecting him to GPS monitoring.  Credit is also due to Ryan Schiff, former CPCS Director of Juvenile Appeals and Special Litigation staff attorney, who worked with Alyssa to craft the motion in the trial court.   Thanks to the efforts of these dedicated public defenders, many of our clients will be freed from their electronic shackles.  This case represents a much-needed departure from our “one size fits all” treatment of people convicted of sex offenses.

Thank you and congratulations to Lisa, Merritt, Dave, Alyssa and Ryan!  And thank you to entire staff for your tireless work arguing and preserving these types of issues at every level to make systemic change possible!


In a Broken Foster System, Some Kids Can’t Find a Bed For the Night reports Boston Globe

The Boston Globe recently published an article on the severe shortage of foster homes for children removed from their parents.  According to the article, Massachusetts has one of the worst records nationally for placement instability, lagging behind all but three states.  “In 2018 nearly a third of children in foster care in Massachusetts were moved three or more times during their first year in the system.”  Indeed, “virtually every night, DCF response workers, with kids in their back seats, are crisscrossing Massachusetts, or camping out at a 24-hour McDonald’s as they await word of a foster family with space for another child.”  “Many DCF offices have become de facto day-care centers, with toddlers crawling amid computers and paper clips.” 

The article included quotes from CAFL’s Deputy Chief Counsel Mike Dsida, who stated, ““Foster care is warranted in some cases because of the risks children face in their homes.  But there has to be more thought given to the harm that they suffer as a result of being removed from their homes and placed in an overtaxed foster care system.”  He continued: “That doesn’t mean that children should be left home in risky situations, but many more of them could be maintained safely in their own homes if parents are provided better support.”   In a follow up article, the Globe reported the reactions of several state legislators to the piece. Their responses include advocating for increased funding for family support and stabilization services and possibly refiling a bill that would require an independent review of cases anytime a child experiences more than two placements after entering foster care.  

The April 6 article can be found here.

The April 9 article can be found here.



2019 Annual Awards Invitation




5:00-8:00 p.m.

Thurgood Marshall Award
Don Bronstein

Edward J. Duggan Public Counsel Award for Outstanding Service
Yolanda Acevedo

Edward J. Duggan Private Counsel Award for Outstanding Service
Lois J. Martin

Maura Mellen Administrative Professional Award
Sarah Pegus

Jane Addams Award for Outstanding Social Service Accomplishments
Kelsey Haggett

Paul J. Liacos Mental Health Advocacy Award
Debra S. Kornbluh

Maria Souto-Armand Goyette Investigator Award
Ami Rose Jackson

Teresa McParland Award for Operational Excellence
Karin Doss

Jay D. Blitzman Award for Youth Advocacy
Robert F. Hennessy & Merritt Schnipper

Carol A. Donovan Award for Exceptional Advocacy
Kate Frame

Margaret Winchester Child Welfare Advocacy Award
Carol Rosensweig



CPCS Annual Training Conference – May 14, 2019

Please join us at the CPCS Annual Training Conference on Tuesday, May 14, 2018, 8:00 – 5:00, at the DCU Center on 50 Foster Street in Worcester, MA.  Advance Registration is Required and we are almost to capacity with a few seats left.   REGISTER TODAY TO ENSURE A SEAT! 

The keynote address will include remarks by two exceptional speakers:

Dr. Yusef Salaam, a transformational speaker, has traveled the United States facilitating conversations about race and class, the failings of our justice system, legal protections for vulnerable juveniles, and fundamental human rights. His experience of being wrongfully convicted at age 15 as one of the “Central Park Five” for the rape of the “Central Park Jogger”, holds lessons for us all.

Vincent Schiraldi co-founded the Justice Lab at Columbia University, which is devoted to reducing society’s reliance the justice system as a solution to social problems through research, education, and collaboration among scholars, practitioners, policy makers, advocates and formerly incarcerated people. His projects include eliminating youth prisons, reducing the footprint and negative impact of community corrections, and creating a developmentally appropriate response to offending by young adults.

The keynote will be followed by workshop sessions on a variety of topics of interest to criminal, juvenile, child welfare and mental health practitioners.  At midday, we will gather to hear remarks from Chief Counsel Anthony Benedetti. A boxed lunch will be served.

The Conference is approved for 6 CLE hours for all private panels.

ADVANCE REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED.  We are almost to capacity – register TODAY by visiting the Eventbrite Annual Conference Registration Page by CLICKING HERE