Amid deportations, SJC’s chief justice pleads for $5m hike in funding for civil legal aid

Travis Andersen, GLOBE STAFF  JANUARY 25, 2018

The chief justice of the state’s highest court made an impassioned plea Thursday for a $5 million increase in public funding for civil legal aid for poor Massachusetts residents, including undocumented immigrants facing possible deportation and the severing of their families.

Speaking at the State House, Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court said raising the yearly budget allocation for indigent civil legal aid, to $23 million from $18 million, is vital amid the threat of deportation faced by thousands of state residents from Haiti, El Salvador, and Honduras who recently lost protection under the federal Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, program.

“Why $5 million more than last year? Last year, Elsa, a 45-year-old TPS holder from El Salvador who cleans Boston offices from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., and who takes care of her two sons, both US citizens, during the rest of her waking hours, was not faced with being forced to return to El Salvador and to leave her children,” Gants said.

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Massachusetts State House

Chief Justice Gants and Bar Association Leaders to Speak at 19th Annual Walk to the Hill

BOSTON (January 16, 2018)―Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court and bar association leaders will join hundreds of private attorneys from more than 40 law firms at the Massachusetts State House on Thursday, Jan. 25 at 11:00 a.m. for the 19th Annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. Attendees of this annual lobby day, one of the largest held on Beacon Hill each year, will request a $5 million increase in state funding for programs that provide civil legal aid to low-income Massachusetts residents. Approximately 880,000 people in Massachusetts have incomes at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Level ($30,750 a year for a family of four), making them eligible for civil legal aid.

“Tens of thousands of people who live in Massachusetts cannot afford the legal help or representation they need when facing life-changing circumstances such as escaping domestic violence, unlawful eviction or home foreclosure, or the denial of veteran’s benefits,” said Lonnie Powers, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC). “They’re left to navigate these complex legal matters alone, putting their families, homes, health, and livelihoods at risk. Civil legal aid gives low-income people in Massachusetts the tools they need to achieve or maintain their financial stability and independence.”

Speakers at Walk to the Hill will include Chief Justice Gants, Boston Bar Association President Mark D. Smith, and Massachusetts Bar Association President Christopher P. Sullivan. The program will also include remarks by a client who has been helped by civil legal aid.

“At a time when immigrant communities face uncertainty and hostility, and fear that the rule of law is threatened, the need for legal advocacy and advice from our civil legal aid organizations has never been more urgent,” said Justice Gants.

MBA President Christopher P. Sullivan said: “With no guarantee of a lawyer in a civil case, far too many Massachusetts residents go unrepresented in court because they simply cannot afford a lawyer, and the legal aid resources are far too limited to help everyone who is qualified to receive such aid. That’s unacceptable. Having access to a lawyer is critical, especially when folks are fighting for their homes or services for their kids or facing other life-altering challenges. More funding for legal aid is the answer, and the Massachusetts Bar Association urges our elected officials to increase funding for legal aid to ensure equal justice for all in the Commonwealth.”

“Every year, we work alongside our partners in the Equal Justice Coalition to secure funding for civil legal aid in the state budget because we understand the devastating consequences for Massachusetts families who cannot afford legal representation,” said Boston Bar Association President Mark Smith. “In addition to enabling low-income residents to access legal services, investing resources in civil legal aid saves money.”

“Civil legal aid is a solid return on investment for Massachusetts taxpayers and our communities,” said MLAC Board Chair Marijane Benner Browne. “In fiscal year 2016, the work of the 14 civil legal aid programs funded by MLAC provided an economic benefit of $49.2 million to the state’s economy. This included federal benefits and other financial support for low-income residents, as well as shelter and health care cost savings for the state.”

Following the speaking program, attorneys will visit their legislators and urge them to increase funding for MLAC, the largest funder of civil legal aid in Massachusetts, by $5 million in the FY19 state budget, for a total appropriation of $23 million.

Walk to the Hill is sponsored by the Equal Justice Coalition, a collaboration of the Boston Bar Association, Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. The event is also co-sponsored by numerous county and specialty bar associations throughout Massachusetts.

SPEAKING PROGRAM

11:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Great Hall of Flags
Massachusetts State House, Boston

The order of speakers is as follows:

  • Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court
  • Boston Bar Association President Mark D. Smith
  • Massachusetts Bar Association President Christopher P. Sullivan
  • Legal aid client

NOTE: Members of the media are welcome to attend all or part of the speaking program. Please follow the Equal Justice Coalition on Twitter (www.twitter.com/equaljusticema) as well as the hashtags #IWalkForJustice and #WalktotheHill for the latest on Walk to the Hill 2018.

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About the Equal Justice Coalition

The Equal Justice Coalition, a collaboration of the Boston Bar Association, Massachusetts Bar Association and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, works to increase state funding for civil legal aid. For more information, visit www.equaljusticecoalition.org.