– – below you will find a collection of f/k/a/… “one breath punditry” blurbs on the assigned counsel, or Bar Advocate, fee crisis in Massachusetts
. . For summaries and links explaining why the Editor of this weblog believes the bar advocate boycotts to be unlawful and unethical, click here.
Massachusetts Lawyers’ Weekly has a wrap-up of the new pay-raise law,with quotes from many of the interested parties. See “Bar advocates returnin droves, crisis averted: Legislature passes pay-raise bill” (by Tony Wright,Aug. 8, 2005). Also, in a letter to the MLW editor, attorney Deborah Sirotkin-Butler advises a “wait and see” approach to the new legislation.
Champion Magazine, the journal of the National association of CriminalDefense Lawyers, has an article in its August edition, entitled “Lawyers on Strike —Beware the Antitrust Laws,” by Malia Brink, which is now (ironically) posted at theBristol County Bar Advocates website, here. I’m heartened to see that a criminaldefense lawyer who looks at the issues in good faith can understand the antitrustproblems that I have been pointing out to the Massachusetts folk for over two years.
Yesterday, the Massachusetts legislature passed and sent to the Governor an assignedcounsel bill that followed closely the House version of assigned counsel fee reform.“Legislature OKs raises for criminal defenders, Daily News Tribune, by Emelie Rutherford,July 29, 2005). The bill, which was signed into law today by Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey (Gov. Mitt,Romney is on vacation) will. Scroll to the July 29, 2005 update to this post for more details.
Mass. high court justice refuses to order the Legislature to raise assignedcounsel fees. See “Lawyers granted time on pay dispute,” by Dan Ring,Springfield Republican (July 27, 2005). Excerpt:“An associate justice on the state’s highest court yesterday saidthe state Legislature should receive more time to approve higherhourly pay for private lawyers for the poor and resolve a crisis thatstarted last year in Hampden County.“During a conference on a lawsuit that seeks increased hourly payfor the court-appointed lawyers, Associate Justice John M. Greaneyalso said it was unlikely the Supreme Judicial Court would orderlawmakers to appropriate money to settle the dispute since legislatorsare making progress.”
An 81% raise in the past two years is not enough for MassachusettsBar Advocates. See Does “Bar Advocate” equal “Greedy Lawyer”? for extensivecommentary, with excerpts and links from prior posts.
potluckMany Massachusetts Bar Advocates have no shame: they are willing topublically break the antitrust laws, and disrupt the judicial process, in orderto coerce the State to raise their assigned counsel fees. Some of them havestarted another per se illegal joint boycott, refusing to take cases of indigentscharged with murder. (see Boston Globe article, June 8, 2005). They’ve beenegging themselves on, at their Yahoo Group website, since April — talkingabout taking “summer vacations” again (like last year’s boycotts), with the chantof “NNC!” (“No New Cases!”). Sadly, the Massachusetts antitrust law doesnot apply to regulated professions. However, the Bar Advocate conduct hereclearly falls within FTC v. Superior Court Trial Lawyers Assn. (493 U.S. 411,1990), and the recent FTC Clark County [WA] Lawyers matter. Indeed, groupboycotts aimed at raising prices are criminal offenses under the Sherman Act. Ifthe FTC or the Department of Justice do not take action very soon, I hope someantitrust plaintiffs’ lawyers will take on this case on behalf of the taxpayers ofMassachusetts.
- Last year’s boycott got the Bar Advocates a 25% fee hike.A major Legislative Report, in April, recommended 50% moreover three years. [see post] The Bar Advocates want more, now.
See our post will MACAA react like a guild to indigent defense report? .
See our full post report out on Mass. indigent defense.
House Majority Leader John Rogers, the head of a commission studying indigent legalservices in Massachusetts said today that the Commission — which is expected to issueits report next week — will recommend another payhike for private lawyers who representthe poor. (details here, from Boston Herald, March 21, 2005)
What does it mean that one-third of Massachussetts legislators are lawyers,but Massachusetts Bar Advocates went 25 years without a pay raise?
On December 13, 2004 — the Massachusetts Association of Court Appointed Attorneys made a formalsubmission to the Legislative Commission studying the court-appointed situation in Massachusetts. You can access the comprehensive report, including a summary and bibliograhy, here.
Two of the biggest lawyer groups in Massachusetts are “challenging a ruling that allows judges in Hampden County to force attorneys to represent the poor in criminal cases.” (AP/Boston Herald, Legal groups challenge judges’ right to force them to take cases, Nov. 29, 2004) Fuller coverage in this post — mass. lawyers still looking out for #1
The Boston Globe weighs in on “Defending the Defenders” (October 8, 2004), recommending starting fees of $60 per hour for indigent defense counsel, and asserting that this “is a matter of better defending people’s constitutional rights,” rather than about public safety or badly-behaving lawyers. We think it’s about all three.
Per The Sentinel (by Matt O’Brien, 09/15/04), Fitchburg lawyer Pauline Cormier and a half dozen other bar advocates “grudgingly began re-accepting court-appointed cases this week after a weeks-long protest failed to garner the pay hike they demanded.” In addition,
Fitchburg lawyer Christopher Walton said he and many other lawyers are still refusing to take cases. Other lawyers were not immediately available for comment at press time Tuesday. “We’ve had meetings all along and it’s been said all along that some people are in a better position to take cases and some aren’t,” Cormier said. “There’s been no pressure … They were fine with my decision, as far as I know.”
“We agree that these lawyers should be paid more for their work, but their decision to simply refuse cases is only making a bad situation worse.”
- National Law Journal has published a Letter to the Editor on the boycott, written by your Editor. [Aug. 30, 2004, subscrp. req’d, but here’s my draft]
high court Justice Spina is worried the courts will become “hostage to lawyers” who don’t like the pay.
Asst. AG Kehoe notes “They are … putting the squeeze on, aren’t they? They are staying in the program, hoping the pay will go up?”
Ed. Note: Sympathetic to the bar advocates, Mass. news media still refuse to use the “b” word (boycott).
Speaking of indigent defense lawyers who take every case, I’ve been much enjoying the 2002 tales Rumpole Rests His Case (by John Mortimer, narrated by Tony Britton).
“[Gov.] Romney said it’s outrageous that lawyers are willing to let criminaldefendants go free because the lawyers believe they need a pay increase.”
Ed .Note: it’s not a strike, it’s a group boycott by competitors (that’s worse).
p.s. See the Decision and Order in the FTC’s Clark County Assigned Counsel case for a good outline of the kinds of activity that are and are not permitted when seeking higher fees. The relevant provisions are available at this weblog by clicking Assigned Counsel Don’t’s & Do’s
District Court Chief Justice Lynda Connolly told the Boston Herald, “It is disturbing to me that the attorneys would put their personal interests in terms of compensation ahead of the interests of their clients.”