- Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
BOSTON, MA — The following remarks were delivered in the Great Hall of Flags in the Massachusetts State House.
What is it worth to help those who have no one to speak for them in court?
- The family facing eviction and homelessness.
- The domestic violence victim seeking safety and child support.
- The grandparent whose daughter suffers from opiate addiction, seeking a guardianship to care for her three young grandchildren.
- The immigrant parents threatened with deportation and family separation who are struggling to navigate a complex immigration legal system.
What is it worth to have a Commonwealth where the poor, the vulnerable, and the challenged can obtain the legal assistance they need to understand their rights, to be able to invoke those rights, and to get a fair chance to obtain justice?
Is it not worth $26 million dollars? With 6.86 million residents in this Commonwealth, that is $3.79 per person per year. What can you buy for $3.79? I do not usually go to Starbucks but I did two nights ago to find out. It turns out it will buy you a cup of coffee or a cup of hot chocolate, but it will not buy you a latte. You will later today be asking your legislators for less than one latte per year for each Massachusetts resident. What makes this Walk to the Hill so remarkable is not how much we demand, but how little we ask.
And if your legislators correctly note that we are asking for $5 million more than last year, first, express your appreciation for the increased funding for civil legal aid that was in last year's budget, and then discuss the families who will need legal help in the coming fiscal year because their lives have been upended by opiate addiction, by the threat of deportation, by eviction, by elder abuse, by wage theft, or by domestic violence. Remind them that legal services last year had to turn away 45,000 persons whose poverty made them eligible for such assistance because there were still too few lawyers to offer them help. Talk about how legal service organizations provide the guidance and advice online that pro bono attorneys use in representing the poor, and that unrepresented litigants use in trying to represent themselves. Ask your legislators if they believe that we as a Commonwealth can succeed when so many are struggling and being left behind.
Remind them that an appropriation for civil legal aid is not only a moral obligation; it is a sound investment. Recap the findings of the BBA Task Force Report: $1 dollar invested in legal aid in eviction and foreclosure cases saves $2.69 in homelessness costs; $1 dollar invested in representation for domestic violence victims saves $1 in state medical costs; $1 dollar invested in helping our residents obtain the federal benefits to which they are entitled by law brings in $5 in federal benefits to this Commonwealth.
And when you speak to your legislators, you know what you will find? They get it. We are blessed with legislators and legislative leaders who care deeply about the people who need civil legal services. Your job is simply to reinforce their understanding of what civil legal services do for the constituents they sincerely want to help, and to remind them that funding legal services is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.
Thank you for taking time from your law firms, your in-house legal offices, and your law schools to be here today. And thank you for your support for civil legal aid and for equal justice.