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Media Contact for Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants Calls for Increased Civil Legal Aid Funding During Critical Time
Jennifer Donahue and Erika Gully-Santiago
BOSTON, MA — At this year's annual Walk to the Hill event at the Massachusetts State House, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants today joined hundreds of individuals and private attorneys from more than 40 law firms in making the critical case to legislators for increased state funding of programs that provide civil legal aid to vulnerable low income Massachusetts residents in need.
"It has never been more important for our brothers and sisters who are poor, undocumented, or displaced, to have access to attorneys who can enforce and defend their rights, articulate their claims and defenses, and advocate their cause," Chief Justice Gants said to an overflowing audience in the Great Hall of Flags.
Organized by the Equal Justice Coalition, the event called for increased funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), the largest funding source for civil legal aid programs in the state, by $5 million in the Fiscal Year 2019 state budget, for a total appropriation of $23 million. According to MLAC, approximately 880,000 residents of Massachusetts live below 125% of the Federal Poverty Level ($30,750 a year for a family of four), making them eligible for civil legal aid.
Noting that civil legal aid organizations are being overwhelmed with requests for help, Chief Justice Gants emphasized the important role that such organizations play in ensuring equal access to justice in Massachusetts. "Legal aid programs right now must turn away nearly two out of three income eligible people who come to them for help because they simply do not have the lawyers they need to handle their cases. But the programs do more than represent clients; they support the entire civil legal aid infrastructure."
In addition to SJC Chief Justice Ralph Gants, speakers included: Massachusetts Bar Association President Christopher P. Sullivan; Boston Bar Association President Mark D. Smith; and a client who told her civil legal aid story.
Following the speaking portion of the event, those in attendance visited their elected state legislators to encourage them to increase funding in the Fiscal Year 2019 state budget for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. The Equal Justice Coalition is a collaboration of the Boston Bar Association, Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation was established by the state legislature in 1983 to ensure that low income residents with critical, non-criminal legal matters would have access to legal information, advice and representation. Civil legal aid organizations provide support to individuals in cases related to housing, employment, family law, domestic violence, health care, education, immigration, and protection of elders, among other civil matters.