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BOSTON, MA — At the annual Walk to the Hill event at the Massachusetts State House, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants today urged an audience of hundreds to make the case to legislators for increased state funding of programs that provide civil legal aid to low income Massachusetts residents in need.
"We can expect the coming year to present unprecedented challenges to the rule of law and to the health and well-being of the poor and vulnerable in this Commonwealth," Chief Justice Gants said to an overflowing audience in the Great Hall. "We are fortunate to have leaders in our Legislature who understand the challenges we face, who are committed to protecting the rights of every Massachusetts resident, and who stand for the principle of 'shared prosperity and true equality.'"
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. Though MLAC-funded programs assisted over 88,000 low-income people across the state in Fiscal Year 2016, civil legal aid organizations estimate that they turn away 64% of eligible people seeking help due to a lack of funding. According to MLAC, nearly 1 million people in Massachusetts live below 125% of the Federal Poverty Level, making them eligible for civil legal aid.
Noting that civil legal aid organizations are "being deluged with requests for help", Chief Justice Gants emphasized the important role that such organizations play in ensuring equal access to justice in Massachusetts. "Legal services stand at the forefront of that fight. And they badly need reinforcements because they are being overwhelmed by the growing need for help."
"Elder abuse, the loss of unemployment benefits, consumer fraud, eviction, domestic violence -- so many problems, and for each the poor look to legal services" for assistance, he said.
In addition to Chief Justice Gants, speakers included Equal Justice Coalition Chair Louis Tompros; Massachusetts Bar Association President Jeff Catalano; Boston Bar Association President Carol A. Starkey; and a senior citizen who received civil legal aid help from an attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services.
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 2018 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.
Remarks Delivered by Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants at the 18th Annual Walk to the Hill