PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT
John Adams Courthouse
One Pemberton Square
Boston, Massachusetts 02108
Jennifer Donahue/Erika Gully-Santiago
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 26, 2023
Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd Calls for Increased Civil Legal Aid Funding
BOSTON, MA — In remarks delivered today at Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd spoke of the importance of civil legal aid in the delivery of equal justice to all.
“Our legal system is dedicated to the principle of providing equal justice for all,” Chief Justice Budd said. “But too often we fall short of that ideal because many people still lack the resources they need to present their cases in the courts. And our legal aid organizations, who work tirelessly, simply do not have enough funding to provide counsel for everyone who comes to them seeking help.”
Walk to the Hill, an annual event in its 24th year, has been held virtually as Talk to the Hill since the start of the pandemic. The event highlights the continued need for state funding of programs that provide civil legal aid to low-income Massachusetts residents in need, a need that has increased since the start of the pandemic.
“Over the last three fiscal years, civil legal aid cases involving unemployment insurance have quadrupled, as compared with pre-pandemic figures. Cases involving domestic violence, housing, and immigration have all grown by 20% or more. The need is clear,” Chief Justice Budd said.
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 organizations in the state.
“In recent years we have made significant progress in closing this ‘justice gap’,” Chief Justice Budd said. “Thanks to the leadership of the Legislature, appropriations for civil legal aid have grown substantially. As a result, the percentage of eligible persons who must be turned away by legal aid organizations has dropped considerably -- from 57% to 47%. But still, that means that nearly half of the people who seek assistance do not get it.”
Chief Justice Budd also spoke of the importance of legal aid in maintaining confidence in the fairness of the legal system. She referenced a recent nationwide poll conducted by the National Center for State Courts that found that nearly half of all respondents questioned whether state courts deliver equal justice for all.
“The responses from people of color were particularly concerning,” Chief Justice Budd said. “Approximately 60% of Black and Hispanic respondents said that the phrase ‘provide[s] equal justice to all’ does not describe state courts.
There are undoubtedly many complex factors that contribute to this perception of unfairness. But one concrete step that we can take to reassure litigants that they have access to equal justice is to increase the availability of counsel for people who cannot afford a lawyer.”
In addition to SJC Chief Justice Budd, speakers included: Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey; Massachusetts Bar Association President Grace V.B. Garcia; Boston Bar Association President Chinh H. Pham; Lynne M. Parker, Executive Director of Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation; Jacquelynne Bowman, Executive Director of Greater Boston Legal Services; and civil legal aid clients who received assistance over the past year. The event was hosted by Louis Tompros, Chair of the Equal Justice Coalition.
Following the speaking portion of the event, attorneys and advocates spoke with state legislators in virtual breakout rooms to ask them to support $49 million in the Fiscal Year 2024 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 seniors, among other civil matters.
2023 Talk to the Hill Remarks by Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd