Foreclosure Prevention Task Force
The Task Force, in conjunction with other organizations, has effectively pushed back on the destruction of the foreclosure and eviction crisis that has undermined our national economy. Created in June 2008, the task Force’s goal is threefold: (1) to draft and introduce policies that address issues that homeowners and tenants of foreclosed on houses face, (2) to provide legal assistance to these homeowners and tenants, and (3) to conduct legal clinics for them.
Thus far, four pieces of legislation were crafted and are currently pending before the Massachusetts legislature, educational community forums (Street Law Clinics) are regularly conducted, and support for direct action events are provided in the form of legal observers at eviction blockades and pro bono representation for arrested demonstrators. While the problem is far from over, an impact is visible. Bank and loan agency initiated evictions have slowed somewhat as temporary moratoriums have been issued to borrowers facing eviction, demonstrations and winning court arguments have resulted in increasingly large settlement payments to tenants, and local organizations have received federal money to buy back foreclosed properties from banks to be transferred to the former property owners with an affordable mortgage based on true market value.
NLG Mass Defense Committee
The Mass Defense Committee is active in these areas: (1) training and providing legal observers for political events and demonstrations; (2) providing training and written information to activists about their legal rights and the legal consequences that may attend any civil disobedience activities; and (3) providing legal advice and representation to individuals who were arrested while engaged in political demonstrations.
In 2009, the Mass Defense Committee trained over 100 law students, lawyers, and activists to be legal observers. The Committee provided legal observers for a wide variety of progressive political and events and demonstrations throughout Massachusetts, including the GLBT Pride Parade in Northhampton, eviction blockades in Roxbury and Dorchester, foreclosure protests at the Boston headquarters of major banks, a protest against the visit of the President of Columbia at Harvard, environmental “camping in the city” actions, a health care reform protest at CIGNA Insurance in Newton, and other actions sponsored by groups such as More Jobs Now!, City Life/VidaUrbana, Health Care for America NOW!, the Chelsea Collaborative, Mass Power Shift, and the Massachusetts Alliance Against Predatory Lending, among others. The Committee provided a significant number of free clinics to more than 200 members of groups planning on engaging in direct political action that could–and often did–result in arrests. Equally, NLG lawyers from the Committee successfully represented more than two doze political protesters arrested at various demonstrations.
Campaign Against the MBTA Searches
In 2004, former Governor Romney announced a new, controversial security policy that ordered the MBTA Transit Police to conduct random searches of T riders’ bags. According to the policy, the MBTA police can search bags belonging to passengers entering subway or commuter rail stations. Believing this violated passengers’ Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure, the Guild began an educational campaign, distributing buttons reading “I DO NOT CONSENT TO A SEARCH” and ‘Know Your Rights’ flyers with information about riders’ constitutional rights. More so, the Guild and other civil rights groups sought an injunction on the MBTA searches, as the searches were intimidating and coercive, and interfered with passengers’ civil liberties.
Today, the Guild office tracks and documents random searches conducted at MBTA stations, and needs the help of the public to further this campaign. Anyone who has been searched or witnessed searches is asked to call the Guild office (617-227-7335).
Independent Civilian Review Board
In coalition with the American Friends Service Committee, Greater Boston Rights Coalition, and other allies, the NLG has been pushing for the creation of an independent civilian board to review complaints against Boston police officers.
What began as a 2004 campaign against the use of less-lethal weapons by police for crowd control purposes in the aftermath of a local student’s death has transformed into the campaign for effective civilian oversight of the Boston Police Department. The current system of a limited three-person Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel (CO-OP), which handles complaints filed with the department’s Internal Affairs Division (IAD) and has no authority to conduct its own investigation, and is highly distrusted by the community it aims to serve. In March 2009 the CO-OP came to recognize the Guild’s expertise in police misconduct and accountability issues, and will hopefully implement a number of suggestions posed, aimed at encouraging IAD complaints, lengthening time for appeal, and slating Guild members to fill the vacant ombudsman position. Though suspicions of the current civilian review board continue as the board falls short of its mission, the Guild has always understood the need to continue the fight for police accountability in Boston.
Immigrant and Human Rights Work
The Massachusetts Chapter continues to organize and work for social justice and civil rights on a local level. Boston, as the site of the NLG National Immigration Project, has many active members working in the field of immigrant and human rights. Mass Chapter members:
- helped coordinate the Massachusetts Campaign for Democracy in Haiti
- sponsored a conference to launch a new project to document human rights abuses against immigrant workers in the Boston area
- sponsored a National Day of Action Against INS Raids
- worked on campaigns involving domestic violence in immigrant and refugee communities, and HIV testing of immigrants
- created and published a much-needed guide for criminal lawyers on the Immigration Consequences of Criminal Conviction
- continue to represent individual immigrants in political asylum cases and work on community-wide coalitions and campaigns to protect immigrants’ rights.
Building Community Resources
The Street Law Clinic was founded in 1989 in response to the Boston Police’s stop-and-search tactics.
We launched the Lawyer Referral Service to help connect Mass. residents with much needed legal services, provided by our members.
HIGHLIGHTS of PAST WORK:
In 1995 the Chapter worked with a coalition of legal and community groups to educate the public about the possible appointment of Charles Fried to the Supreme Judicial Court. This work laid the groundwork for an awareness about the need to promote racial diversity in the selection of state court judges and for the later appointment of Judge Roderick Ireland to the SJC.
Support for Legal Services
In 1996 the Mass Chapter became concerned about devastating cuts and restrictions in the federal budget for legal services. We worked to educate the public about the need to increase state funding to compensate for the federal cuts and coordinated an educational day at which more than 150 Guild members, union activists, and bar leaders made the case for needed increases in funding. As a result of this work, the legislature increased funding for legal services by $2.3 million.
Mass Defense Committee
- Defended 25 Native Americans and their supporters who were arrested at a police riot on “Thanksgiving” Day in 1997 in Plymouth, Mass.
- Achieved a significant settlement which included the dismissal of all charges against the demonstrators, payment for the erection of a Native American memorial in Plymouth, and payment of the demonstrators’ attorneys’ fees.
- We’ve been legal observers at hundreds of demonstrations over the years and have represented demonstrators protesting everything from welfare time limits to privatization in El Salvador.
- In 2001 we mobilized in anticipation of police riots during a week-long Bio-Devastation 2000 conference and direct actions.
We have worked closely with Jobs with Justice to support the work of their Workers’ Rights Board and in 1998 held a major fundraiser to help them increase their staffing. We have also worked to educate the public about the problems with the current time limits in which workers have to file workplace discrimination claims and the need to extend them from the current six months to one year.
Representing the Justice for Janitors Supporters
In the late 90s, Guild Mass Defense Committee lawyers coordinated and provided legal observers for numerous demonstrations and civil disobedience actions held throughout Boston in support of the Northeastern University Janitors month-long SEIU Local 254 janitors’ strike. More than 48 activists and community leaders were arrested during these actions; the Guild provided representation. Union contract disputes continued through 2007.
Support for Legal Services
The Mass Chapter signed onto an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in the equal marriage case Goodridge v. DPH and presented testimony before the Joint Judiciary Committee on October 23, 2003 in support of equal marriage and civil union legislation. On November 18, 2003 the SJC ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in Massachusetts.
- Legal Response to 9/11
1) The Massachusetts Chapter issued a statement expressing our concern.
2) Wrote a letter of opposition to Attorney General Ashcroft’s Eavesdropping Rule.
3) Educated victims of discrimination or harassment about their rights regarding the INS, the FBI, and general discrimination law.
4) Provided speakers on the issues of a just and lawful response to the attacks of September 11 and on the clamping down on civil liberties in the U.S.
5) NLG members at Greater Boston Legal Services worked on an Immigration Human Rights Documentation Project.
6) Conducted educational events with immigrant communities about Know Your Rights with regard to INS and other federal and state agents.
Detention Working Group
In response to implementation of special registration requirements of immigrants from target countries, FBI interviews of Iraqi immigrants, and mass deportations of Middle-Eastern immigrants, many immigrants are currently in detention. We have been interviewing immigration detainees to find out who is being held and why. On June 29, 2005 we issued a report on our findings: “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor . . . A Report on Due Process Issues in the Handling of Immigrant Detainees in Massachusetts.” Volunteers are needed to work on the second phase of this campaign. Call the office to volunteer: 617-227-7335.
Events and Publications
The Massachusetts Chapter continued to try new ways of addressing the pervasive attacks on workers, people of color, women, gays and lesbians, the poor, immigrants, and other people, and to protect our hard-won reproductive and human rights.
- Held a very successful Fall Lecture Series at area law schools and hold “mentorship dinners” throughout the year.
- Mass Dissent, our newsletter, comes out eight times a year with articles on legal and community issues of interest to the progressive legal community.
- Hosted the Guild National Convention entitled Revolutionizing Justice, Boston 2000. Over 400 Guild members attended the convention and were inspired and challenged by the many speakers and workshops. A special focus on issues of interest to law students brought many students together to brainstorm about ways to make law school affordable.
- In October 2000, many chapter members joined the 200 or so Guild lawyers who attended the International Association of Democratic Jurists’ Congress in Havana, helping to solidify ties between the Guild and the IADL while getting a first-hand look at Cuba’s successes and struggles.