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NLG Massachusetts Chapter in 2016

NLG Massachusetts Chapter in 2016

It’s been a year of transformation for the Massachusetts chapter of the Guild. As the saying goes, change is hard, but it is also necessary to our survival as an organization. Our evolution is ongoing and while it may not be easy, ultimately we are on our way to becoming more sustainable, more relevant, and more accountable to the communities we serve.

Last year the Board began the process of rewriting the Massachusetts chapter’s bylaws, which hadn’t been updated in a very long time, and in March of this year the membership adopted them. Among other things, the new bylaws made the Board leaner, and established four new standing committees: The United People of Color Caucus (TUPOCC), the Anti-Racism Committee, the Queer Caucus, and Next Gen, our mentoring program. Establishing these committees is a first step toward making the Guild a more inclusive and welcoming space for people of color, the LGBTQ community, and young folks. Already, with funds raised from Board members, TUPOCC was able to send a student of color to the Convention in New York this summer.

The Board is the most diverse it’s been in recent history – it includes people of color, queer and trans folks, activists, people from outside of the greater Boston area, new lawyers, and established practitioners. This, along with our smaller size, allows us to be more nimble.

Our dedicated and able Mass Defense Committee chair Jeff Feuer transitioned out of that position, which is now held by Makis Antzoulatos and Josh Raisler Cohn. They continue to reach out to community organizations and movements across the state, including Black Lives Matter in Worcester and Cambridge, pipeline protesters in West Roxbury, and the prison abolition movement. At our annual dinner this year, we are proud to have honored Young Abolitionists and Families for Justice As Healing.

The Litigation Committee continues its work on behalf of prisoners suffering from Hepatitis C and lack of adequate medical care. Our members continue to do legal and organizing work for and within communities facing institutionalized violence, from undocumented immigrants here in Massachusetts to indigenous people in North Dakota.

Despite the rockiness of transition, we are encouraged by the support of the membership, the Board, and our staff, and we are committed to building this chapter so that we can do the kind of radical legal work that the 21st century calls for. We can’t do it without you – if you are interested in joining a committee, email kt ( or Carl ( You can also find us on Twitter (@NLGMass) and Facebook. And as always, we’d love to hear your ideas in person, so feel free to join us at any of the monthly Board meetings – held on the third Wednesday of the month from 6:00 to 8:00pm (call the office at 617-227-7335 for location).

In solidarity,

Carl Williams & kt crossman

November 2016 NLG Happy Hour

November 2016 NLG Happy Hour

At our November “Happy Hour” we hosted three activists from Cambridge Black Lives Matter movement.  Mari Gashaw, Emanuela Fede, and Andrew King led a conversation on the struggle for Black liberation and how we all can be involved.  The activists discussed an action they organized in Cambridge when they chained themselves to the entrance of the Cambridge City Hall to call for end of discrimination in housing and for more affordable  housing.  Three of them plus another BLM activist were arrested and represented by the NLG Mass Defense members.  All charges against the four of them were dropped.

November 2016 Happy Hour

Judy Somberg facilitates a conversation led by Emanuela Fede, Mari Gashaw, and Andrew King.




Full house with NLG members and local activists engaged in a lively discussion on Black liberation and fight for racial equality and justice.

Photos by Urszula Masny-Latos and Julia Wedgle


NLG Litigation Committee Work in 2016

NLG Litigation Committee Work in 2016

by David Kelston 

Our Litigation Committee, founded in 2011, continues to bring progressive litigation against large institutions that perpetuate social, racial, and economic injustice. We have concluded one case this year, while working on four other cases in progress. Our one older case that resolved, with the very last payments made, was our lawsuit, brought jointly with Prisoner Legal Services (“PLS”), against the Sheriff of Essex County for charging illegal medical fees to prisoners in custody. The Sheriff paid back all fees charged to prisoners within the three year statute of limitations period, paid attorneys fees, and agreed to stop charging the fees going forward – in other words, the case was fully successful. We also filed in partnership with PLS in June last year a major federal lawsuit under the Eighth Amendment to require the Department of Correction to treat the approximately 1,500 prisoners in its custody with the new, highly effective medications now available to cure (literally, to cure) the deadly Hepatitis C virus. This lawsuit is supported in part by a grant to our chapter from the Impact Fund in California, appears to be the first of its kind (challenging the failure to treat prisoners) in the country, and is moving forward, with the class certified and discovery proceeding. Finally as to prisoners, we filed a case this year on behalf of PLS against the Sheriff of Bristol County under the state freedom of information act to compel production of records concerning segregated confinement and provision of mental health services. While the case is not concluded, the Sheriff Office’s response has been to produce all, or close to all of the records sought, such that the case should soon conclude. These lawsuits on behalf of prisoners will, we hope, both bring the prisoners real relief and contribute to the arguments against, and public awareness of, the corrosive, racist effects of mass incarceration.

Next, our long term chapter treasurer, Jeff Petrucelly, on behalf of our chapter, is litigating a class action lawsuit on behalf of about 12,000 patients whose sensitive and confidential medical records were posted on the Internet by a transcription company hired by the Boston Medical Center and made available to unauthorized users. It turns out that patient records were available in the Internet for up to ten years, and all the hospital did was terminate the transcription company, much too late, and send a single letter to patients informing them of what we believe is a most serious invasion of their privacy rights. The Boston Medical Center, formerly Boston City Hospital, is the main provider of medical services to many of Boston poorest residents.

Next, we continue to work on our litigation, brought last year on behalf of various activists, against the Boston Police Department’s Regional Intelligence Center for what we believe has been improper surveillance followed by unlawful maintaining and circulating records concerning the activists to other police agencies. And last, we refer readers to Jeff Feuer’s article in this Mass Dissent on our work with MAAPL, the Anti-Foreclosure Project. In addition to providing services directly to victims of illegal foreclosures, who tend disproportionately to be people of color, we may participate in bringing challenges to the new Massachusetts statute that functions significantly to limit the rights of these victims.

We will keep you posted on our pending cases, and we invite other chapter members to join our committee and/or to refer important cases to us.

David Kelston is on the Chapter Board of Directors and on the Litigation Committee.

The On-going Struggle for Criminal Justice

The On-going Struggle for Criminal Justice

by Barb Dougan 

The Massachusetts Chapter has been involved in three recent projects to improve the grim state of our criminal (in)justice system.

2016 Sheriffs Election Project

Massachusetts’ 14 county sheriffs oversee the incarceration of over half of all prisoners in the state. While they may not create the laws that lead to mass incarceration, their practices have a direct effect on prisoners, their families and taxpayers. This year all Massachusetts sheriffs were up for election, for six-year terms. Although six sheriffs were running for re-election unopposed, four had challengers, and in four counties the incumbent was retiring so it was a wide-open race.

The NLG is part of the Ad Hoc Coalition to Stop New Jails in Mass., which created the first statewide project to educate voters on the candidates as well as the role of sheriffs and county houses of corrections. The Coalition drafted extensive materials on each county’s candidates and correctional facilities, as well as a detailed candidate’s questionnaire for local voters.

Department of Correction Testimony

This fall, the Mass. Dept. of Correction announced many proposed changes to its regulations that would greatly impact state prisoners. The changes range from limiting visitors, mail and property to restricted access to library and religious services. While many of the proposed regs are troubling (including a religious “sincerity” test), the NLG limited its testimony to two issues identified as priorities by prisoners: pre-approval of and limits on visitors. Remarkably, these proposals run contrary to decades of research showing how prison visits maintain family ties and aid successful re-entry.

Pre-approval. Given the 10,000 prisoners in our state prisons, the pre-approval process would require the DOC to process tens of thousands of visitor requests – surely a logistical nightmare for all involved. As proposed, visitation initially would need to shut down, because no visitor would yet be approved, and then be drastically reduced as the DOC works through the stacks of paperwork. As an additional burden, the proposed regs allow no exceptions for emergency visits.

Limited number of visitors. Currently the DOC does not limit the number of visitors that a prisoner can receive. The proposed regs would impose new limits by security level: 10 approved visitors for minimum security or pre-release, eight for medium security, and five for maximum security. The DOC first justified these changes by calling them an “incentive” for maximum security prisoners to move to lower security levels (even though the DOC’s policies primarily control security levels, not prisoners’ wishes). But at the public hearing, the DOC made it clear that its main goal is to limit the number of visitors overall, as a way to prevent drugs and other contraband from getting in. We pointed out that the DOC would be punishing all prisoners for the acts of a few, and in a manner that is contrary to evidence-based practices. The DOC has not yet made any final decisions, so there may be further opportunity for the NLG to weigh in.

“Carceral State” Conference

“Carceral State” conference. The NLG was a sponsor of the September conference, Massachusetts and the Carceral State, along with Harvard’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice, the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition and the Coalition for Effective Public Safety. The goal of the conference was to move the discussion beyond mass incarceration and examine the true scope of a carceral state – one that targets and harms specific populations (people of color, youth, immigrants, LGBTQ communities) both before and after prison. Over 300 activists from across the state came together to learn about victories in Massachusetts and elsewhere, develop new skills, network, and enjoy activist art.

Several NLG members helped out during the Conference:

• Jeff Feuer and kt Crossman, who led a workshop for eager Legal Observers; • Carl Williams, who was part of a terrific panel on policing issues; and

• Jude Glaubman, Jonathan Messenger and Sherrie Noble, who graciously helped out as needed.

NLG Mass Defense Committee at Work

NLG Mass Defense Committee at Work

By Josh Raisler-Cohn

2016 was a busy year of supporting social movement work across the Commonwealth, and sometimes beyond. Most recently the NLG Mass Defense Committee (MDC) sent lawyers and legal workers to work with the Red Owl Legal Collective North Dakota supporting the water protectors resisting a pipeline being built through sacred lands and life-sustaining waters at Standing Rock. We were able to help obtain people’s release from jail, conduct numerous intakes, track property and sacred objects after mass arrests, and provide ongoing support to the legal collective after returning home. Local activists in Massa-chusetts took to the streets here to support Standing Rock, and we provided them with training, legal support and observers.

We have continued to provide trainings and legal observing for the Movement for Black Lives, and represented activists in adult and juvenile court when they were arrested at demonstrations—sometime on purpose, sometimes not. This also involved supporting the student uprising at Brandies University, which in addition to trainings and support included helping students to win an amnesty agreement after building takeovers. The MDC also supported sit-in, occupations and organizing at other universities in the area – we trained and had Legal Observers at a week-long sit-in at Northeastern University, organized by Divest NU, to force the University to divest from fossil fuel.

We coordinated with other legal organizations to provide pre-action support, legal observers and representation to the thousands of high school (and younger) students who participated in walk-outs and marches over budget cuts this past spring.

The organizing against the pipeline in West Roxbury continues this year, which we supported in a variety of ways. We participated in many pre-action trainings, provided legal observing, and represented the hundreds of people who participated in civil disobedience over the construction. Dozens of activists have refused plea bargains and are moving towards trials where they will be pursuing climate change based necessity defenses with the help of a crew of lawyers from the MDC.

The MDC also supported organizers working to end the occupation and genocide in Palestine, organizers working to close the nuclear power plant in Plymouth, youth-led affordable housing and anti-gentrification organizing, youth summer jobs campaigns, anti-foreclosure organizing, disability rights activists, transit justice organizers, youth workers and bicycle advocates. Due to the somewhat decentralized way that Mass Defense work happens, there may be work that is missed in this report, because people are out and about doing this good work so often! The MDC held several legal observer trainings this year, adding to the ranks of people who can respond, sometimes at a moment’s notice, to wear the green hats and be in the streets backing up activists and organizers fighting for justice.

The Mass Defense Committee runs a low traffic listserv that contains announcements and request for assistance, and we are always looking for additional folks—lawyers, legal workers and organizers—to join in this work.

If you are interested, please contact the NLG office at 617-227-7335.

Josh Raisler Cohn is a co-coordinator (with Makis Antzoulatos) of the NLG Massachusetts Chapter Mass Defense Committee.  He is also on the Chapter’s Board of Directors.


Legal Observing at an October week-long sit-in protests organized by Northeastern University students from Divest NU to demand Northeastern’s divestment from fossil fuel.