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Mass Chapter in Action – Review of 2017

Mass Chapter in Action – Review of 2017

We can collectively say that 2017 has been a year of brutal and devastating challenges to our community: community of radical lawyers, activists, and people fighting for justice and freedom from oppression. In these times under the Era of 45, the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild has doubled down on its efforts to support and defend radical and leftist movements throughout the state.

Starting in January we faced the Muslim travel ban enacted by the executive office. And right there in Boston Logan Airport, NLG attorneys were involved in both protesting the ban and assisting detained travelers as they were trying to come home. It was a turbulent January as these airport protests reinforced the real life battles marginalized and minority groups would face in the coming months and possibly years.

What was most heartening at this time was the over swell of supporters and activists that truly wanted to be part of the fight for justice. The NLG Mass Chapter received a tremendous amount of calls asking for support and individuals asking to be involved. Both ends were overflowing and the members of the NLG Mass Chapter showed up tremendously. The Chapter enlisted many of its wonderful members to conduct trainings and legal clinics on Stop & Search, Direct Action, Housing Law, Workers Rights, Bankrupcy Law, and Legal Observing. At the same time, last spring we offered a series of trainings called Train the Trainers for interested NLG members, so they could later conduct NLG trainings and clinics themselves. The trainings included Stop & Search, ICE Encounters, and Direct Action for attorneys to then train and run workshops for community groups seeking assistance. The Street Law Clinic, which facilitates these trainings, has also expanded at a staggering pace as we have scheduled over 30 clinics partnered with community organizations this year.

Both our most trying and most inspiring moment may best be seen by looking back to the August 19th rally organized by local community members against Nazi rhetoric in Boston Common. We had over 25 legal observers volunteer that day and the Mass Defense Committee collaborating with private and public criminal defense attorneys to take on representation for over 30 arrestees. The NLG Mass Chapter made a bold and definitive stance to fight alongside movements against white supremacy by having attorneys there all day to observe interactions with the police and all night to ensure that all arrestees were bailed out as soon as possible.

We are tremendously grateful to the Chapter supporters who have donated their time and expertise to our work and who, like our Sustainers, have supported us financially. This year the Chapter has received substantial financial support from the Defense Against Thought Control Foundation with a grant of $75,000 for our Litigation and Mass Defense Committees and from Pam Rogers with a gift of $5,000 to develop a new Chapter website. Pam has also spent countless hours working with the website designers to have the new site ready for January of 2018.

While this show of support and effort from both outside and within has been heartening, we are hopeful that people can sustain this energy and continue to work with the NLG Mass Chapter in any kind of way that the climate would dictate. Right now we have a Board membership that has changed and now includes both legal and non-legal folks and people of color at its helm. While this is wonderful, as an organization dedicated to anti-racist work, fighting white supremacy, capitalism, misogyny, and anti-LGBTQIA attacks, the NLG Mass Chapter needs your help and support more than ever.

– Chapter Co-Chairs – Rebecca Amdemariam & Carl Williams

(top-bottom) Legal Observer at the anti-nazis protests in August (Photo by Carl Williams).    Around 100 legal professionals gathered on a freezing January day in front of the District Court in Boston to protest the inauguration of Trump;  the rally was organized by Benjamin Evans, member of the NLG Mass Chapter Board (Photo by Urszula Masny-Latos).   Fall Event for the Chapter Sustainers (Photo by Julia Wedgle).

NLG Presents…” – Think & Drink Happy Hour

 NLG Presents…” – Think & Drink Happy Hour

In November the Happy Hour was on Anti-BDS legislation.  Twenty-five states have passed legislation that prohibits support for boycotts of Israel by any contractor of the state, or in some states, by anyone who receives any state benefits.  The first challenge to one of these blatantly unconstitutional laws is just getting underway.  In Massachusetts, Gardner Auditorium at the State House was packed last summer for a hearing on the Massachusetts version.  NLG members spoke in opposition as well as submitted written testimony.  Susan Nicholson led us in a discussion that included how we can work to counter the strong lobbying that is going on in favor of this legislation.  Contact us to get involved.

(Top-Bottom)  Susan Nicholson (center) presents on the status of anti-boycott legislations.  Participants in the conversation.       (Photos by Urszula Masny-Latos)

Mass Defense Committee Report

Mass Defense Committee Report

by Makis Antzoulatos & Josh Raisler Cohn

The Mass Defense Committee (MDC) continued its work throughout the year supporting social movements for justice. We have collaborated with groups working for racial, economic, climate, and migrant justice, Palestinian solidarity, and queer liberation and affordable housing struggles. While the white supremacist power structures launched attacks at individuals and communities across the country and the world, the people stood up in inspired and liberatory resistance. The MDC was proud to stand in support of these movements!

We sent half a dozen legal workers and lawyers to Standing Rock early this spring, providing legal observing, jail support, legal consultations, trainings, documenting police abuses, and office support to the Water Protectors Legal Collective that was based in the resistance encampment. We supported the Collective, an amazing legal team led mostly by Native American women. While the encampment has been cleared, there are still hundreds on ongoing criminal cases that people need support with. (see https://waterprotectorlegal.org/)

In local anti-pipeline efforts, we continued to support the campaign resisting the West Roxbury Pipeline. This pipeline is a spur project to a much larger pipeline project being built that will take fracked natural gas and send it to international markets, further fueling disastrous climate change. There is a group of activists from this campaign who are working with a group of MDC lawyers to mount a climate change-based necessity defense to their criminal charges from blocking the construction of the pipeline. We also supported activists who engaged in sit-ins at local banks that are financing pipeline projects. These protests occurred both in central and eastern Massachusetts, and after a number of court appearances we were able to help the activists successfully resolve their criminal charges.

In anti-nuclear news, the MDC has continued its work supporting activists campaigning to finally shut down the Pilgrim nuclear plant in Plymouth. We have supported activists who have engaged in civil disobedience this year, including a group that met with their prosecutor and had an opportunity to really lay out the risks of the plant to him, and ended up obtaining a very favorable result in their criminal cases. The MDC has had an incredible working relationship over the past few years with If Not Now. If Not Now is a movement working towards an American Jewish community that stands for freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians by ending support for the occupation.

The MDC has led a number of legal trainings for the Boston chapter of If Not Now. Our volunteer lawyers represented members of If Not Now following several civil disobedience actions, including an arrest that occurred during a “liberation Seder” held outside the officers of AIPAC.

Late this summer the MDC made a strong showing in supporting the anti-Nazis resistance led by Black Lives Matters and other groups to a small rally of white supremacists on the Boston Common. On short notice we provided legal trainings for over 1,000 activists, including simultaneous trainings in different locations leading up to the march. We provided over 25 legal observers to a variety of marches and rallies during the events. Through a collaboration with Law for Black Lives and the Mass Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers we were able to provide representation to all the anti-racist activists who were arrested. A number of those cases have resulted in dismissed charges, and others are ongoing. We continue to work with Black led groups and other organizations that are resisting race based violence by both state and non-state actors.

The MDC continues to provide trainings, legal support and attorneys to individuals and communities targeted by ICE. This work includes a wide range of activities, from supporting sanctuary work to legal advice at airports during travel bans to individual legal advice to supporting communities that are working to resist raids and stop deportations. We also represented actvists this year who engaged in a sit in at the South Bay House of Corrections in protest of jails contracted to hold people detained on alleged immigration law violations.

We continue to conduct Legal Observer trainings, and have trained new volunteers to lead the civil disobedience legal briefings. We also continue to support campus based activism, working to support student leadership in campus campaigns about fair wages, climate change, and upending racist legacies.

We are always interested in new volunteers to help with this work, so if you are interested, please let us know and volunteer!

Makis Antzoulatos & Josh Raisler Cohn are co-coordinators of the Mass Chapter Mass Defense Committee.

NLG Litigation Committee Report

NLG Litigation Committee Report

by David Kelston

2017 has been quite challenging — for the country (Trump’s presidency) and for the NLG Mass Chapter (stretching our services and resources to maximum). Our Litigation Com-mittee, whose mission is to challenge oppressive institutional practices, has worked non-stop. Four of our cases ended this year—two favorably and two not – which is in fact not disappointing, since we don’t take on easy cases. A fifth case (Hep C, see below) is on track for trial in mid-2018.

We got favorable results in two cases where we used the state Freedom Of Information Act (G.L. c. 66, sec.10) to get important, withheld documents from the Boston Police and from Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgsen. In the police case, we challenged the BPD’s effectively withholding from us 1,500 pages of documents showing surveillance of the Occupy Boston movement in 2011-2012 – after BPD specifically promised us that this kind of surveillance, and maintenance of such surveillance records by their Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), had ended. (The complaint, see NLG v. BPD et al., Suffolk. Superior Court No. 15-1424, lays out the background, including the fact that BRIC’s own rules required the documents at issue to have been purged years ago.) While we are still reviewing the documents produced, and arguing over some redactions, this case should contribute to our efforts to control police conduct. In our case against Sheriff Hodgsen, the NLG represented Prisoners’ Legal Services (PLS), which had been trying to get documents concerning mental health services to inmates and related matters for more than a year. Since the Sheriff’s Office basically stonewalled, it took a lawsuit to get documents that should have been produced voluntarily long before. And hopefully the documents obtained will help PLS in its ongoing efforts to secure proper mental health services for prisoners and fight solitary confinement and related practices.

In our ongoing work on behalf of tenants and homeowners facing illegal foreclosures, we filed for client Massachusetts Alliance Against Predatory Lending (MAAPL) and individual homeowners a case directly with the SJC seeking a declaration delaying the implementation of Chapter 141 of the Acts of 2015, which drastically limits the rights of homeowners to challenge foreclosures by significantly shortening the statute of limitations. While the Attorney General won the motion to dismiss, this was only our first challenge to this bill, which we believe to be unconstitutional. The Litigation Committee, in conjunction with MAAPL, is working now to mount a new case that will directly attack the unconstitutionality of this oppressive legislation. Members of the Committee are also working with City Life and representing tenants in the Housing Court to keep low and moderate income families in their homes and fight gentrification in the Dudley Square area.

In contrast to the MAAPL case, the Attorney General’s office turned out to be of ally of sorts in our case challenging the Department of Correction’s failure to treat well over 1,000 inmates with the potentially deadly Hep C virus – at least the office realizes that DOC’s record of treating almost no inmates when we filed Fowler v. Turco, USDC 1:15CV 12298, could not possibly meet constitutional standards. The litigation has thus far succeeded in increasing the number of prisoners being treated with the life-saving DDA medications from one or two to over a hundred, and we expect continuing success as the case moves forward to trial.

Finally, in Walker v. Boston Medical Center Corp., we challenged hospital practices that led to a contractor releasing patients’ private medical records. While we got a disappointing decision on summary judgment from the Business Litigation Session (finding named plaintiffs could not show their records were actually accessed by third parties), the case is on appeal. Moreover, the issues are ones that will arise again and often, with new facts and different outcomes.

If you are interested in participating in our Committee’s work, please contact the NLG office.

We also welcome your ideas. The mission of the Committee is to bring lawsuits against large institutions (such as government agencies, law enforcement, banks, financial institutions, and/or large corporations which engage in repressive or predatory actions that affect large numbers of people and that serve to perpetuate social, racial and/or economic injustice or inequality. If you encounter a wrong that, in your opinion, falls within the interest of the Committee, please bring it to our attention.

David Kelston of Shapiro Weissberg & Garin is on the Board of the Mass Chapter.

Street Law Clinic Report

Street Law Clinic Report

by Yatzel Sabat 

The Street Law Clinic project (SLC) has for years provided legal workshops and advice for political activists, community groups, organizers, law students, and others.

Over the last summer, the SLC project hosted a full-time intern – Shayok Chakraborty – who worked with local organizations and NLG attorneys to schedule dozens of legal clinics taking place throughout the Fall. He also started updating SLC written materials for distribution to community members who attend the clinics. As a result of Shayok’s work, SLC has established contacts with several new organizations and agencies who offer resources and assistance to under-served communities in the Boston area. We’ve also conducted clinics with these new organizations, among them – St. Stephen’s Church Youth Programs, Black & Pink, Communities for People, Arise Springfield, Crossroads Family Shelter, and Project Place.

In the fall, I took over and coordinated the project for two months. On top of scheduling new clinics and confirming those already scheduled, I was able to organize trainings for law students at Northeastern University, Boston University, and Boston College to train them, so they would be ready to conduct future clinics themselves. I have also worked with and assisted volunteer NLG attorneys who led and supervised the clinics.

Right now the NLG-Mass Chapter is looking for a new Street Law Clinic Coordinator to continue this work, as the demand for the clinics is high – new sessions are already being lined up for the Spring. If you are interested in this position, please contact the NLG office at 617-227-7335.

Yatzel Sabat is a Coordinator of the Street Law Clinic project and a second year law students at Northeastern University Law School