Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Proposed changes to auto insurance

The Division of Insurance, has proposed changes to the way automobile insurance is regulated. A letter from the new Commissioner, Nonnie Burnes, outlines the changes. The proposed changes are intended to increase competition, and allow companies a larger role in setting their rates. The Boston Globe article highlights some of the changes, and has a Q & A article. if you don't want to read 30 pages of regulations. An earlier study group, established by the governor, released a report in March recommending many changes to the commissioner. Since Massachusetts is the only state that sets rates of auto insurance companies, this change is being welcomed by the industry, if somewhat cautiously. There is a public hearing on September 20th, where you can voice your concerns and your support. For more information see our page on Automobile Insurance.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Plymouth Law Library is Moving

The Plymouth Law Library will be closed until September 10 when it will reopen in the new courthouse at 52 Obery Street in Plymouth. We are so excited for our colleagues in Plymouth and their library users, who will enjoy a brand new library with more space, more seating, more computers, lots of parking, and easy accessibility (no more narrow old stairs!).

We'll try to bring you updates on the move over the next couple weeks. You can see a Patriot Ledger video about the effect of the move on downtown Plymouth, including footage of the new courthouse, at YouTube.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Vance Report

The Vance Report, a study of the Mass. State Police Crime Lab, is now available on our site. This report details issues at the crime lab and makes several key recommendations. The statistics cited garnered the most headlines when the report was issued in June 2007. According to the report, the lab has "899 unassigned and unworked criminal cases, approximately 4,000 unassigned and unworked sexual assault kits, 2,000 assigned DNA cases, but unworked DNA cuttings." There are "old and unassigned DNA cuttings from more than 10,000 cases. Potential cases having DNA evidence total more than 16,000 at the present time." The report was endorsed by the Secretary of Public Safety and Security and the Superintendent of the Mass. State Police, who are committed to using the report as a "blueprint for reform."

More information on criminal procedure is available at Mass. Law About Criminal Procedure.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Foreclosure Assistance Hotline

There is a new resource available to help those facing foreclosure: a foreclosure assistance hotline administered by Legal Advocacy and Resource Center (LARC). According to Attorney General Martha Coakley, “Low-income Massachusetts residents...may call (800) 342-5297 or (617) 603-1700 and leave a message in the "foreclosure assistance" voice mail box. Each day, Legal Advocacy and Resource Center (LARC) will return the calls, determine how to best assist the caller and provide general advice. If the homeowner meets the eligibility criteria, LARC will refer the homeowner to Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, who will assign each case to a pro bono lawyer.” More information on the topic is available at Mass. Law About Foreclosure.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Massachusetts Guide to Evidence...

...(Just don't call them rules!). Unlike most states, Massachusetts still has no Rules of Evidence, but the Court is getting closer to one cohesive statement of Massachusetts evidence guidelines with the newly released Preliminary Draft of the Massachusetts Guide to Evidence. While the organization of the guide is based on that of the Federal Rules of Evidence, and it often uses the language of the Proposed Massachusetts Rules of Evidence or Federal Rules of Evidence, the Committee makes it clear that this is not a rules book. "Ultimately, of course, the law of evidence in Massachusetts is what is contained in the authoritative decisions of the Supreme Judicial Court and of the Appeals Court, and the statutes duly enacted by the Legislature."

Still, the guide will clearly be a single reliable source of the law of evidence. According to Mass. Lawyers' Weekly, "While the guide will not have the same authority as formal rules of evidence, [Superior Court Judge Peter] Agnes and several others familiar with the preliminary draft said lawyers will be able to cite directly to its sections and use it as an authoritative source before the court. "

Monday, August 20, 2007

Small Claims Reform

A report just issued by the Small Claims Working Group of the Mass. District Court contains several key recommendations for reform. Last year, the Boston Globe ran a series detailing the failures of Small Claims Courts, and this report addresses many of those concerns. Recommendations include the following:

1. Changes to Uniform Small Claims Rules. The group recommends rule changes in nine areas, including providing better notice to debtors, clarifying the role of "covering attorneys," and providing some protections to defendants who appear for trial but trial does not occur because the plaintiff is not ready.

2. Changes to Small Claims Standards. Recommendations for changes to standards are designed to regulate the balance of power, perceived or actual, between plaintiffs and defendants and improve notice to defendants.

3. Changes to Statute. The group recommends an increase in the exempted amount for an automobile (currently $700) but was unable to agree on an appropriate amount.

More information on the report is available from the Boston Globe. More information on Small Claims is available at Mass. Law About Small Claims.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Internet Hunting Banned

On August 2, the state enacted St.2007, c.83: An Act Prohibiting Internet Hunting. As the name suggests, Internet hunting is the practice of using a computer to remotely control a weapon to hunt an actual animal. According to the Boston Globe, Massachusetts is the "34th state to ban hunting via an Internet connection." More information on legal issues regarding animals can be found at Mass. Law About Animals.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Identity Theft

Earlier this month, Governor Deval Patrick signed St.2007, c.82: Security Freezes and Notification of Data Breaches. Focused more on providing protection for consumers than on punishing offenders, this new law mandates reporting of personal data breaches, provides guidelines for disposal of personal information, and gives the consumer the ability to place a "security freeze" on credit reports. The Governor's site includes links to his podcast describing steps consumers can take to protect their information, a transcript of the podcast and more. For more on identity theft, see Mass. Law About Identity Theft.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Reprieve for Fernald

US District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro ruled yesterday in Ricci v. Okin that residents of the Fernald Developmental Center in Waltham must be given the option to stay at Fernald as one of their placement options. He wrote:

"Any further communication from Defendant Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation to Fernald residents and their guardians which solicits choices for further residential placement shall include Fernald among the options which residents and guardians may rank when expressing their preferences."

"It does not mean that the Commonwealth may never close Fernald. It does mean, however, that the DMR must carefully assess the needs and wishes of each resident, and provide a genuine and meaningful opportunity for their guardians to participate in their placement decisions."

According to the Boston Globe, the ruling "was greeted as a victory by relatives and supporters of Fernald's residents." The Fernald school has been the subject of litigation for over thirty years.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Probate and Family Court Forms

Big news from the Mass. Probate and Family Court Department! They have put many of their forms on the web, in a fillable format that allows users to fill in the form online and print it for filing. Right now, they have forms for divorce, guardianship of a minor, name change, child support, and a few other categories. According to their site, "forms will be added as they become available." While there are limitations (you can't save the filled-in form, and you can't file the form electronically), this is still a huge step toward making forms more accessible and user-friendly. Let's hope they serve as an inspiration to the other court departments!

Available forms are all linked by subject from our Legal Forms pages.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Sales Tax Holiday

This weekend, August 11-12, 2007, is a sales tax holiday in Massachusetts. According to Dept. of Revenue TIR 07-12 , "on those days, non-business sales at retail of single items of tangible personal property costing $2,500 or less are exempt from sales and use taxes, subject to certain exclusions." The TIR provides more specifics on what is excluded, including motor vehicles, boats, meals and more.

While the benefit is more psychological than financial (even a 5% off sale on another day results in a lower overall cost to the consumer), the holiday does boost sales of retailers considerably. “'Sales this weekend will be comparable to the weekend before Christmas (approximately $500 million is taxed & non-taxed retail sector sales), at a time that otherwise stores would be dead,' said President of Retailers Association of Massachusetts Jon B. Hurst," in the Westborough News.

For more information on tax issues, see Mass. Law About Taxation.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Corporate Manslaughter Charge in Big Dig

Attorney General Martha Coakley announced yesterday that a Suffolk Grand Jury issued an indictment for involuntary manslaughter to Powers Fasteners, Inc. , the epoxy supplier, for their role in the Big Dig ceiling collapse last summer. According to Coakley, the company knew that the epoxy being used in the tunnel "was unsuitable for sustained loads, " but " the corporation did not take any steps to caution the Project managers against use of the Fast Set product for that application."

Since a corporation cannot be sent to jail, the maximum penalty under the manslaughter statute, MGL c.265, s.13, is $1000.

In Com. v. Angelo Todesco Corporation, 62 Mass. App. Ct. 599, the court briefly explains the elements required to establish corporate criminal responsibility: " To prove that a corporation is guilty of a criminal offense, the Commonwealth must prove the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) that an individual committed a criminal offense; (2) that at the time of committing the offense, the individual "was engaged in some particular corporate business or project"; and (3) that the individual had been vested by the corporation with the authority to act for it, and on its behalf, in carrying out that particular corporate business or project when the offense occurred."

According to The Boston Channel, "the company will be arraigned in Suffolk Superior Court on Sept. 5, 2007."