News, Events & Publications

Important Information Regarding Cases affected by Annie Dookhan’s Misconduct

August 7, 2017 – In 2012, authorities discovered that Annie Dookhan, a chemist and the Hinton State Drug Lab had been tampering samples and falsely testifying at criminal trials. The Hinton State Drug Lab has since been shut down due to her egregious misconduct.

Individuals whose convictions were related to Dookhan’s tests, called “Dookhan Defendants” may have special legal rights.  Individuals affected should have been notified by mail of the status of their cases, but those with questions can contact the Dookhan Case hotline number at 1-888-999-2881.It is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  The hotline is operated by defense lawyers with the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), the public defender agency in Massachusetts.

In January 2017, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that those who qualify as a “Dookhan Defendant” are entitled these certain legal rights:

  • The right to speak to a lawyer for advice about whether to challenge the conviction(s) and to be represented by counsel in court. If the Dookhan defendant cannot afford a lawyer, he or she will be appointed one free of charge
  • The right to “conclusive presumption” that Ms. Dookhan committed serious misconduct in their case. This means defendants do not have to prove that she mishandled the drug samples involved in the case.
  • The right to ask a court to “vacate” or undo the conviction(s).
  • Defendants who originally pleaded guilty have the right to withdraw their plea if they can show a “reasonable probability” that they would not have pleaded guilty if they had known about Ms. Dookhan’s misconduct.
  • Defendants who were convicted at trial have the right to a new trial unless the court concludes that the Dookhan drug analysis did not influence the jury or had only a very slight effect on the jury.”

For more information on this topic please visit https://www.publiccounsel.net/dlclu/ or http://www.mass.gov/courts/drug-lab-cases.html.

 

 

Drafting a 30 Day Demand Letter – Consumer Protection

July 26, 2017 – Massachusetts G.L. Chapter 93A, also known as the Consumer Protection Act, protects and defends consumers from unfair and deceptive business practices. This law allows you to sue a business in court if that business is in violation of 93A – meaning the business engaged in misleading or unfair practices. If you believe you are the victim of a deceptive business practice and are unable to resolve the issue informally with the merchant, you may consider taking legal action.

In order to bring a 93A action to court you must begin by sending the business a 93A “demand letter,” to which the business has 30 days to respond. The demand letter serves 3 basic functions:

  • It provides notice and information to a business about the nature of the consumer’s claim.
  • It encourages a business to negotiate a settlement rather than go to court.
  • It controls the amount of money damages a consumer may ultimately recover.

The letter must follow these guidelines:

  • It must be sent 30 days before any court action filings occur. It may be a good idea to send two letters – one by certified mail and one by regular mail – to ensure that there is a record of it in case the business refuses to accept your letter. Remember to keep a copy of the letter for your own personal records as well.
  • It must identify the claimant – Be sure to include your full name and residential address on the letter.
  • It must provide a reasonable description of the unfair act or practice. Be sure to provide a factual account of what happened and a timeline of when you believe the deception occurred.
  • It must identify damages that occurred. This can be done by describing the money or property lost or any injuries suffered due to the unfair or deceptive act. You may also want to include the cost to remedy in order to help the court determine what actual damages you are entitled to.

Additional information on writing a 30 Day 93A demand letter, as well as a sample letter, can be found here.  If a legal issue arises and you would like to speak with a lawyer, please contact the Boston Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 617-742-0625 or submit an online request form here today!

Protect Your Identity, Avoid Identity Theft Online

July 14, 2017 – In the age of the internet, protecting your identity is becoming increasingly difficult. Technology makes purchasing and paying bills online more efficient, while also making it easier for people to get their hands on your information and engage in fraudulent activities. Use these helpful tips to avoid identity theft and protect your personal information:

  • Keep track of your financial records, bank statements and account information. Watch out for purchases and withdrawals you did not make.
  • Do not respond to emails or messages online that request personal information. Be cautious and do not provide any personal information, like your social security number or credit card number, via email or phone.
  • Create passwords that are difficult to guess – use numbers and symbols when possible.
  • Do not enter personal information on computers in public spaces, like public libraries or while using public wi-fi.
  • Protect your computer. Update your virus protection software regularly and do not download files from strangers.

If you believe you have been the victim of identity theft, follow these steps:

  • Promptly report the crime to your local police department. Make sure to file a police report.
  • Contact the companies where you believe the fraud occurred, like your bank or credit card company, and ask them to freeze your accounts.
  • Contact the credit bureau to place a fraud alert on your credit file. This alert ensures that creditors must contact you before opening any new accounts or making changes to any existing accounts you may have.
  • Visit gov or call 1-877-438-4338 to report the crime and create an identity theft recovery plan.

For more information on scams and identity theft please visit the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Consumer Resources site found here.  If a legal issue arises and you would like to speak with a lawyer, please contact the Boston Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 617-742-0625 or submit an online request form here today!

What Protections Do Youth Workers Have?

June 28, 2017 – As summer vacation fast approaches, many youth in Massachusetts with turn to summer employment.  By informing your children, nieces, nephews and any young people of their rights, they will be better equipped to recognize issues that might be illegal or dangerous.  Here are some legal facts you can send them.

  • You must be paid at least the minimum wage of $11/hour.
  • If you work more than 40 hours a week, you must be paid an overtime pay that is at least 1.5 times your regular pay for each hour
  • If you are younger than 18 years of age, you must obtain a work permit before starting a new job – here is a step-by-step process for how to get a permit.
  • Depending on how old you are, there may be certain hours and jobs you cannot work (check this website for more info)
  • Most employees who work more than 6 hours must get a 30-minute meal break. During their meal break, employees must be free of all duties and free to leave the workplace. If, at the request of the employer, an employee agrees to work or stay at the workplace during the meal break, s/he must get paid for that time.
  • If you get hurt or become sick because of your job, you may file a workers’ compensation claim to receive benefits and/or medical treatment.
  • This applies regardless of your age, number of hours you work per week, whether or not your employer has workers’ compensation insurance, and even if you are a citizen of another country
  • If you are a server and collect tips, the service wage is $3.75 per hour. The average hourly tips, plus the hourly service rate paid to you must add up to $11.00 (or more). If you feel that you aren’t making a lot in tips, double check the math to make sure you are making at least $11/hour.
  • You have the legal right to refuse to do any task that you feel threatens your immediate safety.

If a legal issue arises and you would like to speak with a lawyer, please contact the Boston Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 617-742-0625 or submit an online request form here today!

Have a Quick Question? Ask Your Local Law Librarian.

June 15, 2017 – Do you have a quick legal question, but don’t want to hire a lawyer?  Did you know that Massachusetts Law Libraries can provide individuals with legal information and resources through their “Ask a Law Librarian” service? Here are 6 ways you can connect with them.

  • Text Messaging: Texts can be sent to 617-674-1455 Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. If questions require more than 140 characters, please text your email address along with your question so your question can be answered properly.
  • Telephone: Call your nearest law library and a law librarian will conduct a brief reference interview to identify your legal issues and select materials that are most likely to assist you. A list of library locations and phone numbers can be found here.
  • Online Chat: Quick questions can be answered using an online chat Monday through Friday between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Instant Messaging: IM masslawlibMonday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Email Form: Complete a simple email form with your question and expect a response within 24 hours or less.
  • Visit a Law Library: Law libraries are open to everyone just like public libraries. For in-person referral assistance, to borrow books or to print and view electronic resources visit your local law library! Click here for a list of locations and directions.

Find more information about email these services here.  If you need additional assistance, please contact the BBA Lawyer Referral Service intake staff at 617-742-0625 or online through this form.

Consumer Alert for Veterans: Veterans Choice Program

June 2, 2017 – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) urges consumers to take caution when dialing the Veterans Choice Program phone line. Scammers are targeting veterans who misdial the Veterans Choice Program by setting up a line with a nearly identical phone number to the Choice Program – the only difference being the area code. Instead of offering information about the Choice program eligibility criteria, this fake service will offer a cash rebate if the caller provides their credit card information.

Veterans should note that individuals calling the Choice Program would never be prompted for a credit card number. More information about this alert can be found here.

The Boston Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service is committed to serving military members, veterans, and their families through our Military Legal Help Line. This line connects veterans, military personnel, and their families with lawyers and other legal resources appropriate to their needs. We have panels dedicated to helping clients with Bankruptcy Law, Employment Law, Family Law, and Trusts & Estates, Benefits, and more. If you or someone you know may need to connect to the Military & Veterans Legal Helpline please contact us via telephone at 617-742-0625 or online.  Please indicate your military affiliation when contacting us, so our intake specialists make the most accurate referral.

Know Your Legal Rights as a Caregiver

May 23, 2017 – Deciding on elder care can be an uncertain time for many folks. Elders and their family caregivers often face a mix of legal and financial difficulties on a daily basis. Be sure to make informed decisions by understanding the decisional capacity of your family member and your legal authority as a caregiver. It is important for you, the caregiver, to assist loved ones in making financial, legal and health-care decisions they are no longer capable of making themselves.

Here are some tips to help you manage those complicated issues and protect your assets:

  • Complete a Healthcare Power of Attorney. Completing a Health Care Power of Attorney can provide guidelines for making important healthcare decisions. Carefully complete this form with your loved one to ensure that a trusted individual is appointed as a Health Care Agent.
  • Complete a Financial Power of Attorney. Complete a Financial Power of Attorney to designate a trustworthy individual to manage your specific financial needs. It is important to pay careful attention to the specific needs of you and your loved one when drafting a Power of Attorney to avoid financial exploitation. Also keep in mind that powers of attorney do not recognize Social Security and Veterans Benefits and those benefits must be managed through the SSA or VA directly.
  • Recognize signs of exploitation and discrimination. It is important for caregivers to be vigilant against elder abuse and neglect and remember to take action when you witness injustice.
  • Remember that caregivers have rights too! The Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid-job protected leave per year to care for immediate family members, such as your child, spouse or parent. You cannot be discriminated against by your employer if you need to take any periodic or unplanned time off to care for a sick loved one.

If you are interested in hiring a qualified attorney to protect you or your loved one’s financial assets, to hire a power of attorney, or to further understand your legal rights as a caregiver, contact the Boston Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service to be connected with a qualified attorney. Call us at 617-742-0625 or submit an online request form today!

Public Schools & Equal Access Regardless of Immigration Status

April 10, 2017 – Attorney General Maura Healey has issued an advisory notice to public schools titled “Equal Access to Public Education for All Students Irrespective of Immigration Status.

“This advisory is intended as a reminder that state and federal law require state educational agencies and local school districts to provide all elementary and secondary students with equal access to public education—irrespective of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or immigration status.”

The notice lists multiple different state and federal laws, as well as previous court cases including Brown v. Board of Education, that have upheld the rights laid out in the notice. The advisory specifically notes that these rights apply to students regardless of immigration status, meaning even those who may be undocumented are protected by Massachusetts and Federal law.

The advisory also lists specific requirements that schools in the state must uphold, which are:

(1) Allowing children to enroll and attend school without regard to race, national origin, or immigration or citizenship status;

(2) Avoiding information requests that have the purpose or effect of discouraging or denying access to school on the basis of race, national origin, or immigration or citizenship status;

(3) Protecting all students from bullying and harassment on the basis of race, national origin, or immigration or citizenship status.

If you believe your or your student’s rights may have been violated, even if a specific incident is not explicitly covered in this notice, you can reach the Office of the Attorney General here, or by calling (617) 963-2917.

Furthermore, if you would like to hire a qualified attorney to help further protect your rights, to speak about a specific incident, or help with issues regarding your immigration status, you can contact the Boston Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service to be connected with a qualified attorney. Call us at 617-742-0625 or submit an online request form to begin the referral process. All contacts are kept confidential, and any information you provide to us will not be shared with anyone other than the attorney you are referred to only if you choose to allow it.

The People’s Law School: Legal Services Center Annual Event, Saturday April 8th

March 30, 2017On Saturday, April 8th, from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm, the Wilmer Hale Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School will be hosting a day of free workshops geared toward helping people learn more about legal issues that affect them. The “Know Your Rights” event, which is free and open to the public, will have 16 one-hour workshops on a wide range of topics.  The workshops will cover many areas of law from public assistance to immigration rights, as well as housing, student loans and many more.  The event will take place at the Legal Services Center, which is located at 122 Boylston Street, Jamaica Plain, MA  02130.

To view the full schedule, of sessions, click here.

For full details, please refer to the flyer below. If you have other questions, please email [email protected] or call the Legal Services Center at (617) 522-3003 and ask for the People’s Law School Coordinator.

 

Trademarks, Patents, and Copyrights – What’s What?

March 10, 2017 – When starting a business, inventing a new product, or forming a public brand, your intellectual property is a major part of what makes your project ‘yours.’ This makes intellectual property (IP) law extremely important for new businesses, large corporations, and individuals alike. IP law helps these groups protect inventions and other intellectual property, like pharmaceuticals or ‘brand names,’ from unauthorized use.

There are many different categories of ‘things’ that constitute intellectual property. If you are forming a new business, setting up a blog, creating content on video sharing site like YouTube, or are inventing a new product, there are many different ways to protect your ideas and creations through IP law. A few of these examples are

  1. Trademarks, which allow you to register for exclusive use of ideas such as a business name, phrase, or symbol/logo
  2. Patents, which can be registered on inventions, pharmaceuticals, and procedures relating to the creation of many types of products
  3. Copyrights, which allow you to protect original content such as writings, film creation, music, computer programs, and other content of an ‘original’ nature

While these laws and protections are in place and apply to everyone, it is important to understand what types of ideas you can protect, as well as understand the methods you can pursue to protect your work that is being unlawfully used. Having an attorney who works in IP law can help explain exactly what protections your type of content is afforded, how you can go about making a claim of infringement, and help you make sure you are not infringing on someone else’s intellectual property. If you would like to speak to an experienced attorney who can help you make sure you are properly protected from infringement and infringement claims against you, please contact us today at 617-742-0625 or fill out our online form here.