News, Events & Publications

Massachusetts Attorney General Releases Advisory to Universities on Rights of Immigrant Students on Campus

October 17, 2017 – The Office of the Attorney General recently provided the public with an advisory for Massachusetts Colleges and Universities regarding immigrant students. In the advisory, many suggestions to protect immigrant students are given for the Commonwealth’s private and public colleges and universities, also known as Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs). This advisory was intended to address only students that are undocumented or who have been granted temporary legal protection such as grantees of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program or those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS). This does not address international students on an F-1, J-1 or similar visas.

The advisory includes information about IHEs as sensitive locations. Sensitive locations are areas were immigration enforcement activities such as surveillance, interviews, searches, and arrests are generally prohibited absent special circumstances or prior approval. The advisory suggests that IHEs create a protocol to be used in the event of an immigration officer requesting access to a space on campus or to seek an interview with someone of the campus community. The Attorney General’s Office example protocol is:

  • First, ask the immigration officer for his or her name, identification number, and the name of the agency with which he or she is affiliated;
  • Second, ask the immigration officer for a copy of any warrant, subpoena, or court order he or she has;
  • Third, inform the immigration officer that you are not attempting to obstruct his or her actions, but you are not authorized to respond to the request and need to contact the appropriate campus person before you can provide access; and
  • Fourth, ask the immigration officer to wait outside while you contact your IHE’s campus police, legal counsel, or other appropriate point person.

In general, IHE’s cannot prohibit immigration officers from accessing public portions of campus, but may restrict them from accessing private spaces which include dorms, lecture halls while classes are in session, research labs, kitchens, locker rooms, and maintenance areas. Immigration officers can access these private areas without the consent of the IHE only if they have a judicial warrant.

Other suggestions from the Office of the Attorney General as to how to protect immigrant student’s information are to:

  • Review the information from students to ensure that no information about a student’s (or family member’s) immigration or citizenship status is available.
  • Limit the types of information they consider “directory” (name, contact info, address) by excluding info that may be released to citizenship or immigration such as birthplace or language spoken at home
  • Provide students with regular opportunity to opt out of the disclosure of student’s directory information and may provide this notice in easily accessible formats such as academic catalog or school website
  • Provide training to staff on privacy and confidentiality policies
  • Review existing contracts with immigration agencies regarding info sharing to ensure that immigration status info is shared only when required by a valid subpoena or court order

For the full advisory from the Office of the Attorney General please click here.

Changing a Child Support Order

October 6, 2017 – If circumstances have changed since you last entered into a child support order, you might be able to make changes to it.  A court can modify child support if one of 3 changes happens. (1) A parent’s income changed, (2) certain expenses for taking care of your child have changed, or (3) a parent’s health insurance choices have changed.

It does not matter if you receive or give child support – if either parent’s life has changed, you can ask the court to modify certain aspects of the order, such as:

  • The “weekly support amount” which is the amount you get from the child support  guidelines worksheet
  • Each parent’s share of routine medical and dental expense over $250 each year
  • Each parent’s share of unexpected medical and dental expenses
  • Each parent’s share of other child-related expenses (ex: educational expenses )
  • Which parent pays child support
  • Which parent provides health insurance
  • When the order will end

If you are a Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement Division customer, the Department of Revenue can assist you in requesting modifications for your child support order. In this case, you must contact the DOR before filing to ask them for the appropriate forms and mail them to this address:

Massachusetts Department of Revenue
Child Support Enforcement Division
P.O. Box 7057
Boston, MA 02204
Attention: Modification

For more information on how the DOR can help you with child support modification, click here.

Additional information about Child Support orders in general 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!

Free DACA Renewal Clinics

September 19, 2017 – Greater Boston Legal Services’ Immigration Unit will be holding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Renewal Walk-in Clinics on Monday, September 25 and Monday, October 2 from 2:30-7PM for current DACA recipients whose employment cards expire prior to March 5, 2018. DACA recipients who fit into this category are encouraged to attend as renewal before October 5 should provide people with protection for the next two years. There are no legal fees associated with this clinic, but the DACA renewal form requires a $495 fee. For more information you can find GBLS at 197 Friend Street, Boston, or call them at 617-371-1234.

In addition, if you wish to hire an experienced attorney for assistance with an immigration problem, please contact the Boston Bar Lawyer Referral Service by calling 617-742-0625 or filling out an online request form here.

 

Consumer Alert: How to Protect Yourself from the Equifax Data Breach

September 13, 2017 – Massachusetts’ Attorney General Maura Healey has launched an investigation into a major data breach at Equifax to determine whether the company used proper safeguards to protect consumer information. In July, hackers accessed confidential consumer information, such as Social Security numbers, addresses, birth dates and driver’s license numbers. The data breach potentially affects 143 million consumers nationwide, with nearly three million Massachusetts residents at risk.

Equifax has set up a phone line – 866-447-7559 – as well as a website, for consumers may have questions about this breach or want to check the status of their information.  If you do not want to sign-up for free credit-checking and fraud protection through Equifax, here are some other ways you can protect your identity from hackers:

  1. Freeze your credit files to make it harder for hackers to open an account in your name.
  2. Check – and continue to check – your credit reports by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Keep a look out for accounts or activity you do not recognize.
  3. File your taxes early before scammers get the chance to. Try and respond to letters from the IRS right away and do not believe callers who threaten you will be arrested unless you pay taxes or debt.

If you believe you are the victim of identity theft and that your information may have been compromised, click here. More information on how to protect your identity can be found at https://www.identitytheft.gov/.

Important Rights to Know as a Massachusetts Tenant

September 1, 2017 – September 1st is the unofficial moving day for much of Boston and the surrounding areas. Students are coming back from summer break and nearly 75% of the area’s leases begin on September 1.  Every person moving into an apartment, whether they are a student or not should know their rights in regards their housing. Here are some important rights to keep in mind as you move into your new apartment this weekend.

  • Read the lease carefully to make sure that you understand the terms you are agreeing to. Do not agree to anything that is not written in the lease.
  • Make sure the lease says who is paying for utilities – Unless you agree in writing to paying for your utilities, it is the responsibility of the landlord to pay for it.
  • Get every promise from your landlord in writing – emails count!
  • Keep a signed copy of your lease – your landlord has 30 days to give you a copy.
  • You have the right to a receipt every time you give your landlord money.
  • If you pay a security deposit, you are entitled to a “statement of condition” that lists any problems with the unit at the time you move in. Even if you do not pay a security deposit, it is still important to take note of any damage at the time of move in so that you are not held responsible later.
  • If there is a problem with the condition of your unit, you should notify your landlord in writing about it. It is their responsibility to maintain and repair the conditions of your unit.
  • If the landlord refuses to make repairs, you have the right to a free inspection by a local health inspector.
  • It is illegal for the landlord to retaliate against you for asking for repairs or for calling health inspectors.

Additional information can be found at www.mass.gov/ago or by calling the Attorney General’s Office at 617-727-8400. They have also put together a tip sheet with more information.

 

Lemon Law: Your Car Might Be Covered

August 28, 2017 – The Massachusetts Lemon Law protects consumers from serious defects in their new vehicle. The law defines a lemon as “a new or leased motor vehicle that has a defect which substantially impairs the use, market value, or safety of the vehicle and which has not been repaired after a reasonable number of attempts.”  Here are some facts you should know about this consumer protection law:

  • You must be able to demonstrate specifically how the vehicle is substantially impaired by the defect.
  • Vehicles that are covered by the lemon law are any new car, motorcycle, van or truck bought in Massachusetts from a new-car dealer for personal purposes.
  • These vehicles are covered by the law for one year after its purchase or when the car reaches 15,000 miles, whichever comes first. The law also covers vehicles that were resold during the one-year period or 15,000 miles term-of protection. It also covers new vehicles leased after July 1, 1997.
  • The Lemon Law also gives manufacturers a chance to repair the vehicle up to 3 separate times.

It is very important to receive repair reports after each repair just in case legal action needs to be taken. This will establish a record of the manufacturer trying to fix the vehicle.

More information about the Lemon Law can be found at http://www.mass.gov/ocabr/consumer-rights-and-resources/autos/lemon-laws/new-leased-lemon-law.html.  If 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!

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!