The Criminal Law & Practice Section held an informal “coffee talk” with MSBA directors and staff to discuss the impact of COVID-19 emergency. The MSBA Coffee Talk series allows section members to learn about actions taken by the MSBA on their behalf, and to learn from others about developments in their practice areas. Judge Sidney Butcher, section chair, was joined by more than 25 members for this early morning video chat.
MSBA Executive Director Victor Velazquez opened the discussion by observing that not two months ago, the MSBA was engaged in a multi-pronged effort to defeat legislation that would have taxed legal services. Before everyone could catch their collective breath, COVID took center stage. Using essentially the same coalition and social media tools used at the Legislature, the MSBA quickly partnered with attorneys and local and specialty bars to respond to this new crisis. Thus far, the MSBA has received and published answers to nearly 200 questions transmitted to the Judiciary and Governor’s office on matters left open by their administrative and executive orders; sponsored 10 different COVID-related webinars viewed live and on demand by more than 7,000 people; established a robust COVID-19 webpage with links to useful information and resources; and is participating in a Chamber of Commerce workgroup to establish criteria to be considered for reopening the State.
These efforts are ongoing. Shaoli Katana, Director of Member Experience & Programs reported that to keep the profession informed of rapidly changing developments, the MSBA is reaching out to individual jurisdictions to learn how they are handling court business during the shutdown. On the educational front, Mr. Velazquez announced that the MSBA will soon make available, free of charge, more than 150 on-line CLE and other educational products. MSBA Director of Learning Andrea Terry noted that this catalogue continues to grow. New webinars already on the calendar include the April 30 Criminal Practice in the Circuit Court, a live, half-day program that had originally been scheduled to be presented in-person. Ms. Terry reminded section members that the MSBA would provide technical and promotional assistance to produce additional programming that might be of interest to them.
MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program Director Lisa Caplan spoke of the need to be attentive to physical and emotional health during stressful times. Home workouts, tips for managing stress, and other resources can be found at the COVID-19 Health and Wellness Tips webpage. A weekly support group continues to meet virtually, and the LAP remains available to help with any type of problem an attorney or their colleagues might be experiencing.
Judge Butcher and Judge Carlos Acosta discussed their experiences in their respective courthouses, both of which will soon be using Skype for Business to replace a patchwork of solutions for conducting video proceedings. Both reported difficulties contacting lawyers who have not provided mobile phone numbers and emails, or who are not checking their office voicemails or answering calls from the court because they are screened as unknown numbers. Other members shared information on a variety of topics.
Judge Butcher also reported the formation of an ad hoc committee to begin looking at what to expect when courts reopen, particularly with respect to scheduling and concerns expressed by solo practitioners who fear being pulled in many directions.