The Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) held its third annual MSBA Day on February 15, 2022. The event, previously known as Lobby Day, provided valuable insight, including commentary from U.S. Senators on recent legislation, the MSBA’s legislative priorities, and what to look forward to in the remainder of the 2022 Legislative Session.
MSBA Day’s slate of distinctive guests included Governor Larry Hogan, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin, and Chris Van Hollen, U.S. District Court Chief Judge John P. Morrissey, and numerous Maryland Senators and Delegates. The day’s discussions were moderated by Reena Shah, the executive director of the Maryland Access to Justice Commission, and Shaoli Katana, MSBA Legislative and Advocacy Director.
MSBA President M. Natalie McSherry welcomed participants and noted that 2022 would be a consequential year for Maryland. President McSherry reported the MSBA has employed measures to integrate member input into its public advocacy efforts like never before. She highlighted the MSBA’s recent public advocacy successes as well, including defeating a proposed tax on legal services and supporting COVID-19 vaccine priority for Maryland lawyers. President McSherry challenged MSBA members to make an even greater commitment to advocacy going forward to help ensure the voice of the profession is heard. She extended an invitation to all bar members and Marylanders to watch the upcoming gubernatorial candidate debates, which will take place in June at the MSBA’s annual Legal Summit in Ocean City.
Ward Coe, Chair of the Maryland Access to Justice Commission (A2JC), spoke of the Commission’s mission to make the civil justice system fair, equitable, and accessible for all Marylanders. Coe explained that the A2JC is able to pursue its goals because it receives great support, financially and otherwise, from the MSBA. One way the Commission achieves its mission is by supporting legislation that promotes access to justice.
According to Coe, the problems the pandemic exacerbated were monumental, but with the assistance of key leaders from the General Assembly, A2JC was able to make unprecedented progress and 19 bills that came from the Attorney General’s COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force (A2JC Task Force) were enacted into law. One bill, HB18, grants residential tenants the right to legal representation in eviction proceedings, making Maryland one of the first states in the country to have a statewide Access to Counsel in Evictions program. This year, funding the program is one of the Commission’s top priorities.
Senator Cardin, a member of the MSBA, spoke about an attorney’s special obligation to uphold the public interest and help those less fortunate. When Senator Cardin was asked to join the A2JC Task Force as a congressional advisory committee member, he quickly accepted. The A2JC Task Force was created to examine the pandemic’s impact on Marylanders and make recommendations on how to ensure that the state’s most vulnerable remain housed, safe, and connected to Civil Justice. As the 2022 General Assembly session proceeds, he stands with efforts to fully fund Maryland’s Access to Counsel Program for those facing evictions.
Senator Van Hollen spoke next, recounting his efforts to secure federal funding to prevent evictions. Senator Van Hollen believes that the collective mission of attorneys is to ensure that all people in our state and our country, regardless of income or background, can access the justice system. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic fallout hit Maryland hard, leaving many renters behind on their bills through no fault of their own. That’s why legislators included an Emergency Rental Assistance Fund in the bipartisan December relief bill and the American Rescue plan, to help both renters and landlords stay afloat.
MSBA day attendees also heard from Christine Hubbard, the Chair-Elect of the MSBA’s Estates and Trusts Section and Chair of the Legislative Committee, who discussed the Section’s advocacy efforts. Senate President Bill Ferguson explained the Senate’s top priorities during the 2022 Legislative Session. Attorney General Frosh spoke with President McSherry about his commitment to safeguarding Maryland’s vulnerable populations. Chief Judge Morrissey then spoke about how the pandemic has dominated much of the work of the Judiciary leadership over the last two years and recounted efforts to continue proceedings while protecting the health of citizens, attorneys, the Judiciary, and Court staff.
The morning included a panel discussion, moderated by former State Senator Bobby Zirkin, with State Senators Will Smith, Jill P. Carter, Mike Hough, and Jeff Waldstreicher, members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Zirkin also interviewed Governor Hogan about the significant challenges he faced during his administration and how that impacted his leadership. They discussed redistricting and eliminating the retirement income tax as well.
After an overview by Chief Judge Morrisey on the last two years and how the pandemic has dominated much of the work of the Judiciary leadership, the House Judiciary Committee Panel wrapped up MSBA Day, with Delegates David Moon, Haven Shoemaker, and Nicole Williams speaking about key initiatives and their goals during the 2022 session.