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This November in Massachusetts, Ballot Question 4, entitled “The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act,” proposes the complete “legalization” of possession of certain amounts of marijuana for personal use. This stands in contrast to the current state of marijuana law in Massachusetts, which “decriminalizes” possession of certain amounts of marijuana for personal use. What’s the difference? To understand, it helps to know the current state of the law in Massachusetts.

In the past few years, Massachusetts law regulating marijuana has seen two major changes: (1) possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is no longer a criminal offense; and (2) Massachusetts now has a system in place for medical cultivation and use of marijuana. Here’s a brief guide to the basics of where things stand now.

In 2008, “An Act Establishing a Sensible State Marijuana Policy” was passed into law by way of ballot initiative and was codified as G.L. c. 94C, §§ 32L-N. Section 32L declares possession of less than one ounce of marijuana by a person eighteen years or older to be a civil infraction, not a criminal offense, and subject only to a fine of $100.00 and forfeiture of the marijuana. Section 32M requires persons under the age of eighteen to complete a drug awareness program in addition to their civil fine. Section 32N makes clear that civil citations issued for possession of marijuana are to be issued, contested, etc., in the same manner as any other civil citation.

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It is routine that people who have been charged with a crime give relevant evidence to their attorneys so that they can obtain legal advice regarding that evidence. After all, without being able to take possession of such items, attorneys would have a difficult time advising clients their cases.

This was what happened when disgraced former Patriot’s star, Aaron Hernandez, gave a cellphone to his attorneys. Since then, a judge has decided that there is probable cause to believe that the data on the cellphone would provide evidence about a July 16, 2012 drive-by shooting in Boston’s South End that killed Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, and about the intimidation of a witness to that shooting. Hernandez has been indicated for the drive-by shooting, has been indicted for intimidating the witness by shooting him in the head (the witness lived), and has been convicted of the June 17, 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.

Ever since March, 2014, the government has been trying to get its hands of the phone. It first attempted to get the phone by asking a judge to approve a subpoena for the phone. That attempt failed when, in January, 2015, the Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) concluded that the attorney-client privilege protected the defendant against the use of a subpoena to compel production of the cellphone.

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KJC LAW FIRM attorneys Cook, Wilton, and Martin were collectively awarded five hundred thousand dollars in attorney’s fees for their work on behalf of Dr. Andrew Segal in the case of Segal v. Genitrix, Suffolk Superior Court C.A. No. 09-00776. Segal, a licensed medical doctor and inventor, managed a bio-tech research firm called Genitrix with his employer, H. Fiske Johnson, III, heir to the Johnson family fortune which includes products like Pledge, Ziploc bags, and Glade. Segal successfully proved at a jury trial in November, 2015 that Johnson intentionally and knowingly refused to pay Segal’s wages for three years. The trial judge held a second phase of the trial approximately one month later in which he considered whether the defendants should be required to pay punitive damages because their failure to pay wages was “outrageous.” Segal prevailed again and has been awarded nearly $1.2 million, which a Superior Court Judge described as “an enormous amount for a single-Plaintiff Wage Act case.”

The Massachusetts Wage Act imposes severe penalties on “unscrupulous “employers and entitles prevailing plaintiffs to reasonable attorney’s fees which must be approved by a Superior Court judge. In awarding attorney’s fees, the judge is allowed to consider the experience and skill of the attorneys, the results obtained at trial, and the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of their performance at trial. The judge is required to reduce the award so as not to allow for duplicative billing, and to ensure that the hourly rate awarded to each attorney is fair and reasonable. In this case, the judge wrote a glowing review of attorneys Cook, Wilton, and Martin when awarding what we believe to be one of the largest awards, if not the largest award, ever in a single-plaintiff Wage Act case.

Every employer and employee in Massachusetts should be aware of the “Wage Act,” also known as the Weekly Wage Law (c. 149, sec. 148 et seq.). The purpose of the Wage Act is to ensure that employees are promptly paid by their employers. The law includes harsh penalties for employers who fail to comply.

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The world’s largest furniture retailer, IKEA, has recalled 29 million dressers and chests sold in the U.S.  This recall comes after the confirmed deaths of six children from tip over accidents.

Last year, in July 2015, IKEA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced the deaths of two children from tipping dressers.  Despite urging from consumer advocacy groups at that time, no recall was initiated.  Consumers were not informed in that announcement that the IKEA dresser in question did not meet certain safety requirements which require each drawer to withstand a 50-pound weight.

Earlier this year, after the death of a 22-month old boy, Kids in Danger (KID), Consumer Federation of America (CFA), Consumers Union and the National Center for Health Research urged CPSC and IKEA to recall the dressers and chests.

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The top court in Massachusetts recently ruled that a so-called Dookhan Defendant – a person who entered a guilty plea on the basis of drug analyses certified by Annie Dookhan – “who has been granted a new trial based on Dookhan’s misconduct at the Hinton drug lab cannot be charged with a more serious offense than that of which he or she initially was convicted under the terms of a plea agreement and, if convicted again, cannot be given a more severe sentence than that which originally was imposed.” Bridgeman v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District, No. SJC-11764 (May 18, 2015). For those who are unfamiliar with Ms. Dookhan, she “was involved in more than 46,000 cases at the Hinton laboratory from 2003 until her resignation in 2012. Her work was critical to the criminal justice process because she had to certify that drugs were an illegal substance[, and] Dookhan’s wrongdoing led to multiple state charges that she tampered with evidence by either mixing substances or falsely declaring their results.” Milton F. Valencia, Pattern of neglect at state drug lab found, The Boston Globe (March 4, 2014).

Up until Bridgeman was decided, the risk of receiving harsher charges or punishments as a result of successfully withdrawing guilty pleas stopped many people affected by Dookhan’s misconduct from pursuing their rights to a new trial with untainted evidence. In fact, footnote 17 of the Bridgeman opinion discusses a person to whom this happened – he got a new trial based on the evidence tainted by Dookhan, was convicted using untainted evidence, and received a harsher sentence than had been imposed when he originally pleaded guilty.  However, after Bridgeman, anyone who previously feared such a course of events should be relieved.

John Martin, the head of the criminal practice here at KJC Law Firm, LLC, has unique experience in this area. He was the first lawyer to successfully move a court to allow a defendant to withdraw his guilty plea because it was based on evidence that had been tainted by Dookhan.  See Denise Lavoie and Bob Salsberg, Annie Dookhan, Chemist, Allegedly Tampers With 60,000 Drug Samples; Convicts Released, Huffington Post (September 20, 2012, 1:29 p.m.).   Now that it is guaranteed that those who pleaded guilty on the basis of evidence tainted by Dookhan will not receive harsher punishments if they succeed in withdrawing their guilty pleas, it is all the more reason for such people to consider seeking a new trial. The worst case scenario is being retried and reconvicted, with no more punishment added on top of what was imposed as a result of the original guilty plea.  The best case scenario is having the guilty plea vacated, and the original charges dropped.  In any event, if you, or anyone you know is a so called Dookhan Defendant, you should consider calling KJC Law Firm, LLC to discuss your options.

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If you were a party to a trial in Massachusetts, would you want your lawyer to be able to ask potential jurors about their past experiences that relate to your case?  How about questions regarding their preconceptions or biases?  If your answer to either of these questions is “YES!” you might be surprised to find out that, until recently, Massachusetts law did not entitle trial lawyers to ask ANY questions of prospective jurors.  While the vast majority of states have long allowed lawyers to ask such questions of prospective jurors, it was not until our Commonwealth recently enacted An Act Relative To Certain Judicial Procedures In The Superior Court that Massachusetts got its own rule dealing with parties’ right to have their lawyer ask these questions of potential jurors.

Here at KJC Law Firm, we make it a priority to stay abreast of such developments in the law.  To that end, our managing partner, Kathy Jo Cook, recently attended a training designed to provide insights into how best to ask questions of potential jurors through a process called voir dire.  In fact, all of the KJC Law Firm members have been closely studying the Superior Court Order that, starting February 2, 2015, will implement Massachusetts’s new law regarding lawyers asking questions of potential jurors.

Rest assured, when KJC Law Firm brings your case to trial, we will skillfully use every available tool to sit an unbiased, fair jury, who are prepared to award you everything that the law entitles you to.

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Two very recent legal developments that KJC Law Firm is closely following relate to our newly established criminal defense practice, headed by our associate, John Martin.  In Commonwealth v. Gomes, SJC-11537 (January 12, 2015), the Supreme Judicial Court, which is the highest court in Massachusetts, recognized that “eyewitness identification is the greatest source of wrongful convictions,” and set forth a full eighteen pages of new jury instructions designed to prevent wrongful convictions based on inaccurate identifications.

Even more recently, the Supreme Judicial Court also clarified the definition of the term “moral certainty,” which has been part of the Reasonable Doubt jury instruction that jurors in our Commonwealth have received for the past 150 years.  In Commonwealth v. Russeel, SJC-11602 (January 26, 2015), the Supreme Judicial Court wrote that the term “moral certainty” means “the highest degree of certainty possible in matters relating to human affairs — based solely on the evidence that has been put before you in this case.” Attorney Martin’s familiarity with these new instructions will provide our criminal defense clients with the best available means to contest any unreliable eye-witness evidence that the government offers against them, and to emphasize how strong the evidence against them must be in order for them to be convicted of having committed a crime.

Moreover, our newest associate, Luke Rosseel, will also be using these jury instructions to argue against inaccurate identifications and insufficient evidentiary showings in the criminal appeals practice that KJC Law Firm is now undertaking.  Attorney Rosseel was recently certified for appeals and other post-conviction assignments from the Committee for Public Counsel Services Post Conviction Appellate Assignment Unit.  Said more simply, Attorney Rosseel will be accepting appointments to represent people who cannot themselves afford attorneys, and whose criminal convictions involved errors that suggest they were misidentified, and may not have committed the crimes they were convicted of.

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Employees in the Commonwealth will soon be legally entitled to up to 40 hours of earned sick time per year, thanks to Massachusetts voters. Starting next summer, employees will be able to earn and use sick time to: a) care for the employee’s own physical or mental illness, injury, or medical condition; b) care for a child, spouse, parent, or parent of a spouse with a physical or mental illness, injury, or medical condition; c) attend routine medical appointments of the employee or the employee’s child, spouse, parent, or parent of a spouse; or d) address the effects of domestic violence on the employee or the employee’s dependent child. The new law goes into effect on July 1, 2015.
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cranes.jpg Earlier this month, a tragic accident happened at a facility of a Massachusetts government building. Officials at the scene of a construction accident at the North King Street facility of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation reported that the incident resulted in one fatality and caused two others to be injured.

According to one official, a 911 call at came in at approximately 9:40 a.m., and indicated that there were three people pinned beneath two modular trailers that had been used as temporary office spaces. It was not immediately apparent why the workers were near the modular trailers, but one of the workers was able to get free and escape with injuries that were not life-threatening.

Emergency responders helped free the second worker with the assistance of a large crane and the worker was taken to the hospital with moderate injuries that were not life-threatening. The third worker sustained fatal injuries and was killed at the scene.

Emergency workers that arrived on the scene described the trailers as each being 50 feet in length and approximately 10 feet in width. The trailers had been set up next to one another in the back of the main building that was located on the property.

Authorities are looking into the cause of the accident in further detail. Specifically, the District Attorney, along with the local police department, federal Occupational Safety and Health Administrations, and the State Department of Industrial Accidents are all working on an investigation.
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1375248_untitled sxchu username JosephHart.jpgLast week, a 38-year-old man was killed and a four-year-old girl was critically injured in a Whitman pedestrian accident. According to accident witnesses, a maroon Dodge Ram pick-up driven by 46-year-old Richard C. Brown of Attleboro struck Edward W. Cordwell, Jr. of Whitman and his girlfriend’s small child on Temple Street. The child, Kiera Crawford, was reportedly riding a bicycle equipped with training wheels across the street while Cordwell walked alongside her. According to Whitman Police Deputy Chief Tim Hanlon, Cordwell apparently attempted to shield the child from being hit the truck. Still, Kiera’s small bicycle was found wedged under the front of the pick-up.

Witnesses stated the force of the impact threw Cordwell more than 10 feet. Despite that rescue workers responded within minutes, Cordwell died as a result of his injuries. Kiera was reportedly knocked unconscious during the collision. Immediately following the accident, the child was transported to Massachusetts General Hospital with serious injuries.

Although the cause of the fatal accident is still under investigation by the Whitman Police Department, Hanlon stated the accident victims were not in a crosswalk at the time of the crash. Still, Brown’s driver’s license was suspended until the results of the investigation are available. His driving record reportedly contains a number of moving violations and surchargeable accidents. It is unclear whether Brown will face criminal charges in connection with the tragic incident.

Too often, drivers fail to notice bicyclists and pedestrians as they speed down Massachusetts roadways. When a pedestrian is struck by a motor vehicle, the resulting injuries are normally life-threatening or fatal. Pedestrians are placed at risk every day by inattentive or impaired drivers, hazardous road conditions, and even automobile defects. The victim of a pedestrian accident may be eligible to receive financial compensation for medical costs, pain, suffering, lost wages, loss of enjoyment of life, any resulting temporary or permanent disability, and other damages. If you were hurt in an accident caused by a negligent driver, you should contact a capable Massachusetts personal injury lawyer as soon as you are able.
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