Section 34E. The justices of the supreme judicial court shall appoint a mental health legal advisors committee consisting of fourteen attorneys, four of whom shall hold office for a term of four years, four for a term of three years, three for a term of two years and three for a term of one year. Upon completion of each such term of a member of said committee, his successor shall be appointed for a term of four years. The unexpired portion of any term which becomes vacant shall be filled by the justices of the supreme judicial court. Members of said committee may be removed by the justices of the supreme judicial court. No member of the committee shall receive any compensation for his services, but each member shall be reimbursed for actual traveling expenses incurred by him in attending the committee meetings. The membership of the committee shall contain a practicing attorney or attorneys from each of the mental health regions of the Commonwealth. The committee shall annually appoint and may at any time remove an executive director who shall be compensated from funds available therefor.
Any practicing member of the bar of the commonwealth who wishes to serve as a mental health legal advisor shall submit his name, office address and telephone number to the committee, which shall compile a list of all such names submitted, dividing the names into groups of lawyers practicing within each of the mental health regions of the commonwealth. Said list shall be updated quarterly. Said list of mental health legal advisors shall be circulated by the committee to the district courts and municipal courts of the commonwealth and to the department of mental health. The committee shall annually establish and approve a fee schedule for such services as shall be performed by the mental health legal advisors and said mental health legal advisors shall upon certificate of the judge appointing him be compensated in accordance therewith for services performed for an indigent patient.
It shall be the duty of the committee to develop a program of volunteer legal assistance. Such program shall utilize the participation of attorneys, professional and nonprofessional aides and all other groups who offer their services on a voluntary basis, to assist and advise indigent patients and residents in Bridgewater state hospital and all other mental health and intellectual disability facilities of the commonwealth concerning their legal rights. Said volunteers may, subject to the approval of the committee, interview and examine all pertinent records of any such patient or resident. In addition, the committee shall appoint such clerical or other nonprofessional staff assistants as may be necessary to carry out the duties of the committee.
It shall be the duty of the committee to conduct a continuing program of information with regard to the legal rights of patients and residents at all mental health and intellectual disability facilities in the commonwealth, which information shall be circulated to said patients and residents and their relatives, to the employees of the department of mental health, the members of the bar of the commonwealth and to anyone requesting such information. In addition, such information shall be made available to the public at large.
Upon petition of an indigent patient or resident in Bridgewater state hospital or any other mental health or intellectual disability facility, private or public, or the legal guardian or a relative or a friend of such patient or resident, to any district or municipal court of the commonwealth, such court shall appoint from the list circulated of mental health legal advisors, a lawyer, practicing in the same or an adjoining mental health region as that in which the court is situated, to advise such patient of his legal rights and to represent such patient.
A mental health legal advisor so appointed may examine all records pertaining to such patient or resident, including the records of the department of mental health and the department of correction or any other agency of the government of the commonwealth or any other institution operated by the commonwealth or any political subdivision thereof or any hospital situated in the commonwealth. In addition, such advisor may make all necessary inquiries as he deems proper for the carrying out of his duties.
A mental health legal advisor shall be compensated for legal services performed for an indigent patient by the mental health legal advisor’s committee in accordance with the fee schedule established by the mental health legal advisors committee as provided for herein.
The committee shall be eligible for federal funds and may accept gifts, donations, grants, contributions or appropriations, which may be received from any source, public or private, to be held, used or expended for any purpose related to the duties of the committee and, in the case of a grant, in accordance with the terms and conditions of such grant. The committee may enter into contracts to provide or receive services with any federal or state entity, with any group or individual, whether for profit or non-profit, or with any voluntary or charitable group, association or organization including any bar association or foundation. Any such donations, funds, contributions or grants shall be deposited in the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee Trust.