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BOSTON — Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf of the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts is seeking more pro bono participation from Boston law firms on civil cases with significant legal issues. Wolf and other court officials held a lunch meeting with representatives from five major Boston firms late last month to discuss ideas for beefing up the pro bono referral process for indigent civil litigants. Wolf said the court identifies about a dozen civil cases a year filed by pro se litigants with exceptional legal issues that warrant a court-appointed attorney. The court has a “vital” panel of lawyers who represent indigent criminal case defendants, but lacks something similar for civil cases. “My colleagues wanted to affect something equally effective for this small number of exceptional civil cases,” Wolf said. Sending e-mails about available pro bono opportunities to about 150 lawyers or law firms hasn’t been working well, he said. Wolf said Bingham McCutchen, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr and Boston’s Foley Hoag, Goodwin Procter and Ropes & Gray sent representatives to the meeting. Since the meeting, Foley Hoag has agreed to take a case filed by a biological male, who calls himself a transgender and uses a female first name, serving a life sentence in a state prison. According to the handwritten complaint, the plaintiff was diagnosed with gender identity disorder, but Massachusetts Department of Correction officials put treatment on indefinite administrative hold. The plaintiff, who is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive damages, alleges that the prison system’s actions violate the U.S. Constitution. Brugliera v. Commissioner of Massachusetts Department of Correction, No. 4:07-cv-40323 (D. Mass.) Foley Hoag’s pro bono coordinator Claire Laporte, who is also a patent litigation and intellectual property partner, said the case is a very interesting matter concerning the medical treatment of prison inmates in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. “There’s a long tradition in need of renewal of large firms taking pro bono [civil] cases in the federal court,” Laporte said. “We have accepted appointments in the past and will continue to do so in the future.” Wolf is planning another meeting this month with a larger group of firms. He hopes a dozen firms will agree to either accept the cases on a rotating basis or help the court find counsel for the indigent defendants. Law firms have lots of pro bono opportunities, and the court is competing with other organizations that need help, Wolf said. “I don’t think we’ve necessarily presented these matters to the firms in the best way,” Wolf said. “[We want to] educate the bar to the fact that these are not run of the mill cases.”

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