New York State Bar Association President Glenn Lau-Kee today commended Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman for offering thoughtful proposals in his annual State of the Judiciary address.
“Chief Judge Lippman has outlined a number of promising innovations to expand access to justice for all New Yorkers,” said Lau-Kee of New York City (Kee & Lau-Kee).
Indigent criminal defense
Last fall, the state government settled a lawsuit, Hurrell-Harring, acknowledging its constitutional responsibility to ensure that low-income individuals accused of crimes have competent legal representation at the state’s expense.
In his speech, Lippman noted the settlement applies only to five of the state’s 62 counties, excluding some counties where attorneys shoulder caseloads that exceed 700 a year. He said the Office of Indigent Legal Services is seeking a $28 million appropriation from the Legislature to address the problem over a five-year period.
Lau-Kee said NYSBA supports a state-funded, state-run criminal defense program for low-income people. “Quality legal representation should not only be an obligation and a priority, but it should apply in all the state’s counties,” Lau-Kee said.
Civil legal services
The State Bar also supports state and federal funding for civil legal services for the poor, especially in areas involving “necessities of life”—such as child custody, eviction and foreclosure. While legal service organizations and pro bono attorneys address some of those needs, many individuals still go to court without any outside assistance.
In his speech, the chief judge proposed creating a Court Advocates program to assist low-income litigants in housing court and in consumer-debt cases. The court advocates would be nonlawyers—supervised by attorneys—who help guide the litigants through the court system, helping them, for example, in completing do-it-yourself court forms and appearing with them in court.
“While there is no substitute for a lawyer, the help of a well-trained nonlawyer standing by the litigant’s side is far preferable to no help at all,” said Lippman
Lau-Kee said the concept of helping low-income litigants who cannot otherwise afford attorneys has merit. “It will be presented to the Association for further review,” he added.
In his speech, Lippman reiterated his support for addressing wrongful convictions by mandating videotaping interrogations and changing police lineup procedures–proposals that were recommended by the State Bar Association in 2009–and reforming criminal discovery rules.
In January, the Association’s House of Delegates approved a report calling for significant modifications in the state’s criminal discovery rules. The report is available here.
The Legislature also would need to approve Lippman’s proposal to require mandatory e-filing in the state Supreme Court, something that the State Bar Association has long supported. E-filing is required in the federal court system.
The New York State Bar Association, with 74,000 members, is the largest voluntary state bar association in the country. It was founded in 1876.
Contact: Lise Bang-Jensen
Director, Media Services