January 6, 2014: State Bar Association 2014 Public Policy Priorities Include Courts, Voting Reforms, Access to Justice, Civics Education
The New York State Bar Association today released its state and federal public policy priorities for 2014.
State priorities include ensuring adequate funding for the courts, creating more Family Court judgeships, expanding the number of veterans treatment courts, reducing wrongful convictions, restricting the use of solitary confinement and providing more civics education for New York school children.
Federal priorities include ensuring adequate funding for the federal courts and the Legal Services Corporation, repealing Section 2 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), supporting efforts to increase voter participation and opposing measures that would restrict the ability of states to determine how injured individuals can pursue legal remedies in the courts.
“Our public policy priorities focus on helping New Yorkers to achieve justice throughout the legal system and exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens,” said State Bar President David M. Schraver of Rochester (Nixon Peabody). “The State Bar Association has a long history of supporting initiatives that make our legal system fairer, more accessible and more effective.”
Courts and Access to Justice
The governor and Legislature must ensure that adequate funding is provided so that the courts can fulfill their essential functions, including guaranteeing access to the justice system for poor and vulnerable individuals.
The Bar Association calls for a dedicated revenue stream to provide adequate funding for civil legal services for low-income individuals. Investing in civil legal services will save taxpayer dollars that otherwise would be spent on social services, housing and other remedial programs.
The Association supports Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s proposal to create additional Family Court judgeships. Despite increased caseloads, only four Family Court judgeships have been created outside New York City during the previous decade and none have been added in New York City in more than 20 years. An adequate number of judges will help ensure justice for New York’s children and families.
Citing the success of the Buffalo Veterans Treatment Court and other similar courts in the state, the Bar Association supports the expansion of Veterans Treatment Courts throughout New York. These specialized courts recognize that criminal charges may be rooted in substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness, employment and family problems that are related to military service.
To reduce wrongful convictions, the Association calls for mandating the recording of custodial interrogations and establishing a procedure for law enforcement to follow when conducting eyewitness identifications.
The eradication of wrongful convictions is essential to maintaining the public’s trust and confidence in our criminal justice system. Two of the root causes of wrongful convictions are false confessions and flawed eyewitness identification procedures. This legislation would address those issues.
The Association urges limiting the use of solitary confinement while maintaining a safe prison system. Research shows the serious detrimental effects of solitary confinement, both while the individuals are incarcerated and after they are released.
The Bar Association continues to support the sealing of records of certain crimes to minimize the lifetime employment and social consequences of convictions, thereby giving second chances to deserving individuals.
The State Bar is calling for the incorporation of civics education in all grades, along with the appropriate funding to implement this policy. Civics education is essential to ensure that children enter adulthood with an understanding of our system of government and their rights and responsibilities as citizens.
The Bar Association’s House of Delegates is expected to vote on a report on this issue from its Law, Youth and Citizenship Committee in late January.
The Association supports changes to laws relating to voter registration and voting practices in order to make it easier for citizens to register and vote.
The State Bar Association supports amending New York’s franchise law, which does not conform with the Federal Trade Commission’s 2007 franchise rules. The current state law imposes multiple burdens on franchisors, such as disclosure of international sales and registration of brokers. This discourages franchisors from locating their corporate headquarters in New York and drives jobs and economic benefits to other states.
The State Bar Association calls for adequate funding for the federal courts and the Legal Services Corporation. Recent sequestration cuts that could have had a crippling effect on the judiciary. The Association calls on the federal government to address fiscal issues in order to ensure that New York individuals and businesses retain access to the federal justice system.
Civil Rights/Civic Responsibility
The Association calls for repeal of Section 2 of the Defense of Marriage Act that allows states not to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The Association also supports the Respect for Marriage Act, which would provide a uniform law that recognizes same-sex marriages throughout the country.
The Bar Association supports the Voter Empowerment Act and other initiatives to boost voter participation, including easier access to online voter registration, same-day registration and registration of individuals under age 18.
The Association supports legislative reforms to address the crisis in immigrant representation, including the enactment of a statutory right to appointed counsel in certain cases.
Access to Justice
The Bar Association supports state authority to regulate the tort system and rejects federal efforts to remove or restrict that authority. State courts, through their experience and expertise, are best suited for determining liability for medical errors and other injuries.
The Association opposes efforts by the federal government to reinstate a system of mandatory sanctions under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that were removed in 1993. The old rule increased litigation costs, multiplied satellite litigation and removed the courts’ flexibility in determining case-appropriate sanctions.
The New York State Bar Association, with 76,000 members, is the largest voluntary state bar association in the country. It was founded in 1876.
Contact: Mark Mahoney
Associate Director, Media Services & Public Affairs