New York State Bar Association Launches Task Force To Help Lawyers Better Serve Clients With Mental Health Challenges

By Jennifer Andrus

August 1, 2022

New York State Bar Association Launches Task Force To Help Lawyers Better Serve Clients With Mental Health Challenges


By Jennifer Andrus

The New York State Bar Association is launching a task force that will focus on the impact that the burgeoning mental health crisis taking place across the state is having on the public and the civil and criminal justice systems.

“Despite a revitalized focus on the issues, the legal system is continuing to fail the majority of our clients living with mental illness and trauma,” said Sherry Levin Wallach, who, as president of the New York State Bar Association, appointed the task force. “They must be treated with compassion, and not automatically criminalized, when and if they interact with the justice system. Mental illness and trauma must be destigmatized.”

New York State Attorney General Letitia James began public hearings in June on the difficulty of obtaining mental health treatment in New York. This problem has only been exacerbated during the coronavirus pandemic, when overwhelmed medical professionals and lockdowns combined to make it even harder for individuals to access the help they need. The COVID-19 crisis also deepened an already mounting mental health crisis across the state and nation, especially among young people.

But with COVID-19 hospitalizations easing, James says there is little evidence that hospitals are expanding their in-patient psychiatric services.

Since 2014, New York has seen a significant increase in mentally ill people housed in county jails, homeless shelters, and state prisons, while the number of hospital beds for those living with mental illness has decreased. The state has only 3,000 in-patient beds for adults and just 274 beds for pediatric patients, and the number is only going down as labor shortages force facilities to curtail services or even shutter altogether.

In addition to its other responsibilities, the Task Force on Mental Health and Trauma Impacted Representation will review treatment courts, civil proceedings and our existing laws.

“There is a crisis in mental healthcare in New York and we hope our task force can affect change in state policy and identify budget priorities,” said Sheila E. Shea, chair of the task force and director of the Mental Hygiene Legal Service, Third Judicial Department. “We also plan to develop an education program for attorneys to help better serve clients with mental illness or trauma histories.”

Joseph Glazer, deputy commissioner of the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health, will co-chair the task force.

The task force is comprised of two dozen leaders in the field from across New York State. They will compile a report by April 2023.

Members include:

Matthew Wayne Alpern, interim chief statewide implementation attorney, director of quality enhancement for criminal defense trials, NYS Office of Indigent Legal Services, Albany, NY

Guy Arcidiacono, deputy bureau chief, appeals & training bureau; attorney-in-charge psychiatric litigation unit, Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office; Riverhead, NY

Katherine LeGeros Bajuk, senior trial attorney and mental health specialist, New York County Defender Services, New York, NY

Jeffrey Berman, mental health attorney, criminal defense practice, The Legal Aid Society, New York, NY

Andrea E. Bonina, partner, Bonina & Bonina, Brooklyn, NY

Laura M. Brancato, partner, Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone, New York, NY

Eric Broutman, partner, Abrams Fensterman, New Hyde Park, NY

Susan C. Bryant, executive director, New York State Defenders Association, Albany, NY

Jacqueline Cara, solo practitioner, Cara Law; Garden City, NY

M. Elizabeth (Libby) Coreno, general counsel, Bonacio Construction, Saratoga Springs, NY

Sophie Feal, managing attorney, holistic representation program, Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, Buffalo, NY

Mary J. Goodwin-Oquendo, attorney, Jo Anne Simon, New York, NY

Beth Haroules, senior staff attorney, New York Civil Liberties Union, New York, NY

Christopher Andrew Liberati-Conant, assistant attorney general, litigation bureau, Office of the New York State Attorney General, Albany, NY

Nina Loewenstein, senior staff attorney, Disability Rights New York; Albany, NY

Daniel Theodore Lukasik, judicial wellness coordinator, NYS Office Of Court Administration, Buffalo, NY

Jennifer J. Monthie, legal director, Disability Rights of New York, Albany, NY

Ruth O’Sullivan, project/clinical director, Brooklyn Mental Health Court, Brooklyn, NY

Brendan P. Owens, partner, Stafford, Owens, Murnane, Kelleher, Miller, Meyer & Zedick, Plattsburgh, NY

Erin Lynne Peake, associate, Bonina & Bonina, Brooklyn, NY

Joe Scroppo, Ph.D., J.D. , licensed psychologist, attorney & counselor at law, The Trust, Woodmere, NY

Michelle A. Smith, chief of staff, NYS Unified Court System Office for Justice Initiatives, New York, NY

John V. Tauriello, attorney, Brown & Weinraub, Albany, NY

Patricia J. Warth, director, New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services, Albany, NY

Jed B. Wolkenbreit, counsel, New York State Conference of Local Mental Hygiene Directors, New York, NY

About the New York State Bar Association
The New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Since 1876, NYSBA has helped shape the development of law, educated and informed the legal profession and the public, and championed the rights of New Yorkers through advocacy and guidance in our communities.


Contact: Susan DeSantis
[email protected]

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