NYSBA Advocates for Immediate Vaccination of Certain Members of the Legal Profession

By Christian Nolan

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Good afternoon Members,

The New York State Bar Association’s Executive Committee has adopted a resolution that calls for the immediate vaccination of certain members of the legal profession.

Specifically, the resolution states that “public defenders, assigned counsel attorneys, attorneys for the children (AFCs), client-facing civil legal services attorneys, mandated family court attorneys, retained criminal defense attorneys, prosecutors, incarcerated people including pre-trial detainees, criminal court judges and magistrates, and family court judges and the client-facing staff of these attorneys and judges as well as all lawyers who are by court order or otherwise obligated to make an in-person appearance, either in a legal proceeding or elsewhere if related to an existing or contemplated court proceeding or process, should be prioritized for the vaccine as essential workers and individuals at high risk and that they immediately be moved into the New York State 1(b) vaccine category.”

NYSBA has distributed the resolution directly to the appropriate counsel for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and urged its adoption.

The resolution notes that public defenders, civil legal services attorneys (employed by civil legal services law firms under Judiciary Law Section 495(7)), assigned counsel, AFCs, and retained criminal defense counsel provide services that are essential to ensuring access to justice for some of the most at-risk members of our communities. Often, they must provide space within their offices for clients to appear in virtual court and also must appear in person in court with clients because it is often difficult to communicate with their clients virtually.

Additionally, courtrooms do not adequately allow for social distancing between attorneys and their clients when appearing in person in court. The resolution further claims that criminal defense attorneys must represent incarcerated clients accused of the most serious crimes and should be vaccinated in short order so that they can visit clients due to serious privacy issues with virtual or telephonic communications in these instances.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, must be available to appear in court on a daily basis and they must meet with witnesses and law enforcement regularly. Also, the resolution states that people who are incarcerated should be afforded the same protections as all other people in criminal proceedings as they are unable to sufficiently engage in social distancing and other protective techniques available to the public at large and therefore are at a heightened risk of COVID-19 infection.

The resolution also explains that in Family Court, indigent parents and their children have a right to counsel in child neglect proceedings, Article 10 and 6, which are urgent proceedings dealing with the removal of a child from a parent and home, and these attorneys must meet with their clients.

Civil legal services attorneys and support staff interact with and represent indigent clients in urgent civil proceedings such as domestic violence and housing matters, at times in person.  Members of the judiciary are required to be in court in these proceedings and these judges preside over numerous cases in a day and are in contact with all the parties to each action.

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