NYSBA President Joins Chief Judge in Hearing on Civil Legal Services

By Jennifer Andrus

September 19, 2023

NYSBA President Joins Chief Judge in Hearing on Civil Legal Services


By Jennifer Andrus

NYS Court of Appeals hearing on Civil Legal Services, September 18, 2023

A dozen representatives of civil legal service organizations, family court, and advocacy groups testified before a panel at the Court of Appeals in Albany led by Chief Judge Rowan Wilson. Panelists included Chief Administrative Judge Joseph Zayas, Presiding Justice Gerald Whalen (Fourth Department), Presiding Justice Hector LaSalle (Second Department), Presiding Justice Dianne Renwick (First Department) and Justice Christine Clark (Third Department). New York State Bar Association President Richard Lewis was honored to be asked to participate on the distinguished panel.

The purpose of the hearing is to evaluate the continuing unmet civil legal service needs of New Yorkers, including housing, consumer debt, family law and disability benefits. Over the course of four hours, civil legal service providers updated the court on the current state of services for the indigent and offered ideas on how the Office of Court Administration and the New York State Legislature could improve civil legal services across the state.

In opening remarks, Chief Judge Wilson lauded the creation of the New York’s Commission on Access to Justice by his predecessor retired Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. “No other state comes close to New York’s commitment to civil legal services,” he said, while admitting that more funding from the Legislature is needed.

Ronald Flagg, president of the Legal Service Corporation, traveled from Washington, D.C. to address the court. According to Flagg, the federal budget only allocates $560 million for civil legal services across the country. It is a figure he says has changed only slightly in the last 30 years and is not keeping with inflation.

Supervising Family Court Judge Richard Rivera of Albany County told the panel that the Capital Region is “in desperate need of lawyers in family court.” Rivera said the recent pay increase for 18-B attorneys is welcomed and he has seen some attorneys return to the court. He says they still cannot sustain a full-time practice from assigned counsel cases and need cost of living increases written into law.

Chief Judge Wilson interjected, “Judge Zayas and I agree that family court is our priority.”

Justice LaSalle asked Judge Rivera about the needs of families for whom English is not a first language. Rivera said the need for bilingual attorneys is great, remarking that several bilingual attorneys moved into the judiciary creating a greater need for multilingual attorneys. His greatest need is funding for attorney training and funding for investigator positions to work for litigants in family court.

The September 18 hearing was recorded and is available for viewing here.


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