As the United Nations General Assembly convenes a special session on the world drug problem (UNGASS 2016), the New York City Bar Association released a report today with recommendations on how to solve it.

The report, “Charting a Wiser Course: Human Rights and the World Drug Problem,” by the City Bar’s Drugs and the Law Committee, calls for public dialog to “expand to address the global reach of the drug trade and the international implications” of drug control.

“Drug policy is an inherently international construct due to the cross-jurisdictional issues involved,” the report states. “And, in fact, our local and regional drug control efforts derive, at bottom, from international law: state and local drugs laws and policies are rooted in federal law which, in turn, is largely based on—and is, in fact, the implementing legislation for—the International Drug Control Conventions.”

Noting that the existing paradigm of drug prohibition and criminalization has been ineffectual in solving the dual scourges of drug addiction and drug trafficking, the committee argues that the global reach of the drug trade and the wide-ranging effects of substance abuse and addiction require an equally wide-ranging, multilateral and public health-oriented response across the international community and around the world.  The report makes the following recommendations:Explicitly Endorse Harm Reduction and Expand its Meaning Under International Law.

  1. Work to Make Quality, Evidence-Based Drug Treatment Available when Appropriate, and Issue Guidance on “Best Practices” for Drug Treatment for the International Community.
  2. Ensure Universal Access to Essential Medicines.
  3. Remove International Restrictions on Cannabis to Allow for Enactment of a Range of Local Measures, Including Regulation.
  4. Encourage the De-Escalation and/or Consider the Removal of Criminal Sanctions for Possession of Cocaine, Heroin, Opiates and Psychotropic Substance for Personal Use.
  5. Allow Regulation of New Psychoactive Substances (“NPS”).
  6. Stop Crop Eradication and Promote Economic Development.
  7. End the death penalty for drug-related offenses and ensure proportionality in sentencing for drug-related crimes.
  8. Promote Alternative Policing Methods Around Drug Law Enforcement.
  9. Change the metrics and indicators of success in international drug control policy to reflect goals centered around public health and human rights.
  10. Convene an independent commission to study the impact and efficacy of the international drug control architecture and report back with specific recommendations for the UN and the international community.

The report follows two previous City Bar reports on the topic. In 1994, the landmark report “A Wiser Course” detailed the impact of what came to be known as the War on Drugs. The report denounced the United States’ policy of drug prohibition, which had failed to eradicate the scourges of drug use, addiction and distribution, and called for “the opening of a public dialog regarding new approaches to drug policy, including legalization and regulation.” In 2009, “A Wiser Course: Fifteen Years Later” renewed the call for dialog and urged lawmakers to re-focus drug policy using a medical paradigm to evaluate the schedules for controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act. It also recommended that Congress consider transferring aspects of drug regulation from the Justice Department to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The new report concludes, “Our hope is that the April 2016 meeting will not only set the tone for more honest discussions going forward, but will throw open the door to a thorough and unflinching review process on the road to 2019 and beyond. But regardless of what transpires at UNGASS, the international community must prepare itself to reconsider the failed policies of the past and take concerted and proactive steps to develop a new system, whether through fundamental amendment of the treaties or the creation of an entirely new treaty structure.”

Read the report here:


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As I approve the nominations of new members to serve on the City Bar’s delegation to the State Bar’s House of Delegates, and our Senior Policy Counsel, Maria Cilenti, prepares to travel to D.C. as part of ABA Lobby Day, I thought this would be a good time to talk about these inter-bar relationships and why they are important.

The New York State Bar Association’s major policy-making body is the House of Delegates. It meets four times a year: twice in Albany, once in New York City, and once in Cooperstown, NY. The House reviews and approves reports from committees, sections, and task forces in order to decide whether such reports should become official positions of the State Bar. The City Bar has a 21-member delegation to the House. The delegation consists of City Bar members who are also members of the State Bar and who have an interest in each Bar’s work; typically, delegation members have a history of being active committee members at the City Bar but that is not a prerequisite to serving. Prior to each State Bar House of Delegates meeting, the City Bar delegation reviews and discusses the reports that will be voted on by the House. Typically we have an opportunity to provide comments in advance. City Bar members interested in being considered for a vacancy on our delegation to the House, please email Committee Associate Margot Isaacs.

On April 20th and 21st, Maria will head down to D.C. as part of the State Bar delegation for ABA Lobby Days on the Hill. As part of the group, Maria will talk to our New York representatives in Congress about the importance of maintaining adequate financial support for the Legal Services Corporation, the primary funder of legal services programs throughout the country. The team will also be talking about the need for federal sentencing reform, an issue supported by the City Bar’s Task Force on Mass Incarceration and Federal Courts Committee.  And, while we are engaging with our state representatives on these important issues, ABA members from around the country will be having the same discussions with their state representatives in Congress. We are most appreciative of the opportunity to take part in these lobby days each year and to help the organized bar speak with one voice.

The State and City Bars collaborate throughout the year on programs, reports and advocacy.    Our policy and advocacy team works with the State Bar’s government affairs team on issues ranging from civil procedure to trusts and estates. Many of our committee members sit on overlapping committees of the two Bars, and you will notice that some of our legislative reports are either jointly submitted by both Bars or clearly advance the same policy objective. A consensus among bar associations can be very helpful when it comes to advocating in Albany.

George Wolff, who heads up our Legal Referral Service (LRS), is a panelist at an upcoming State Bar program regarding changes in the legal profession and the important role played by LRS’s. George and the City Bar’s LRS Committee recently led a joint effort by both Bars to propose legislation that would create a privilege between LRS counselors and members of the public who contact the LRS. In another example of our collaboration, Alan Rothstein, our recently retired General Counsel, is a member of the City Bar’s Task Force on the New York State Constitutional Convention and acts as a liaison to a similar Task Force set up by the State Bar. Maria is an active member of both Bars and sits on the State Bar’s policy committee. These arrangements greatly facilitate the exchange of ideas and viewpoints and contribute to effective advocacy, even if, at the end of the day, we have to agree to disagree on a particular issue.

Eileen Travis is Director of the City Bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP), which supports the health and well-being of New York City’s legal community, provides extensive outreach, direct assistance with mental health and substance abuse problems, and educational programs to members of local bar associations in the five boroughs, on Long Island, and in Westchester. She collaborates regularly with the New York State Bar and is a member of the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (COLAP), which disseminates information and coordinates activities for the 52 LAPS throughout the U.S., Canada, and the UK.

Gabrielle Brown, our Director of Diversity and Inclusion, has done great work building alliances and productive working relationships with minority and affinity bar associations throughout the metropolitan area. Gabrielle and other City Bar leaders meet regularly with leaders of those bar associations to cooperate on shared goals, exchange information, and support important events.

Whether co-sponsoring programs and events, exchanging ideas at regularly scheduled meetings, or creating networking and mentoring opportunities, the City Bar is proud to work with so many deeply engaged organizations. We are delighted to promote such cooperation as another way for City Bar members to make their voices heard, promote professional opportunities, and give back to the community in creative ways.

Debra L. Raskin is President of the New York City Bar Association


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United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will speak at the City Bar on April 14th on the role of the UN and the legal community in helping to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In September 2015, the United Nations adopted the landmark 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, supported by 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs represent a universal commitment to end poverty, achieve shared prosperity, build peace and secure a healthy planet for present and future generations. With the inclusion of Goal 16 – promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable institutions at all levels – the Agenda explicitly recognizes the inextricable link between peace, effective governance and sustainable development. As he completes his second term as Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon will share his thoughts on the role of the United Nations and the legal community in achieving Goal 16 over the next 15 years.

For more information and to register for the event, click here.

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The New York City Bar Association’s Capital Punishment Committee is pleased to announce that it will present the 2016 Norman Redlich Capital Defense Distinguished Service and Pro Bono Awards at its annual Capital Defense Training Program to those who have shown excellence in the representation of death-row inmates or in advocating for the abolition of the death penalty.

  • The Capital Defense Distinguished Service Award will be given to a practitioner in New York who has demonstrated outstanding lifetime commitment to capital defense work, whether as counsel for a capital defendant or as an advocate for the abolition of the death penalty.
  • The Pro Bono Award will be given to a practitioner, team of practitioners, or law firm in New York that has made a substantial contribution to representing one or more death-row inmates or to the abolition of the death penalty within our criminal justice system on a pro bono basis.
  • These awards seek to honor Dean Redlich’s legacy by recognizing those members of the New York bar who emulate his life-long dedication to challenging the death penalty.  Previous recipients of the awards include Kevin Doyle, Eleanor Jackson Piel, James S. Liebman, and Ronald Tabak (Distinguished Service) and David Herrington, James Benkard, Kaye Scholer LLP, and Sidley Austin LLP (Pro Bono).

Letters of nomination for these awards should be submitted to Kate McMahon by email on or before May 6, 2016.  The letter should include the name, address, phone number, and e-mail address of the nominee and nominator.  It should also state whether the nominee is being proposed for the Capital Defense Distinguished Service Award or Pro Bono Award and should provide a detailed description of the basis for the nomination.  Information that the Committee would find helpful includes: number, longevity and/or significance of capital representations; recruitment of others to take on representations; contributions to the abolition effort; and publications or other contributions to the capital defense community.

Applications will be reviewed by a subcommittee of the Capital Punishment Committee.  The panel will make recommendations for the awards to the full Capital Punishment Committee, which will select the award winners.

Recipients of the award will be announced at the annual Capital Defense Training Program hosted by the New York City Bar Association at the end of June.  Recipients and their nominators will be contacted on or before June 1, 2016.

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A study done on behalf of the New York City Bar Association’s Pro Bono and Legal Services Committee finds that, contrary to analyses by the City’s Independent Budget Office (IBO) and City Council’s Finance Department, providing free legal counsel to low-income tenants facing eviction would actually save the city hundreds of millions of dollars.

The study, undertaken pro bono by the global financial advisory firm of Stout Risius Ross (SRR), examines Intro 214-A, a bill introduced in 2014 by City Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson and joined by a veto-proof majority of other members. The bill would require the city to provide a lawyer to low-income tenants facing eviction. The IBO and the Finance Department predicted that providing counsel to all tenants at 125% or lower of the poverty level would have a net cost of between $100-$203 million and $66 million, respectively. In contrast, the SRR study uses a 200% of poverty income cutoff, meaning more tenants would be eligible, and still concludes that the City would have a net savings of $320 million annually.

“This study confirms that providing a right to counsel in eviction cases is not only the right thing to do, but the smart and responsible thing to do as well,” said New York City Bar Association President Debra L. Raskin.

Over $251 million in savings would come from reducing shelter use, savings which the SRR study finds are underestimated in both the IBO and Finance Department reports. SRR projects that over 5,200 fewer families and over 1,100 fewer individuals will wind up in homeless shelters due to eviction if provided with counsel.

SRR also identifies another significant area of savings that was unaddressed in the other reports: retaining affordable housing. By preserving an estimated 3,414 units of affordable housing that would otherwise be lost to eviction, the City will save an additional $250 million. Finally, the SRR study calculates that $9 million will be saved by avoiding certain City costs when evicted tenants become homeless, such as emergency room care and law enforcement. But even without the affordable housing or hospital/law enforcement savings, the SRR report concludes the City would still save $52 million a year.

While SRR concluded that the net savings were $320 million, it observed that “there are many benefits to society of a population that enjoys stable housing that are not easily quantifiable and therefore are not included in SRR’s calculations.” The study lists such potential savings as reduction in costs for education, juvenile justice and welfare services for homeless children as a result of eviction; welfare when jobs are lost due to eviction; enforcement of rent laws and regulations; and a reduction, over time, of the number of eviction cases brought as a result of providing a right to counsel.

Table Summarizing Results from the SRR, IBO, and Finance Department Reports





Cost of providing counsel

($259 million)

($173 – $276 million)

($117 million)

Offset for amount already spent on counsel by City

$60 million

$20 million

didn’t offset

Total savings from reducing shelter use

$251 million

$143 million

$171 million

Fed/state shelter savings not included


($90 million)

($120 million)

Savings from avoiding loss of affordable housing units due to eviction

$259 million

didn’t assess

didn’t assess

Savings from avoiding other homelessness costs (hospitals, law enforcement, etc.)

$9 million

didn’t assess

didn’t assess

Total (cost) / benefit of providing counsel

$320 million

($100-$203 million)

($66 million)


The SRR study may be read here:



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Represented by a pro bono team at Latham & Watkins, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Committee (Anna Pohl, Chair) and the Council on Children (Jane Golden, Chair), along with several co-amici, filed a brief in two cases pending before the Court of Appeals: In the Matter of Brooke S.B. and In the Matter of Estrellita A.

Both cases squarely address the 1991 case of Alison D. v. Virginia M., in which the Court drew a purported “bright line,” refusing to recognize a lesbian mother’s standing as a “parent” under N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law (“DRL”) § 70 because she had no biological or adoptive tie to her child. The briefs argue that, as law and society have evolved in the intervening years, it has become clear that the standard set out in Alison D. violates parents’ and children’s constitutional rights under the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In the cases at hand, biological mothers seek to use Alison D. to sever the parent-child relationships they intentionally fostered between their former romantic partners and their biological children. As argued in the briefs, “Today, the Court has the opportunity to right the harm the Alison D. standard has caused to New York’s children and parents, to recognize DRL § 70’s requirement that courts give paramount importance to the best interests of the child, to return New York to its position as a state at the forefront of equality, and to honor the memory of the late Chief Judge Kaye. This Court can now embrace an evenhanded and realistic conception of parenthood by equitable estoppel, as the majority of other states’ courts have done.”


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After NYPD Officer Peter Liang was convicted of second-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Akai Gurley, tensions rose between the Asian-American and African-American communities. Two organizations–Asian American Business Development Center and One Hundred Black Men–have come together to organize a panel of community, civic and political leaders to discuss race relations, communication and collaboration between the two communities this Monday, March 28th, from 9:00 – 11:00 a.m. here at the New York City Bar Association, 42 W. 44th Street.

Moderating the program, which is co-sponsored by the City Bar’s Committee to Enhance Diversity in the Profession and Committee on Minorities in the Profession, will be CeFaan Kim, a reporter for WABC Eyewitness News, and L. Joy Williams, Founder and Principal of LJW Strategies.

The panel will feature Lumumba Akinwole-Bandele, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Rev. Jacques DeGraff, Associate Pastor of Canaan Baptist Church; Michael Garner, President, One Hundred Black Men; Ron Kim, New York State Assemblyman; Peter Kwong, Distinguished Professor of Asian American Studies and Urban Affairs, Hunter College; Sandra Leung, Board Member, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Walter Mosley, New York State Assemblyman; and John Wang, President, Asian American Business Development Center.

Registration for this event, which is free and open to the public, is available here.


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The New York City Bar Association, in collaboration with global law firm Linklaters LLP, today announced the launch of a new Task Force and online resource that will support good governance and transparency in the process to select the next United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG). The next UNSG will take office following the completion of current UNSG Ban Ki-moon’s second term in office at the end of 2016.

The online resource provides users with access to relevant and timely information about each of the confirmed candidates for UNSG and enables users to gather a clear understanding of each candidate’s position on critical global issues, including climate change, migration and gender equality.

This selection cycle, there has been particular focus on efforts to ensure that the process for selecting the next UNSG, as a representative of the planet’s roughly seven billion people, is more transparent and inclusive. The City Bar’s unique online resource will contribute to these efforts by providing a neutral, well-informed and resourced platform for civil society organizations, NGOs, the media, governments and other parties interested in the UN to educate themselves about the candidates and the selection process more generally.

Ulysses Smith, chair of the Task Force, former chair of the City Bar’s United Nations Committee and an associate in Linklaters’ International Governance and Development Practices in New York, which is working on the project pro bono, said, “As a result of various factors, including the prioritization of governance in the UN’s own Sustainable Development Goals, the calls for a more transparent, accountable and participatory process for selecting the next Secretary-General, and for a more effective and accountable UN, have been stronger than they’ve ever been. As lawyers, we have a unique contribution to make to these efforts. In launching this resource, we hope to advance principles of good governance and rule of law, even among the most representative of global institutions, including in the process to fill its biggest and most important job.”

Visit the online resource here:


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