I recently had the opportunity to accompany Lisa Pearlstein, who leads the City Bar Justice Center’s Legal Clinic for the Homeless, her colleague Fiorella Herrera, and two pro bono volunteers on a visit to the Justice Center’s monthly legal clinic at the Children’s Rescue Fund House East, a homeless shelter for families.

Many of these families are comprised of single mothers and their children, and my first impression was how little had changed since I worked as a legal services attorney in Chicago thirty years ago. Some twenty years ago, Conrad Harper, one of my predecessors as president of the New York City Bar Association, wrote a column in the 44th Street Notes entitled “Homelessness.” Among other things, Conrad lamented that it had become fashionable to complain about the visibility of the homeless and “to endorse energetic efforts for removing the destitute from heavily trafficked areas. It is easier to blame the victims than to help them,” he wrote.

Today, in comparison to prior years, the homeless are mostly out of sight, having been moved off the streets and into shelters. But a shelter is not a home. Today, the homeless population in New York City has soared to record levels not seen since the Great Depression. Over 56,000 people slept in New York City homeless shelters in July, including 23,979 children; families comprise 75% of the homeless population.

In the face of these daunting statistics, the City Bar Justice Center and other legal services organizations do what they can, which is quite a bit considering the difference they make in the lives of homeless families whose benefits are cut off, often in error. In the last five years, the Justice Center and its partners, including WilmerHale, Reed Smith, Alston & Bird, Herrick Feinstein, Hunton & Williams, Citigroup, and Columbia and NYU Law Schools, have won 99% of their cases against New York City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) at administrative fair hearings and forced the agency to restore thousands of dollars in Cash Assistance and SNAP (food stamp) benefits to homeless families so they can feed and clothe their children while in shelter. The Justice Center has honored with Jeremy G. Epstein Awards for Outstanding Pro Bono Service several volunteer attorneys for their work on the project: Ross L. Hirsch of Herrick, Feinstein LLP; Ann Kramer of Reed Smith; Ben Kusmin of Cooley LLP; Mara Byrne of Citigroup and Matthew W. Mamak of Alston & Bird LLP.

It’s true that in services for the homeless, there have been some positive trends to acknowledge. Today, for example, it’s possible for same-sex partners to stay together in a shelter with their children. But what are the prospects for significant systemic change? What are the chances that bearing witness to the scourge of family homelessness won’t once again fall to one of my successors as president of the City Bar in ten, twenty, or thirty years?

This may be a rare moment to seize for fixing the safety net for homeless families in New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio signaled his seriousness on the issue by appointing the former head of The Legal Aid Society, Steven Banks, as Commissioner of the Human Resources Administration. Given the view of the Coalition for the Homeless that the lack of affordable housing is the root cause of homelessness in New York City, and given the City Bar’s 2013 “Policy Recommendations for New York City’s Next Mayor” advocating  policies and programs that move people from homelessness into housing, it’s good to see that Mayor de Blasio reportedly will require that new residential buildings include affordable housing units. The City is also working with the State to create two new rental subsidy programs.

Having also urged the next Mayor to remove administrative barriers to families obtaining Cash Assistance and to end punitive welfare policies, the City Bar is pleased that Mayor de Blasio and HRA Commissioner Banks have already initiated reforms. These changes are designed to reduce the number of welfare case closings and reductions and make it easier for poor New Yorkers to access government benefits to which they are entitled.

The City Bar’s Social Welfare Law Committee, chaired by Peter A. Kempner, contributed to the mayoral report and hosted a program at the Association in which Commissioner Banks spoke about and answered questions regarding his first initiatives. HRA has invited the Justice Center and other legal services providers to participate in working groups with HRA Assistant Deputy Commissioners to formulate proposals to improve the system. Our Lisa Pearlstein is Co-Chair of the Applications Work Group, leading efforts to make it easier for mentally disabled, indigent New Yorkers to access public benefits and to eliminate unnecessary appointments, documentation requirements, and other barriers in the Cash Assistance application process. She is also pressing the City to reform specific policies and practices that lead to food insecurity in shelters and jeopardize the health and well-being of homeless children.

In the meantime, until we can get families into permanent homes and put the homeless shelters out of business, we all must continue to do what we can. Please volunteer with, or donate to, the Justice Center. As Conrad said so well twenty years ago, “In the long arc of life it is certain that we shall be touched as well by tragedy as by good fortune. We should help while we can before our own needs exceed our capacity to help others.”

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

 

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This fall marks the kick-off of the City Bar New Lawyer Institute (NLI), which is designed to provide recent law graduates with the training and skills needed to succeed in the early years of their legal careers.

The NLI is the first initiative to come out of the City Bar’s Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession, which issued a report last November on the legal profession and the “plight of new lawyers.” Specifically, the NLI is a response to the Task Force’s finding that the current legal education model does not always fully prepare new lawyers to enter the workforce.

Running from September through May, the NLI focuses on career development, practice management, practice readiness, training and skills. Each participant will be able to complete at least 16 CLE credits, half of the amount required for the first two years, and will have the opportunity to earn all 32 of the first two years’ required credits.

“The goal is to get these new lawyers as practice-ready as possible by helping them develop their skills, and by immersing them in New York City’s legal profession through mentoring and networking,” said Laurie Berke-Weiss, chair of the NLI Advisory Committee.

The 2014-15 NLI has 74 participants from nine law schools in the New York metropolitan area. Seven of those schools are sponsors of the program: Brooklyn Law School, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Columbia Law School, CUNY School of Law, Fordham Law School, Hofstra Law and New York Law School.  The NLI Advisory Committee worked with the New York area law schools in an effort to coordinate the program and promote it to students.

In addition to career and practice development training, the NLI includes a Speaker Series featuring leaders in the profession. The talks aim to give NLI participants advice on how to navigate, and be active members of, the legal profession, but are open to, and relevant for, all lawyers in New York City. On September 17th, Michele Coleman Mayes, General Counsel to the New York Public Library, spoke at the opening session. Other scheduled speakers in the series include NYC Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter on October 22nd and New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman on November 12th.

Aside from the focused curriculum of skills and CLE classes, participants will receive guidance on how best to handle specific legal issues and overall career development and planning. Particular attention will be paid to the needs of new lawyers who have not yet found their first position, with a view toward identifying options. It’s expected that completion of the program will make participants more attractive job candidates to potential employers and clients.

Mentoring opportunities include one-hour, one-on-one sessions with experienced attorneys based on practice interest. Attorneys who wish to volunteer for mentoring sessions should email Martha Harris.

The 74 participants have a diverse array of career goals, from law firm practice to public interest and even alternative legal careers.  A number are interested in starting their own practices, and the NLI has a series of programs in its curriculum to assist participants who are interested in that career path.

Participants are also given City Bar membership and are encouraged to utilize all the benefits the Association has to offer.

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Yesterday, the City Bar sent a letter, signed by President Debra L. Raskin, to the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Leung Chun-ying, expressing “grave concern regarding the treatment of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.”

The letter urges the government of Hong Kong “to take all necessary measures to protect the right to freedom of expression and assembly, and to ensure that Chief Executive electoral reforms for 2017 provide for meaningful universal suffrage in a manner consistent with the Basic Law, the Joint Declaration, the aspirations of the Hong Kong people, and international legal principles.

As the letter notes, the City Bar has been a longtime observer of developments in Hong Kong. In 2000, the Association’s International Human Rights Committee issued its report
“Post-Handover Hong Kong: One Country, Two Legal Systems,” and it issued an interim report in 2002.

Yesterday’s letter was reported on in today’s South China Morning Post.

The letter may be read here: http://bit.ly/1Eui6hG

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[For English version of this press release, click here.]

Reporte del Colegio de Abogados de Nueva York sobre la Segunda Delegación a Guatemala tras el juicio por genocidio.

Nueva York, 6 de Octubre de 2014 – El Colegio de Abogados de Nueva York ha emitido un reporte sobre la segunda delegación de abogados que viajaron a  Guatemala con el objetivo de realizar una evaluación de los avances en materia legal a partir de las repercusiones que tuvo el proceso penal seguido contra Efraín Ríos Montt, ex presidente de Guatemala; y de analizar el proceso de selección de nuevos jueces para integrar los tribunales,  y su impacto en el fortalecimiento del estado de derecho en Guatemala.

Al igual que la Delegación del 2013, la Delegación de Julio del 2014, fue organizada por el Cyrus R. Vance Center para la Justicia Internacional, con el apoyo logístico de la Fundación Myrna Mack. La delegación se reunió con una amplia gama de participantes interesados en  el fortalecimiento del Estado de Derecho en Guatemala, incluyendo muchas de las personas con las que se había reunido la delegación anterior. Entre otros, con el Magistrado Titular de la Corte Constitucional de Guatemala, la jueza  presidente y los demás miembros del Tribunal de Sentencia de Mayor Riesgo que condujeron el juicio contra Ríos-Montt y el Procurador de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala.

La Delegación fue cautelosa de no involucrarse demasiado en los detalles de la administración de justicia y del sistema legal en Guatemala, por sus propias limitaciones y para  poder desempeñar su papel apropiadamente.  Sin embargo, con sus observaciones pretende transmitir su preocupación ante lo que considera una crisis del Poder Judicial guatemalteco que debilita la vigencia del Estado de Derecho en el país y, por ello, invitan al compromiso de colegas y vecinos con este tema¨, señala el informe.

El caso Ríos Montt también proporciona ejemplos de otras características del proceso judicial guatemalteco que los participantes objetaron con frecuencia,  continúa el informe. Éstas incluyen las calificaciones, la capacitación de los jueces; el sistema de asignación de casos; la divulgación de esfuerzos destinados a influir en el criterio de los jueces por medio de sobornos o amenazas; y el uso excesivo del amparo. La Delegación pudo apreciar “una opinión generalizada de que el Poder Judicial carece de respeto, autoridad y de una organización eficiente” pero también la resignación general de que el cambio es imposible, a pesar de los recientes avances en el estado de derecho, ejemplificados parcialmente en el caso Montt Ríos.

La Delegación identificó un consenso en Guatemala por mejorar el nivel profesionalismo del Poder Judicial; un objetivo que parece apropiado e incluso urgente, según las observaciones de la Delegación actual y de la previa. El caso Ríos-Montt y sus secuelas dirigieron la atención internacional al sistema judicial guatemalteco y los observadores generalmente expresaron perplejidad y preocupación por ciertos aspectos del caso mencionado y varios hechos posteriores, en particular la reversión de decisiones de fondo por razones de procedimiento.
Sin embargo, la Delegación no observó que la atención internacional obtenida se tradujera en un esfuerzo coordinado entre los funcionarios electos, los abogados y la comunidad empresarial hacia una reforma. “Este esfuerzo parece oportuno y esencial para que Guatemala pueda presentarse a sí mismo como un país que busca fortalecer el Estado de Derecho y participar con más éxito en los negocios internacionales.” En opinión de la Delegación, el compromiso hacia la reforma debe incluir los siguientes aspectos: la calificación judicial, selección de jueces y otros funcionarios, la formación y apoyo a la función judicial, la protección judicial, los sistemas disciplinarios, , la asignación de casos entre los jueces y la revisión de las decisiones judiciales..

El informe ofrece recomendaciones para la modificación del proceso de selección de jueces y sugiere “crear una base sólida fundada en  el ideal común de desarrollar en los próximos años un Poder Judicial competente, autónomo e independiente “. Algunas recomendaciones fueron las siguientes:

• Revisión de términos y plazos.. Muchos participantes consideraron que el período de 5 años en el cargo para los jueces es muy corto. En primer lugar, porque representa un gran desafío realizar con esa frecuencia todo el proceso de designación. Por otra parte, al tratarse de un proceso político, debilita el sentido de independencia de los jueces. Adicionalmente, el nombramiento simultáneo de todos los jueces de tribunales de alta jerarquía pone en riesgo la viabilidad y eficiencia de cualquier proceso de selección.

• Re-constituir las comisiones. El tamaño y la composición de las comisiones encargadas de nombrar a los jueces es difícil de manejar y no es compatible con el objetivo de una amplia representación. La reforma a esta institución parece esencial e inevitable.

• Establecimiento de criterios de selección y fundamentos. Hay un aparente consenso en que los requisitos para ingresar al Poder Judicial tienen que estar pensados para atraer una adecuada cantidad de candidatos interesados y apropiados. Estas calificaciones deben reflejar las altas expectativas en cuanto a experiencia y profesionalismo que deben satisfacer los postulantes. Por otra parte, podría resultar útil que las comisiones lleven a cabo verificaciones de antecedentes de acuerdo a criterios específicos.

La Delegación reconoce que los esfuerzos de reforma deben abarcar cuestiones y consideraciones adicionales, así como la participación de representantes de todos los sectores de la sociedad guatemalteca. “Tal compromiso podría dar lugar a una revisión significativa de la Constitución y los órganos de gobierno”, señala el informe.

Durante la visita de tres días, la delegación también se reunió con el Representante en Guatemala  del Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos, el Comisionado de la Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, el Director Regional de la Comisión Internacional de Juristas, el Presidente y los Miembros del Consejo Ejecutivo del Colegio de Abogados de Guatemala y el decano de la Universidad de San Carlos.

La delegación estuvo integrada por Hunter T. Carter (Estados Unidos), socio de Arent Fox, miembro del Comité del Vance Center y ex presidente del Comité de Asuntos Interamericanos de la barra de Abogados de Nueva York; Francisco Cox (Chile), socio de Balmaceda y Cox; Robert Cusumano (Estados Unidos), Director Ejecutivo de la Fundación Horizontes Jurídicos, ex consejero general del Grupo ACE de las Compañías de Seguros, y miembro del Comité del Vance Center; Mirna Goransky (Argentina), Fiscal General Adjunta de la Procuración General de la Nación Argentina (de licencia) y consultora del Vance Center para la Delegación; Clara Elena Reales, (Colombia), Directora Jurídica de la Asociación Colombiana de Pensiones y Cesantías Administradoras de Fondos; Carlos Rosenkrantz, (Argentina), socio de Bouzat, Rosenkrant & Cia y presidente de la Universidad de San Andrés; y José Ugaz (Perú), socio de Benítes, Forno y Ugaz. Carter, Cusumano y Ugaz también formaron parte de la delegación de 2013.

El informe completo puede leerse aquí: http://bit.ly/1s7Gm3W

 

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[For Spanish-language version of this press release, click here.]

The New York City Bar Association has issued a report of its second delegation of lawyers to Guatemala to examine legal developments in the aftermath of the 2013 prosecution of former President Efrain Rios-Montt and the ongoing appointment of judges to the Guatemalan courts, and to assess whether the management of the judiciary corresponds with strengthening the rule of law in Guatemala.

Like the 2013 Delegation, the July 2014 Delegation was organized by the City Bar’s Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, with support from the Myrna Mack Foundation. The Delegation met with a broad range of interested participants in the development of the rule of law in Guatemala, including many of the individuals or their successors in office with whom the previous delegation met. These included the President (Magistrado Titular) of the Guatemalan Constitutional Court, the Chief Judge and Members of the High-Risk Court who conducted the trial in the Rios-Montt case, the College of Lawyers, and the Human Rights Ombudsman of Guatemala.

“The Delegation is wary of venturing too deeply into the particulars of the Guatemalan judiciary and legal system, based on its own limitations, as well as its proper role. However, its observations lead to a sense of crisis in the judiciary strongly challenging the rule of law in Guatemala and compelling engagement by neighbors and colleagues,” states the report.

The Rios-Montt case supplied examples of several features of the Guatemalan judicial process that participants frequently criticized, explains the report. These include: the qualifications, training, and support of judges; the assignment of cases to judges; the reported efforts to influence judges with bribes or threats; and the use of the constitutional challenge (amparo). The Delegation noted “a general view that the judiciary lacks appropriate respect, authority, and organization” and that “there is widespread resignation that change is impossible, despite recent advances in the rule of law, exemplified however inconclusively by the Rios Montt Case.”

The Delegation identified a consensus in Guatemala to seek to enhance the professionalism of the judiciary, a goal which seems appropriate, even urgent, based on the observations of the Delegation, as well as the 2013 Delegation. The Rios-Montt Case and its aftermath drew worldwide attention to the Guatemalan judicial system, and observers “generally expressed puzzlement and concern over certain aspects of that case and subsequent events, notably reversal of a substantive decision on procedural grounds leaving no apparent likelihood of resumption.”

However, the Delegation did not observe that this international concern about the Guatemalan judiciary and more broadly the rule of law have forged a consensus for significant reform among Guatemalan elected officials, the legal profession, or the business community.  “Such reform seems timely, even urgent, and essential if Guatemala is to present itself as seeking to strengthen the rule of law and engage more successfully with international business.”

In the view of the Delegation, this reform effort should include the following issues: judicial qualification, judicial appointment, judicial training and support, judicial protection, judicial discipline, case assignment, and judicial review.

The report offers the following recommendations for reforming judicial selection to “create a more firm foundation for progress toward the shared ideal of a competent and appropriately independent and empowered judiciary over the course of years,” in the hopes of reducing the number of applicants and providing sufficient information to facilitate explication of the ratings that the commissions make of candidates:

  • Revising term and timing. The five-year term for judges seems too short, challenging the appointment mechanism too frequently and reducing judges’ sense of independence from what inevitably is a political process. In addition, appointment of all high-level judges at the same time appears to challenge the feasibility and efficiency of any selection process.
  • Re-constituting the commissions. The size and composition of the commissions charged with appointing judges are unwieldy and no longer consistent with the purpose of broad representation. Reform also seems essential and inevitable.
  • Setting criteria and rationales. There seems to be consensus that qualifications for serving in the judiciary need to be better known to attract appropriate applicants in feasible numbers, qualifications which might reflect higher expectations for experience and professionalism. The commissions also should seek and use background checks by staff or independent law enforcement officials, as well as use public comment and interviews more effectively.

The Delegation acknowledges that reform efforts should encompass additional issues and considerations, as well as the participation of representatives of all elements of Guatemalan society. “Such an undertaking may well lead to significant revision of the Constitution and the organs of government,” the report states.

During its three-day visit, the Delegation also met with the Country Representative in Guatemala of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Commissioner of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, the Regional Director of the International Commission of Jurists – Guatemala, the President and Members of the Executive Board of the Collegium of Lawyers of Guatemala, the President of the Foundation for the Development of Guatemala, and the Dean of the San Carlos University (Universidad de San Carlos).

The delegation consisted of Hunter T. Carter (United States), partner at Arent Fox, member of the Vance Center Committee, and former chair of the City Bar Inter-American Affairs Committee; Francisco Cox (Chile), partner at Balmaceda & Cox; Robert Cusumano (United States), Executive Director of the Legal Horizons Foundation, former general counsel of ACE Group of Insurance Companies, and member of the Vance Center Committee; Mirna Goransky (Argentina), Deputy General Prosecutor of the Office of the National Attorney General in Argentina (on leave) and Vance Center consultant for the Delegation; Clara Elena Reales, (Colombia), Chief Legal Officer of the Colombian Association of Pension and Severance Funds Administrators; Carlos Rosenkrantz, (Argentina), partner at Bouzat, Rosenkrant & Cia and president of the Universidad de San Andres; and José Ugaz (Perú), partner at Benites, Forno & Ugaz. Carter, Cusumano and Ugaz were also in the 2013 delegation.

The report may be read here: http://bit.ly/1yKQwwz

For the Spanish version of the report, click here: http://bit.ly/1s7Gm3W

 

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Earlier today, New York City Bar President Debra L. Raskin testified before New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s hearing on Access to Civil Legal Services. Ms. Raskin’s testimony, as submitted, follows:

I appreciate the opportunity to testify today on behalf of the New York City Bar Association at this annual hearing to address access to justice for New Yorkers who cannot afford an attorney for their crucial civil legal services needs.  Chief Judge Lippman, we applaud your commitment and that of Helaine Barnett and the Task Force.  You all have made New York a leader in increasing access to justice.  However, as we all know, the justice gap still is far too wide, and calls for more resources, more commitment and more innovative approaches.

The New York City Bar has long been committed to providing access to justice, which we address both through policy initiatives and providing direct legal assistance.  We continue to advocate for an adequate funding of the federal Legal Services Corporation and have supported each of the increases in legal services funding presented in recent State Judiciary budgets.  In addition to our legal and policy work in this area, our public service affiliate, the City Bar Fund, has two divisions providing direct legal assistance.  Our City Bar Justice Center leverages the efforts and resources of the City’s legal community to increase access to justice for low-income individuals in New York City.  And our Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice stimulates and coordinates pro bono efforts in Latin America, Africa and elsewhere in the world.

Through Chief Judge Lippman’s and Chief Administrative Judge Prudenti’s outstanding leadership, the Judiciary Budget now includes $55 million for civil legal services, in addition to $15 million in IOLA replacement funds.  We urge that you stay the course toward the original goal of a $100 million increase in annual civil legal services funding.  This is a crucial element of any effort to provide additional legal assistance to those who cannot afford it.  The fact that over two million people continue to enter New York courthouses every year to fend for themselves without counsel is testimony to how much more we need to do.

Of course, adding this funding is a necessary but not sufficient condition.  As we ask more of the State’s taxpayers, so we must ask more of the legal profession, and must consider and implement new ideas to provide assistance.

The City Bar understands it must provide the opportunities, training and guidance to support lawyers who want to do pro bono work.  At the City Bar Justice Center, we engage volunteer lawyers in targeting particular needs within our community.  We have a broad array of programs through which volunteers can assist those in need, from the homeless to cancer survivors, from immigrant women and children who have been trafficked or abused to persons who risk losing their homes through foreclosure.  Our veterans project continues to assist those who served this country in their fight to obtain the benefits they are rightly due.  And our Legal Hotline not only is the largest free general civil legal services hotline in New York City, but also now provides brief legal services in addition to responding to callers’ questions.

The additional funding provided to the City Bar Justice Center in the last round of funding will enable the Center to increase the Legal Hotline’s capacity for brief services, such as creating court papers for pro se litigants, and will enable us to expand our new LGBT Advocacy project, to provide direct legal services to LGBT New Yorkers who cannot afford an attorney.

We know the rest of the organized bar is committed to undertaking pro bono activities.  However, our combined commitment has not generated a sufficient amount of pro bono hours and support to come close to meeting the need.  Just to consider one major area of need, homelessness is at record levels, with approximately 56,000 people sleeping each night in the City’s shelter system.  More than 12,000 families with children are living in homeless shelters and the average stay is over 14 months.  The Justice Center’s homeless program, and other legal services efforts,  meets part of the need but this remains a critically underserved population.

The City Bar has supported efforts, including those recommended by the Task Force, to increase pro bono activity.  We supported the rule that established a 50-hour pro bono requirement for admission to the New York Bar.  As this rule first affects the law school class of 2014, it has now been built into the educational fabric. Similarly, law schools are adopting the Pro Bono Scholars Program, which gives interested 3L’s the opportunity to take the bar exam in February of their senior year so long as they devote their last semester of law school to providing pro bono service for the poor through an approved externship program.  This year the City Bar Justice Center looks forward to hosting two Pro Bono Scholars and we believe this program has great promise for providing needed services to low income New Yorkers while giving 3Ls practical experience in a supervised setting.

While these initiatives are designed for incoming lawyers, all of us have the responsibility as officers of the court and as members of a privileged profession to give back.  The City Bar continues to support the requirement that lawyers report their pro bono activities and donations to legal services organization as a means both to encourage more activity and assemble data with which to better analyze pro bono efforts around the State.

We also applaud the Task Force’s initiative to find appropriate ways in which nonlawyers can assist individuals who otherwise would not have counsel.  In fact, we recommended such an approach in a report we issued nearly 20 years ago, and in a report issued in 2013 by our Committee on Professional Responsibility.  We greatly appreciate the productive work of the committee co-chaired by Fern Schair and Roger Maldonado in getting this initiative under way.

We also believe part of the push to both stimulate funding – including private contributions – and encourage pro bono participation is to demonstrate that providing legal services to the poor is cost-effective.  The Task Force has conducted studies showing that a dollar spent on providing legal services generates substantially more in benefits.  The City Bar’s Immigration and Nationality Law Committee recently asked the economic consulting firm NERA to study the costs and benefits of providing free legal counsel to immigrants facing detention and deportation and found that the amount spent would be offset by savings in detention, foster care, case processing and transportation outlays alone, even without quantifying other likely fiscal, social and administrative benefits.  We believe more such studies would strengthen the argument that legal services funding is an investment in our society, and one that is quantifiably productive.

One significant hurdle to increasing pro bono participation is the concern of a significant number of lawyers that they lack the training and support to provide these services.  In addition, sometimes a lawyer who has the spirit but lacks the knowledge and support to competently perform pro bono falls short of providing the assistance the client needed.  We need to find ways to make pro bono more satisfying to the lawyers and more effective for the client.  I have appointed a group within the City Bar to examine this topic and make recommendations, which I expect within the next year.

Let me conclude by again thanking you and the Task Force for your leadership and inspiration, which already has resulted in many thousands more individuals receiving legal assistance.  We at the City Bar look forward to continuing to work with you in our joint pursuit of truly increasing access to justice in New York.

 

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The New York City Bar Association has evaluated candidates recommended by the New York State Commission on Judicial Nomination for appointment as Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, to fill the vacancy created by the expiration of Judge Graffeo’s term.  The Association uses a three-tiered rating system to rate the candidates: exceptionally well qualified, well qualified and not well qualified.  The following are our ratings of the seven candidates:

  • Daniel S. Alter – Well Qualified
  • Preeta D. Bansal – Exceptionally Well Qualified
  • Hon. Eugene M. Fahey – Well Qualified
  • Hon. Victoria A. Graffeo – Exceptionally Well Qualified
  • Hon. Leslie E. Stein – Well Qualified
  • Maria T. Vullo – Well Qualified
  • Rowan D. Wilson – Well Qualified

The Association’s Executive Committee extensively reviewed the background and qualifications of the candidates.  Representatives of the Association’s Executive, Judiciary and State Courts of Superior Jurisdiction Committees interviewed each candidate and, for all candidates, reviewed their writings, investigated their background, and interviewed judges and lawyers familiar with the candidates.  After considering the candidate’s intellectual ability, knowledge of the law, integrity, impartiality, judicial demeanor and temperament, the full Executive Committee then considered whether to rate each candidate “well qualified,” “not well qualified” or “exceptionally well qualified.”

This three-tiered rating was adopted by the Executive Committee in May 2007.  The criteria for each rating are as follows:

“Well Qualified”:  Consistent with the term “well qualified” as it is set forth in describing the Commission’s mandate in Judiciary Law Section 63(1) and in Article 6, Section 2 of the Constitution: candidates “who by their character, temperament, professional aptitude and experience are well qualified to hold such judicial office.”

“Not Well Qualified”:  Candidates who may be competent lawyers or judges but, in the judgment of the Executive Committee, do not meet the requisite standard for “Well Qualified” in one or more of the constitutional and statutory criteria of “character, temperament, professional aptitude and experience.”

“Exceptionally Well Qualified”:  Candidates who are exceptional to the degree that they are superior to others who are “well qualified.”  This rating should be given as an exception and not the norm.

Note: To ensure the integrity of the ratings process, the City Bar cannot comment beyond what is provided above.

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At the New York City Bar Association, we consider one of our strengths to be the close collaboration between our committees, which have long worked to reform the law and improve public policy, and the City Bar Justice Center, which provides pro bono legal services to those who can’t afford a lawyer.

This symbiotic relationship is only natural, because the Justice Center—which grew out of the City Bar’s Robert B. McKay Community Outreach Law Program —has its roots in the work of certain of our committees in the early 80s. One of them, the Immigration and Nationality Law Committee, co-sponsored day-long clinics where volunteer lawyers helped Haitians with asylum claims. After a 1986 law offered undocumented immigrants a one-year amnesty to apply for residency, the Committee trained volunteer lawyers to staff clinics for applicants at neighborhood associations and churches.

While the Justice Center’s immigration projects have worked closely with the Immigration Committee over the years, the Justice Center’s leadership has been integrally involved in policy as well. Suzanne Tomatore, who directs the Justice Center’s Immigrant Women & Children Project, is on the steering committee of the Freedom Network, a national anti-human trafficking organization. Jennifer Kim, who directs the Justice Center’s Refugee Assistance Project, is a member of Judge Robert A. Katzmann’s Study Group on Immigrant Representation, as is Justice Center Executive Director Lynn Kelly.

If there has been a common thread in all of the City Bar’s immigration work over the years, it is with respect to the issue of legal representation for immigrant detainees, who have no right to an attorney even though they face consequences as serious as those affecting many criminal suspects who are entitled to counsel by law. In 2008, Lynn Kelly received an envelope containing a petition from 100 immigrant detainees decrying conditions at the Varick Street Federal Detention Facility in lower Manhattan. Teaming up with the American Immigration Lawyers Association and The Legal Aid Society, the Justice Center launched the NYC Know Your Rights Project, sending volunteer attorneys into the facility to interview detainees. The Justice Center and its volunteers found that 39% of the detainees had possible meritorious claims for relief from deportation, and volunteer lawyers won release for 21 detainees and cancellation of removal claims for 18 of them. In what was not an extraordinary coincidence, the Immigration and Nationality Law Committee released a report right around that time entitled “Report on the Right to Counsel for Detained Individuals in Removal Proceedings.” The Justice Center’s work on Varick was the subject of a front-page article in the New York Times.

Recently, the Committee, now chaired by Lenni Benson, has been extremely active in issuing reports and writing to government leaders on the issue of legal representation in immigration proceedings. On a national level, the Committee has worked with members of both Houses of Congress to include a right to counsel in any immigration law reform efforts.  On the local level, earlier this year, the Committee testified before the New York City Council in support of the City’s allocation of $4.9 million to fund the nation’s first public defender system for detained immigrants.

The Committee’s arguments are bolstered by research it requested last spring, through WilmerHale, from NERA Economic Consulting, an independent consulting firm. The NERA report found that a national immigration federal public defender system would essentially pay for itself through cost savings in detention, foster care, and transportation. In a June 16th editorial headlined “Innocents at the Border: Immigrant Children Need Safety, Shelter and Lawyers,” the New York Times wrote, “The Dickensian absurdity often seen in immigration courts — little children propped up before judges and government lawyers with no idea of what is going on — must not be tolerated. Concerns about the cost of providing lawyers should by eased by a recent study from the New York City Bar Association showing that free legal representation for indigent migrants pays for itself, mainly by reducing the costs of unnecessary detention.”

Today the urgent immigration topic before the nation is what to do about the “Border Kids,” many of them fleeing the epidemic of crime and gang violence sweeping Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Fortunately, our Immigration and Nationality Law Committee has had an active subcommittee working on immigrant youth issues with the Family Law and Family Courts Committee and the Children and the Law Committee. In fact, ten members of the immigration committee work in the area of immigrant child protection. The subcommittee has participated in research on family court practices and conducted several citywide trainings to build skills and resources in the immigration and family law bars. Last year, the committee held five trainings inside the family courts, offering free CLE credits to attorneys interested in learning about Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which affords legal status to children who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent.

In late July, urgent concerns arose with respect to the fast-track “surge docket” strategy the federal government is implementing that provides only perfunctory hearings into detainee’s claims that returning home means a return to the grave danger they just fled. The Committee wrote to Congress to support, among other things, appropriations for appointing counsel for children in removal proceedings, and to urge access to full hearings for these children as provided by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. The Committee cited a recent study showing that nearly half of the children in removal proceedings are unrepresented, and that only one in ten unrepresented kids won relief from removal compared to 47 percent who had counsel. In a Huffington Post op-ed on July 31st, the Committee also took its message to the public, a significant majority of which, a recent poll shows, supports legal representation for immigrants facing deportation.

Last month, Lenni Benson and I wrote to President Obama about reported denials of due process and access to counsel in the detention facility in Artesia, New Mexico, urging the Administration “to take immediate action to ensure that these families, many of whom have fled persecution and extreme violence in their home countries, are afforded fundamentally fair hearings that comply with U.S. and international law, rather than being detained and processed rapidly for deportation without the fair procedures necessary to determine whether they are entitled to protection in the United States.”

With thousands of border kids being transferred to New York, our Immigration Committee will continue to provide trainings and in October, Lenni Benson will speak to the Office of Court Administration about systemic issues and possible reforms in the family courts.  Further, the Justice Center will train pro bono attorneys to handle cases, will take on 10 cases in-house, and will provide technical assistance to pro bono attorneys who email questions to cbjcchildrendocket@nycbar.org. And the Justice Center will work with the Immigration Committee on a report on the constitutional right to counsel for unaccompanied, indigent, immigrant children facing removal.

As the border kids issue plays out, and as the next immigration issue inevitably presents itself next month, next year, or next decade, I know that our Immigration and Nationality Law Committee and City Bar Justice Center, their ideas informed and their credibility strengthened by their work on the ground, will continue their extraordinary work as both thought leaders and action leaders for increasing access to immigration justice.

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

 

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