This is the time of year when we invite our members to apply to serve on one of our 150 committees. It’s through the work of our committees that the New York City Bar Association makes its voice heard through reports and statements, and is able to produce hundreds of events per year. For our members, committee service is vital for gaining experience, learning about substantive legal issues, building a resume and developing relationships with colleagues.

With 24,000 members in the City Bar, and with committee rosters generally limited to 39 people, the math says that not all members can serve on a committee at the same time. But if members are persistent and apply to more than one committee (understanding that some committees are in greater demand than others), they are likely to find a spot on a committee before too long.

There’s a perception among some that committee service is reserved for the most senior members of the profession. This is definitely not true. While many committees are weighted toward more experienced lawyers who possess the know-how to guide the drafting of reports and the planning of events, we encourage newer lawyers, and law students, to apply to any committee. In fact, we can think of no better way than committee service to help new lawyers advance their careers, and no better way to ensure that the City Bar remains a place where new lawyers want to be.

For these reasons, we are pleased to announce the New Lawyers Council, an initiative designed to increase committee opportunities for our members who have been practicing for less than ten years. The New Lawyers Council will be made up of four committees, each with room for 39 members and a chair.

The Public Service Committee will develop new programs to provide service to the public.  We envision that these activities would include community education on legal issues as well as non-legal activities such as clothing drives or other public-spirited projects.

The Social Events and Networking Committee will develop networking opportunities and social events for newer lawyers in the Association. It’s anticipated that they will work closely with our Membership Department, which produces “Lawyers Connect First Thursdays” and other events to appeal to newer lawyers.

The New Lawyer Practice and Skills Committee will focus on professional development materials and programming tailored to junior associates and their in-house and nonprofit counterparts. This committee will also help develop mentoring programs.

And the National Moot Court Competition Committee will continue the work of managing the highly-regarded annual competition among law schools. Over 190 law-school teams from 15 regions participated in the most recent competition, leading to the final rounds held at the City Bar.

Each committee will meet regularly throughout the year, and the Council will meet two to three times per year.

While service on the New Lawyers Council would not be a requirement for selection to other committees, experience on the Council will certainly be excellent preparation for further committee service. We look forward to welcoming the first members of the New Lawyers Council, and to their contributions in shaping the City Bar for years to come.

Carey R. Dunne is the President of the New York City Bar Association

Editor’s Note: City Bar members, for a Committee FAQ, click here, and to log in and apply to be on a committee, click here.

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The New York City Bar Association has released its 2014 State Legislative Agenda. This agenda represents only a portion of the dozens of positions generated by our committees over the course of each legislative session. It focuses on issues that are relevant to the current legislative debate or of particular importance to the City Bar, as well as legislative proposals drafted by our committees.

The following are the agenda items for 2014:

  • Support legislation to bring public campaign financing to New York and institute stronger ethics, disclosure and transparency laws.
  • Support legislation to establish the fourth Tuesday in June as New York’s Primary Day for both federal and state offices and party positions.
  • Support legislation to allow properly certified patients to gain easy access to medical marijuana that meets standards for growth and sale under the law.
  • Support the Women’s Equality Act.
  • Support the proposed 2014-2015 Judiciary Budget request and efforts to increase the number of Family Court judges.
  • Support access to justice initiatives, including proposals to consolidate the state’s major trial courts and requiring commission-based judicial appointments.
  • Support the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act so that gender identity and gender expression are included as protected classes under the New York Human Rights Law.
  • Support efforts to require the New York State Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders to consult a validated risk instrument when it makes a recommendation to the court regarding the appropriate risk level of a sex offender.
  • Continue to speak out against legislation that would lessen consumer protections vis-à-vis questionable debt collectors, payday lenders and so-called budget planners.
  • Support legislation to protect the inheritance rights of posthumously conceived children.
  • Advance City Bar-drafted bill to clarify and expand the category of claimants under the Unjust Conviction and Imprisonment Act so that individuals are not unreasonably or arbitrarily barred from bringing claims.
  • Advance City Bar-drafted Home Mortgage Bridge Loan Act to create a statewide program to provide mortgage bridge loans to low- and middle-income homeowners.
  • Advance City Bar-drafted bill to amend the Arts and Cultural Affairs Law to better protect art authenticators against frivolous lawsuits.

The 2014 Legislative Agenda can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/1oRV3Wp

 

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The University of Georgia School of Law won the final round of the 64th Annual National Moot Court Competition, held last night at the New York City Bar Association. The winning team was comprised of Steven Strasberg, Ben Thorpe, and Emily Westberry. Emory University School of Law was the runner-up team, comprised of MaryGrace Bell, Hunter Robinson, and Kyle Winchester.

Best Brief honors went to the University of Pennsylvania School of Law: Omar Madhany, Bianca Nunes, and Tian Wen, with Runner Up Best Brief awarded to University of Utah S. J. Quinney College of Law: Jeremy Christiansen and Stephen P. Dent.

Best Individual Speaker went to Ben Thorpe of the University of Georgia School of Law, with Runner-Up Best Individual Speaker going to Hunter Robinson of the Emory University School of Law.

From left: Hon. Edgardo Ramos, United States District Court, SDNY; Hon. Denny Chin, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; Trudi Hamilton, Fellow, American College of Trial Lawyers; Hon. Ellen Gesmer, New York State Supreme Court; Steven Strasberg, Emily Westbury and Ben Thorpe of the University of Georgia School of Law; Carey R. Dunne, President, New York City Bar Association; Hon. Judith J. Gische, Appellate Division, First Department; and The Honorable Richard J. Sullivan, United States District Court, SDNY.

The final round was judged by: Hon. Denny Chin, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; Hon. Ellen Gesmer, New York State Supreme Court; Hon. Judith J. Gische, Appellate Division, First Department; Hon. Edgardo Ramos, United States District Court, Southern District of New York; Hon. Richard J. Sullivan, United States District Court, Southern District of New York; Trudi Hamilton, Fellow, American College of Trial Lawyer; and Carey R. Dunne, President, New York City Bar Association.

This year, the Competition presented two constitutional issues. The first concerns whether a state law mandating that beverage retailers post a sign in their stores about the negative health effects of certain beverages violates the First Amendment. The second arises under the Commerce Clause and considers whether a state law that requires a unique mark to be placed on beverage containers sold within the state violates the Dormant Commerce Clause.

The final argument of the Competition was the culmination of more than six months of preparation and arguments by more than 194 teams from over 131 law schools in every geographical area of the country competing at the regional and national levels.

The Competition is co-sponsored by the American College of Trial Lawyers and the Young Lawyers Committee of the New York City Bar Association.

 

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The New York City Bar Association urges passage of the Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013, S.1752 (“MJIA”), which would put legal decisions in the hands of experienced prosecutors, independent from the chain of command, for serious crimes that are not uniquely military in nature.

According to a report drafted by the Association’s Committees on Sex & Law and Military Affairs & Justice, this much needed bipartisan amendment to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, to change the designation of key decision-making authority for courts martial, “offers an opportunity to modernize our military justice system and address the epidemic of sexual assault in our military.”

Moreover, notes the report, this measure would put the United States military in step with the military justice systems of other democracies that share a common law tradition, most of which have “revamped their military justice systems and removed the disposition of certain crimes outside of the chain of command to be handled independently by trained prosecutors or commissions.”

The report continues, “[t]here is widespread agreement that legitimacy is an essential feature of any system of criminal justice. When the criminal process is perceived as fair and legitimate, its decisions are more likely to be accepted as accurate. Many sexual assault survivors cite a lack of confidence in the military justice system—concern that no conviction or even formal prosecution will result and fear of reprisals.”

In May 2013, the Department of Defense estimated that there were 26,000 service members who experienced sexual assault, a 37% increase from FY 2010. However, only 3,374 sexual assaults were reported in FY 2012. As the Committees state, “we believe that the visibly professional approach proposed in the MJIA would strengthen confidence in the military justice system and encourage more sexual assault survivors to report.”

Ultimately, by placing authority to prosecute and make other key decisions for serious, non-military crimes in the hands of military prosecutors rather than the chain of command, the report concludes, “the MJIA would improve the perceived fairness of courts-martial and ensure justice and accountability.”

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

 

 

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The City Bar hosted New York City’s new Public Advocate, Letitia James, for a breakfast with City Bar committee members today. The event, attended by representatives of many of the City Bar’s 61 committees that do policy work at the City level, provided an opportunity for members to hear directly from the Public Advocate about her policy agenda.

Ms. James outlined her extensive agenda items, including public housing, homelessness, education reform and recidivism. Attendees were able to ask questions related to their committee work, providing a unique opportunity for an open dialogue on some of the pressing issues facing the City. Of note were discussions about how the Public Advocate’s office could assist in linking constituents up with legal services providers and how best to serve members of the community most in need of legal assistance.

Public Advocate

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The New York City Bar Association applauds Chief Judge Lippman’s initiative to establish a Pro Bono Scholars program, permitting students to take the New York State bar exam during their third year of law school and gain accelerated admission to the Bar, as long as they use the latter half of that third year to provide full-time legal services to the poor. This initiative is consistent with the recommendations in the recent report of the City Bar’s Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession, which urged that law schools seek to provide “practice ready” lawyers and that the third year of law school provide practical experience or otherwise better prepare graduates for their legal careers. The Chief Judge’s plan would accomplish these goals while addressing another crucial concern: providing legal services to the vast numbers of people who, despite the best efforts of legal services providers and the Bar generally, are unable to gain access to legal services and thus either do not pursue their legal rights or try to do so on their own. Studies show that increasing access to civil legal services provides the added benefit of saving the State money. We look forward to supporting the Chief Judge in undertaking this effort.

 

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The New York City Bar Association strongly recommends that the Legislature adopt the Judiciary’s 2014-2015 Budget Request in its entirety.

After sustaining a $170 million dollar budget cut in 2011, and zero growth budgets in 2012 and 2013, it is essential that the Legislature fund the Court’s modest 2.5% proposed increase in its 2014-2015 budget request, states the Association in a report by its Council on Judicial Administration. “The proposed budget is fiscally prudent and helps address vital unmet legal needs of New York’s most vulnerable individuals.”

With this small proposed increase (amounting to $44.2 million dollars), the Office of Court Administration (OCA) reports that it will be able to maintain, restore and enhance essential court functions by continuing to streamline administration and reorganize and consolidate offices and programs, a process it began in 2011 when the courts sustained a $170 million cut in funding.

The Judiciary “Road to Recovery” Budget proposed by OCA would add $15 million in funding for vitally needed Civil Legal Services (which studies show save the State money), permit the Judiciary to fill some critical positions, and allow the courts to remain open until 5:00 p.m. instead of shutting down at 4:30 p.m. to avoid overtime expenditures.

In addition, OCA has proposed adding 20 new Family Court judgeships throughout the State, a proposal which would need to be separately enacted and funded by the Legislature. The City Bar supports adding these judgeships to handle the enormous need, as the number of judges has increased only 8.8% statewide over the past 30 years while the Family Court caseload has increased 90%. “Family court is stretched to the breaking point, if not beyond,” states the report.

The City Bar outlines how cutbacks in the Judiciary Budget over the last three years have had a “devastating impact on the courts and the people they serve,” with the judicial workforce being reduced by more than 1,900 positions, including long lines to get into courthouses, lengthy trial delays impacting everything from commercial cases to guardianship and child custody cases, inability to retrieve necessary court files and certificates, and longer incarceration time for criminal defendants.

The City Bar’s report concludes, “Any reduction in this budget will result in the de facto denial of justice to countless New Yorkers, including many pro se individuals seeking to maintain a roof over their heads, public assistance for the basic necessities of life, and access to frozen bank accounts and garnished wages.”

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

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Nearly 450 people defied the latest snowstorm to pack the New York City Bar Association’s meeting hall last night for a rare opportunity to see two Supreme Court justices speak and interact with each another. The occasion was the annual Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Distinguished Lecture on Women and the Law, which was delivered by Justice Elena Kagan.

Justice Elena KaganJustice Kagan’s lecture was titled “Justice Ginsburg’s Greatest Hits,” and focused on six cases Justice Ginsburg worked on, three as a litigator and three as a judge. Among them were United States v. Virginia, in which Justice Ginsburg ruled against the Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admissions policy, and Ledbetter v. Goodyear, in which Justice Ginsburg’s dissent contributed to the enactment of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Justice Kagan also covered the 1976 case of Craig v. Boren, which centered on Oklahoma’s law that allowed women to buy beer at age 18, while men had to be 21 to purchase the same. “Craig wanted beer, and sued to get it,” said Justice Kagan.

“As a litigator, and then as a judge, she changed the face of American anti-discrimation law,” Justice Kagan said of Justice Ginsburg. “More than any other person, she can take credit for making the laws of this country work. And in doing so, she made possible my own career, and later on the careers of today’s devotees of the Notorious RBG Tumblr and the Ruth Bader GinsBlog.”

Those were references to the lighter side of the evening, in which Justice Kagan described Justice Ginsburg’s remarkable influence on the wider culture: the “Notorious RBG rap video” (of which Justice Ginsburg is reportedly a great fan), the opera and the comic book she inspired, the Buzzfeed ‘listicle’ on “19 Reasons Ruth Bader Ginsburg is Your Favorite Supreme Court Justice,” and the Ruth Bader Ginsburg bobblehead that Justice Kagan displayed on the dais.

Not surprisingly, the largest demographic in the audience for the talk was young women, of whom Justice Kagan said, “I’m just delighted to see many, many here.” One young woman asked Justice Ginsburg for any career advice she could give her. Justice Ginsburg replied, “I have enjoyed everything I have done in the law. What made me so satisfied in my career is what Justice Kagan spoke about—that I spent a lot of my time doing something outside myself, doing something that I hope makes life better for people who are not as fortunate. So you will have a skill that you can use to make a living, but also to help make things a little better for other people.”

From left: City Bar Executive Director Bret I. Parker; Justice Elena Kagan; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; City Bar President Carey R. Dunne

For those who couldn’t make it, here is the entire evening on video:

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