The New York City Bar Association applauds the new Commissioner of New York City’s Human Resources Administration, Steven Banks, for proposing changes to HRA policies that will ease barriers to the receipt of public assistance by those New Yorkers most in need.

As observed by our City Bar Justice Center and members of our Social Welfare Law Committee, New Yorkers seek cash assistance to get through difficult times that are often caused by a change of circumstances such as unemployment, the onset of disabling health conditions, domestic violence, homelessness or the unmet need for child care. These individuals usually have two goals. In the short-term, they seek to obtain and maintain subsistence income. In the long-term, they seek a path to a more stable income, whether through education, employment or accessing other sources of public benefits, such as Social Security, for which they may qualify. Both goals involve the work and assistance of HRA, the social services agency responsible for administering benefits in New York City.

However, as we discuss in our report Policy Recommendations for New York City’s Next Mayor, it has become increasingly difficult for the poorest New Yorkers to access and maintain much-needed benefits. We urged HRA to exercise its discretion to remove administrative barriers by, for example, giving applicants the ability to communicate with HRA by phone, fax or mail and increasing transparency of attendance reporting policies. We applaud Commissioner Banks for taking up the call of the City Bar, and others who represent low-income New Yorkers, so that individuals in need can fairly access the benefits that will help them move out of crisis and toward a more stable life. These reforms include (1) allowing four years of college as an option to HRA clients who must fulfill mandated training and employment requirements; (2) disbanding the “Center 71” program that resulted in unnecessary case sanctions and avoidable fair hearings; (3) developing a pilot program that provides clients in employment programs with five excused absences for illness or family emergency prior to the implementation of a sanction; (4) expanding HRA’s online portal; and (5) developing a new client advocacy unit for clients, community members and elected officials, including an ADA coordinator, a language access coordinator and an LGBTQ services coordinator.

 

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On May 20th, 2014, following the annual meeting of the New York City Bar Association, Debra L. Raskin became the Association’s 66th President. Since 1988, Raskin has been a partner at Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, P.C., which specializes in representing employees in labor and employment law matters. Prior to that, she was a New York State Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Bureau. After receiving her law degree from Yale, she worked at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago for four years and clerked for Hon. Lee P. Gagliardi of the United States District Court, SDNY. At the City Bar, Raskin has been Chair of the Executive Committee and of the Labor and Employment Law Committee.

When and why did you join the New York City Bar Association, and what were those first years like for you?
The short answer is I joined the City Bar to work on issues that I cared about. It was the early 90s, and I was surprised one day to get a call from someone recruiting me for the Civil Rights Committee. It was a fantastic committee, led by Sidney Rosdeitcher. There was a huge range of issues, including as I recall some involving Handschu—the case concerning what police can do in connection with demonstrations. I was awed by the breadth of experience of the people on the committee and the amount of work they put into the written products. And then I became head of the Labor and Employment Committee, which is my bread and butter area. That position offered me a unique opportunity to take the long view in my field.

You’ve also been Chair of the Executive Committee, so you know the City Bar well, but do you have any fresh impressions coming in as President?
I’ve really enjoyed meeting with the committee chairs, because the range of what this place does is extraordinary, including in some areas of the law I barely knew existed. The charm of the committees is they bring together people with often very different points of view, different agendas. The mandate to leave your clients at the door and think on a different level just gets your brain working. To give one example, members of the Patents Committee are thinking about logical requirements in the law so that inventors can be more productive but that would not discourage companies from investing R&D money. The committee works to resolve the tensions between those goals. On the Civil Rights Committee, you had less of that kind of disagreement because there was more of a uniformity of views. In contrast, on the Labor and Employment Committee, it’s a balancing act of doing something positive with various constituencies who I won’t say are natural enemies but who tend to be on the opposite sides of issues. From that conflict and divergence of interests, the committee works to produce something that’s socially useful. And I think that’s a challenge that a lot of committees have. The goal, I think, is a fair process where the wheels of justice don’t grind quite so slowly, a goal that benefits all of us.

What do you foresee as your priorities as President over the next two years, and how do you think your background and experience might inspire your tenure?
I’ll certainly be focused on those issues we put under the heading of Access to Justice. Chief Judge Lippman has forced us to confront the question of pro bono, to think about it and how we as a profession should be handling it, and exactly what our obligations are as a profession, as lawyers, to the larger community. But beyond the question of hours and reporting and the like (which are important but are really more about us as lawyers than about the clients who require our services), what do we do about the fact that many areas where there’s a pro bono need are areas requiring specialization? As a former legal services lawyer, I have a view that those are areas of substantive knowledge as much as antitrust or defamation or anything else. So how do you take a corporate lawyer and parachute him or her into a welfare hearing or an unemployment hearing? The City Bar Justice Center has a great model for accomplishing that, as does Monday Night Law in a different way. Then there are the legal needs of moderate income people, as well highlighted by my predecessor, Carey Dunne, in the Task Force on New Lawyers he launched. There are some intriguing ideas for pilot programs that came out of the Task Force that we hope to bring to fruition. In sum, the City Bar can be an excellent lab for exploring different ways to increase access to justice.

For our members, and our profession, I’m interested in the “Big Tent” aspect of the Association. We do lots of high-profile initiatives supported by our big-firm members, but there’s also been an increased focus here recently on developing programs designed specifically for in-house counsel, which I think is great. One of the things I’ve learned, in particular from being on the Executive Committee, is how much the City Bar does for small firm lawyers and solos, and also for plaintiff side counsel, who may have very different interests from large firms that typically represent corporations. Through CLE and the Small Law Firm Center and the relevant committees, the City Bar provides an amazing array of services. And coming from a small firm and, many millions of years ago, from civil legal services work when I was in Chicago, I do want the City Bar to develop programs to help attorneys no matter what kind of practice they’re in, to help them be more professional and operate better on limited resources.

Leadership is an area I’m very interested in. We want to enhance the opportunities for our members to take on leadership positions within the Association. This will help people not just to advance within the City Bar but also can provide training and networking experience that lawyers need for their “day jobs.” I think one of the things lawyers often miss by not being in a large firm is a clear path to leadership, so I’d like to give some thought to how the City Bar can provide the skills and the structure for solos and small-firm lawyers who want to advance as leaders in the profession.

Finally, the New York City Bar Association has been a steady presence through an extraordinary amount of societal change since its founding in 1870. Any thoughts on the City Bar’s relevance moving forward in a fast-changing world?
As long as society has lawyers, there’s going to be a need for lawyers to be educated, a need for lawyers to contribute to the community. When people ask me what we do here, I tell them, well, among other things, we train thousands of lawyers to deal with 911, or with the legal needs resulting from Hurricane Sandy. If not us, who would do it? The need for public service, for training lawyers so that they’re better equipped, for educating the general public or educating governmental entities, is not going away. And, you know, justice is an elusive goal, so we need to work hard at keeping it front and center. Making the world a better place is really what we’re about.

 

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Two years ago, when I began my tenure as president of New York City Bar Association, I said that trying to describe the Association reminds me of the parable of the blind men and the elephant, in which you know only that part of the organization with which you come into contact. For lawyers it may be committee service, or pro bono work with the City Bar Justice Center or the Vance Center, or social events and networking. For the public, it may be access to legal services or a public-interest speaker or panel. We truly have something for everyone.

But I said then, and I believe even more now, that the City Bar is more than the sum of its parts—that what really defines the organization, now and when it was founded 144 years ago, is its unique voice and its role as the conscience of the profession. As long as we keep focused on using our bully pulpit to address the most important legal policy issues of the day, we’ll be fulfilling our mission and keeping the City Bar alive and relevant. I would submit that, through the work of our members and staff these past two years, we have done just that.

There are a few things I would mention, starting with our Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession. As most of you know, I announced the formation of this blue-ribbon group when I took office: 35 leaders of the New York bar, including law school deans, managing partners, general counsel, two district attorneys, New York City’s Corporation Counsel, and legal services and other leaders. The idea was to study the malaise that’s afflicted the legal profession since the financial crisis, especially our new lawyers, and what our law schools, bar associations and other legal institutions should be doing about it. A year later we issued a comprehensive report, and we’re now in the process of putting together pilot projects based on the report’s recommendations. It was a big job, but a great group, and as usual the City Bar rose to the challenge.

Another effort I’m proud of is our role in educating New York City’s mayoral candidates about the most important legal issues facing the city. In September 2012, more than a year in advance of our mayoral election, we sent word to all our committees that we wanted to put together a comprehensive review, on every conceivable subject, of our most pressing policy priorities. The goal was not just to educate the eventual new mayor, but to make all the candidates aware of our issues so they could be addressed in their public debates. We did this over the fall and winter of 2012, and in the spring of 2013 we released an 80-page report, reflecting input from over two dozen committees, on everything from stop and frisk, to homeless policies, to animal rights and beyond. We made it public and sent it to all the candidates at the time, and followed it up by hosting a candidates’ forum here in May, to a full house. After the election, we made sure our recommendations were in the hands of Mayor-elect di Blasio’s transition team, and since then we’ve been breaking the report into pieces and directing them to the new appointees in charge of the subject matter areas with which we are concerned.

We’ve also stayed in the forefront on the issue of access to justice and the courts. When Chief Judge Lippman announced the new 50 hour pro bono rule for law students, and his rule on mandatory reporting of pro bono contributions, and recently his third year law school pro bono scholars initiative, we applauded these measures as creative steps to inspire students and attorneys to meet their professional obligation to serve the community.

We’ve also consistently testified before hearings of the Chief Judge’s Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York, and we were a big proponent of the proposed constitutional amendment to relax the mandatory retirement rules for our Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges—a controversial topic that we didn’t shy away from, even though at the end of the day it was voted down by the electorate. It was still the right thing to do.

Over the past two years, our committees issued over 400 reports and presented 540 programs, in addition to the 300 CLE programs presented at the City Bar. Of those 400 reports (all of which, per our policy, were reviewed by the president), 141 addressed city and state legislation. And during that time, 26 bills supported by the City Bar were enacted into law. Two of the bills were drafted by our committees.

In addition to this focus on state legislation, our Government Ethics Committee issued a report this spring examining New York’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which oversees the regulation of ethics and lobbying. The report concluded that JCOPE must do much more not only to enforce ethics laws but to create a different ethical climate in Albany. (These are issues that would sound very familiar to the City Bar’s founders, whose idea in 1870, of course, was to come together to stand up to the ethics abuses of Tammany Hall.)

On the federal legislative level, our Immigration Law Committee has been active in the Congressional efforts to achieve immigration reform. The Committee is focused on establishing the right to counsel for individuals facing deportation, and has also drafted language and commented on many proposed amendments in both the Senate and the House. As we all know, we have quite a ways to go in this effort.

Finally, we’ve filed 18 amicus briefs in the past two years, on the local, national and international level. We successfully pursued a series of cases in the New York Court of Appeals regarding criminal law and procedure. We filed six briefs with the Supreme Court on topics including patent law, surveillance, extra-territorial jurisdiction, affirmative action and housing discrimination. Through the Vance Center, we filed briefs with the Inter-American Court or Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concerning free speech in Venezuela and libel and defamation claims in Ecuador, and with the Colombian Constitutional Court regarding LGBT rights in Colombia.

Suffice it to say that our voice remains strong, our message is still relevant, and we remain true to our mission to take a stand for the rule of law and to address the most important legal issues of the day. As we look to the future, and to new leadership, I’m pleased at the inspired choice of Debra Raskin to succeed me as president of the Association. She is a true leader of the profession, with a deep understanding of the organization from her long tenure here, including as vice president and chair of our Executive Committee. I couldn’t be happier to turn the helm over to her.

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

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Venezuela’s May 2007 refusal to renew the broadcast license of Radio Caracas Television, or RCTV, violated Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights and is “a violation of settled inter-American principles of freedom of speech and the rule of law,” the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the New York City Bar Association said in an amicus brief filed today before the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The case, Marcel Granier and others vs. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, is the first brought before the Inter-American system that directly involves a state’s decision not to renew the license of a free-to-air television station, which, in the case of RCTV, operated in Venezuela since 1953 and had an editorial stance that was critical of the administration of the late President Hugo Chávez. The hearings are set to start on May 28 in Costa Rica.

“Undisputed statements by high-ranking Venezuelan government officials make clear that the administration of the late President Hugo Chávez was not prepared to tolerate the views and ideas aired by RCTV,” the brief states, making this a “textbook example of retaliatory content-based censorship, which has long been recognized as a particularly pernicious form of restriction on speech.”

The brief was submitted for the New York City Bar Association by the Committee on Communications & Media Law and the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, and was prepared by the New York-based law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, whose lawyers include litigation partner Jeremy Feigelson and Thomas H. Norgaard, a Venezuela and U.S.-trained lawyer focused on international law matters.

The brief concludes, “Freedom of speech in Venezuela suffered a vital blow in violation of Article 13 of the Convention when Venezuela, with a view to censor RCTV’s editorial stance, refused to renew its concession. The ability of individuals and the press to openly debate, discuss and criticize government policy is a fundamental component of any democratic society, and largely depends on the ability of the media to convey diverse strands of thought. Venezuela’s actions have diminished that ability.”

The full brief can be downloaded at the following links:

http://bit.ly/1mijhs0 (English)

http://bit.ly/1uVaIr8 (Spanish)

 

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The New York City Bar Association applauds New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s proposed reforms for consumer credit actions filed in New York State courts.  The reforms announced yesterday by the Chief Judge will go a long way toward improving access to justice for the tens of thousands of New Yorkers contending with debt collection actions. Over 100,000 debt cases are filed every year in New York State, many by third-party debt buyers with limited evidence. Defendants are primarily low-income, working poor, and otherwise indigent individuals, and 98% of them are without the benefit of counsel. Approximately half of all cases result in default judgments with devastating effects for consumers, creating barriers to employment, housing and access to affordable financial services and products. The reforms proposed by Chief Judge Lippman will help address the problem of “sewer service,” stem the nefarious practice of “robo-signed” affidavits in applications for default judgments and ensure that plaintiffs seeking default judgments submit legally required proof. The reforms will also expand user-friendly forms and innovative practices developed in New York City to the entire state to assist unrepresented litigants. Chief Judge Lippman’s comprehensive set of reforms will make New York State a leader in the nation in ensuring the fair administration of justice in cases that have had fundamental substantive and procedural deficiencies.

 

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The City Bar’s Legal Referral Service, together with the New York State Courts’ Access to Justice Community Outreach Program, has been offering free legal information fairs around New York City this week in observance of National Law Day. The first fair was yesterday at Brooklyn Borough Hall, followed by Queens Civil Court today. The annual events provide residents with the opportunity to learn about their legal rights, discover whether they have a legal issue, and when to consult with a lawyer. This year marks the 20th anniversary of City Bar participation.


The fairs continue in Manhattan tomorrow (New York County Civil Court, 111 Centre Street) and the Bronx on Friday (Bronx Supreme Court, 851 Grand Concourse), both 11 AM – 2 PM. Lawyers will be available to provide basic information and advice on such issues as landlord/tenant disputes, immigration, discrimination, starting a small business, estate planning, small claims court, and divorce and family law.

For more information on Law Week or National Law Day activities, please contact Amanda Busch at 212-626-7373 or email her here.

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The New York City Bar Association will present its 2014 Diversity & Inclusion Champion Awards at the 30th Anniversary Diversity and Inclusion Celebration Dinner on June 18th. The award recognizes the critical role individual attorneys have played in initiating and sustaining change within their organizations and the overall New York legal community. The award recipients embody the New York City Bar’s Statement of Diversity Principles, which defines diversity as an inclusive concept, encompassing race, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, nationality, age, disability and marital and parental status.

The 2014 Diversity & Inclusion Champion Award winners are:

Michelle J. AndersonDean, CUNY School of Law
Michelle J. Anderson has been Dean of the City University of New York School of Law since 2006. Under her leadership, CUNY obtained the National Jurist ranking as the second most diverse law school in the nation for both faculty and student body diversity.  Approximately 44 percent of CUNY Law students are people of color.  Of those tenured and tenure-track faculty hired under Dean Anderson’s leadership, two-thirds are women, half are people of color, and one-third are LGBT. The school also earned Insight into Diversity’s “Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award.” In her first year as dean, Anderson worked with the school’s top leadership to conceptualize and launch CUNY Law’s Pipeline to Justice Program. In its first year, the Pipeline to Justice accounted for a 20 percent increase in students of color among the incoming class. The American Bar Association cited Dean Anderson’s article, “Legal Education Reform, Diversity, and Access to Justice,” in its amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the affirmative action case Fisher v. University of Texas.
Dean Anderson graduated from Yale Law School, where she was Notes Editor on the Yale Law Journal.  She clerked on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for Judge William Norris.

Joseph M. DraytonPartner, Cooley LLP
Joseph Drayton is a Partner in the New York office of Cooley LLP and is an experienced trial attorney who was named among the National Bar Association’s Nation’s Best Advocates: 40 Lawyers Under 40 in 2010. For 2012 and 2013, Mr. Drayton has been named to the IAM Patent1000 list, a recognition that honors the top patent practitioners in the world.  Mr. Drayton’s practice background includes a broad range of intellectual property and complex commercial matters. Mr. Drayton is a member of the New York City Bar’s Enhance Diversity in the Profession Committee, the Director of the National Bar Association, Region 2, which represents diverse bar associations in Connecticut, New York and Vermont, and the immediate past president of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association. Mr. Drayton also serves as a board member of the New York County Lawyers Association, a Division Director in the American Bar Association’s Section of Litigation and a board member of Practicing Attorneys for Law Students, Inc. Mr. Drayton holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park and a Juris Doctor from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Natalia Martín & Karla G. SanchezCo-founders, “Cafecitos Network”
Natalia Martín & Karla G. Sanchez created the “Cafecitos” Network in 2006 with the goal of bringing together Hispanic women attorneys in different fields and stages of their careers on a regular basis to share ideas, experiences, contacts, and resources; to promote the professional development of Latina lawyers; and to foster partnerships. The “Cafecitos” Network has since grown to more than 630 members.

Natalia Martín is the Director of Diversity at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. From September 2005 through August 2007, she served as the Firm’s Director of Legal Personnel and Professional Development. Previously, she was an Associate Dean at Yale Law School, where she worked from 1991 to 2005.  Ms. Martín was an Associate at Simpson Thacher’s Corporate Department from 1987 to 1991. She received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University in 1982 and her Juris Doctor degree from Yale Law School in 1985.
In 2004, Ms. Martín received the Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association’s Achievement Award, which honors Latinos who have shown outstanding achievement in the field of law and commitment to the Latino community. In March 2007, she received the Flor de Maga Award  from the Puerto Rican Bar Association’s Women’s Committee in recognition of her efforts as co-founder of Cafecitos Network. In June 2010, she received the “Latina Trailblazer” Award from LatinoJustice/PRLDEF. Ms. Martín is a member of the New York City Bar’s Committee to Enhance Diversity in the Profession and served on the New York State Bar Association’s Diversity Committee from 2009 to 2011.

Karla G. Sanchez is the Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice for the New York State Attorney General’s Office. Previously, she was a litigation partner and the first Hispanic partner at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, where she was Chair of their Diversity Committee and Chair of the Patterson Attorneys of Color. Prior to joining Patterson Belknap, Ms. Sanchez served as Law Clerk to the Honorable Deborah A. Batts, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.  She received her J.D. from Fordham University School of Law cum laude and Order of the Coif, where she was the President of the Latin American Law Students Association. Ms. Sanchez has been recognized as one of Crain’s New York Business’s 40 Under Forty and Hispanic Business’s 100 Influentials. She is a member of the Policy Committee of the Departmental Disciplinary Committee of the First Department, New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division as well as a member of the Executive Committee of the New York City Bar Association. She was the former Vice Chair of the Board for LatinoJustice: PRLDEF, former Advisory Member for Legal Outreach and former Board of Advisor Member of the Fordham Minority Mentorship Program. Ms. Sanchez co-founded the Hispanic Lawyers Society of New York.

Tickets to the Celebration Dinner may be purchased on the City Bar’s website: www.nycbar.org/diversitycelebration

For further information please contact Clare Plunkett at (212) 382-6772 or email her here.

 

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In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, the New York City Bar Association urges the U.S. government to call upon the United Nations to “perform its obligations” under the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN and provide an appropriate mode for settling claims that UN personnel are responsible for the cholera epidemic in Haiti.

“There is evidence pointing to United Nations peacekeepers or personnel being the most likely source of the cholera epidemic in Haiti,” states the letter. It has been alleged that more than 8,000 people have died and hundreds of thousands more have been infected as a result of the epidemic.

The letter, signed by City Bar President Carey R. Dunne, disputes the UN’s contention that the claims would necessarily include a “review of political and policy matters” and that accordingly the claims are “not receivable” pursuant to section 29 of the 1946 Convention.

The United States has been a party to the 1946 Convention since 1970, and while technically the UN cannot be a party to that Convention, it sets out UN rights and obligations and was approved by the General Assembly in 1946. The UN stated to the International Court of Justice in 1949 that it considers itself to be a party to the 1946 Convention and the Court’s advisory opinion in 1949 on “Reparation for injuries suffered in the service of the United Nations” confirmed that the 1946 Convention “creates rights and duties between each of the signatories and the Organization.”

While section 2 of the 1946 Convention provides that the UN shall be immune from interference by executive, administrative, judicial or legislative action, “section 29 provides that the UN ‘shall make provisions for appropriate modes of settlement of disputes arising out of contracts and other disputes of a private law character’ to which the UN is a party,” the letter states. “Thus, for claims of a private law character, section 2 does not provide an absolute shield against claims. “The alleged tortious behavior described in the claims,” according to the letter, is not related to “the official functions of the peacekeeping mission nor to how those functions are being performed.” The position taken by the UN “runs the risk of encouraging governments or courts around the world to lift the UN’s immunity, which is not in the interest of either the UN or the United States.”

The letter can be read here: http://bit.ly/1njUi9s

 

 

 

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