Kings County District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson was the featured speaker at the New York City Bar Association last Wednesday at a panel that explored the causes of, and remedies for, wrongful convictions.

Kings County DA Kenneth P. Thompson

DA Thompson discussed the accomplishments and challenges of the Conviction Review Unit he established in fulfillment of his campaign promise. Addressing a large, engaged audience that included several exonerees whose convictions his office had moved to vacate, along with Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck and other interested parties, Thompson described the problem of wrongful convictions that he inherited, and how his office is working to revisit cases and prevent similar problems in the future.

Thompson’s speech concluded a lively, and at times emotional, roundtable discussion on wrongful convictions, including those associated with retired Detective Louis Scarcella in Brooklyn. The panelists, including defense attorney Ron Kuby and New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer, analyzed the root causes of the problem and the need for systemic reform.

Ron Kuby, Anthony Yarbough and Steven M. Cohen

Recent  exoneree Anthony Yarbough described the 15-hour interrogation he endured as a teenager after reporting that his mother and sister had been murdered, and described his bewilderment at realizing that he was the prime suspect in the case.

Rebecca Freedman, of the Exoneration Initiative, explained the rigorous process her team uses to sift through thousands of innocence claims. Steven M. Cohen spoke from his perspective as a former prosecutor and defense attorney about the inherent challenges of any conviction review process.

Jim Dwyer and Rebecca Freedman

The panel, “A New Look at Old Convictions,” was moderated by Dorothy Heyl of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCloy, and presented by the City Bar’s Criminal Law Committee, chaired by Sharon McCarthy, along with the Government Ethics and Criminal Advocacy Committees.

UPDATE: Watch a video of the panel below:

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The New York City Bar Association’s Executive Committee has conveyed to Andy Barovick its dismay at his careless use of offensive and inflammatory language in a recent tweet regarding Sheriff Christopher Moss. While noting the tweet was written in his private capacity, we stressed that such language in no way reflects our core values and runs counter to the City Bar’s continuing efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and in society as a whole. We trust that Mr. Barovick will be mindful of these concerns going forward.

 

UPDATE: November 11, 2014 – 3:45 p.m.
Andy Barovick has resigned as Chair of the Medical Malpractice Committee. To read his letter of resignation, click here.

 

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The New York City Bar Association’s Judiciary Committee has evaluated candidates running in the November 4th general election for Supreme Court and Civil Court in Bronx, Kings, New York, and Queens Counties.

In examining candidates for the judiciary, the Committee seeks to determine whether the candidate possesses the requisite qualifications for judicial office, such as integrity, impartiality, intellectual ability, knowledge of the law, industriousness, and judicial demeanor and temperament.

The Committee advances two ratings: Approved and Not Approved.  Candidates rated Approved have affirmatively demonstrated qualifications necessary for the performance of the duties of the court for which they are being considered.

Bronx County

Supreme Court

John A. Barone Approved

Civil Court (Countywide)

Brenda Rivera Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that she possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which she is a candidate
Harry Hertzberg Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
Civil Court (2nd District)
Lizbeth Gonzalez Approved
Robert Siano Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate

 

Kings County

Supreme Court

Kevin R. Bryant, Sr. Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
Matthew A. Doheny Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
Anthony R. Caccamo Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
Lara J. Genovesi Approved
Dennis W. Houdek Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
Kathy J. King Approved
Evelyn J. Laporte Approved
Kenneth Schaeffer Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
Philip J. Smallman Approved
Wavny Toussaint Approved

Civil Court (Countywide)

Joy F. Campanelli Approved
Vincent F. Martusciello Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
Civil Court (2nd District)
Cenceria P. Edwards Approved
Civil Court (3rd District)
Rosemarie Montalbano Approved
Civil Court (6th District)
Sharon Clarke Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that she possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which she is a candidate
Civil Court (7th District)
Lizette Colon Approved
Civil Court (8th District)
Andrew S. Borrok Approved

 

New York County

Supreme Court

Kathryn E. Freed Approved
Milton A. Tingling Approved

Civil Court (Countywide)

Arlene P. Bluth Approved
Louis L. Nock Approved
Civil Court (8th District)
Jose A. Padilla, Jr. Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
Civil Court (10th District)
J. Machelle Sweeting Approved

 

Queens County

Supreme Court

Thomas Benedetto Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
John F. Casey Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
Anna Culley Approved
William V. DeCandido Approved
Ronald D. Hollie Approved
Leslie G. Leach Approved
Carmen R. Velasquez The Association could not complete a review of this candidate

Civil Court (Countywide)

Mojgan Cohanim Lancman Approved

Civil Court (1st District)

Joseph Esposito Approved

The NYS Office of Court Administration has posted its annual non-partisan voter guide for judicial candidates, at http://www.nycourts.gov/vote/. The guide lists all state-paid judicial candidates on the ballot in each county, as furnished by boards of elections. Candidates were invited to provide a personal statement and basic biographical information.

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

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A first edition of The Federalist, signed by the “Treasurer of the American Revolution”; a 1783 letter from George Washington on the evacuation of British soldiers from New York City; a 1735 copy of the Charter of the City of New York printed by Peter Zenger; and a note signed by Benedict Arnold in 1779, around the time he considered becoming a spy for the British, are just a few of the items from the library of the New York City Bar Association to be auctioned by Doyle New York in November.

The first set of items from the City Bar’s collection will be featured as part of Doyle New York’s auction of Rare Books & Autographs on November 24, 2014, with additional items to be offered in the spring and fall of 2015. In all, there will be close to 1,000 lots of what Doyle describes as “important Americana from the Colonial and Federal Eras through the Western Expansion.”

The City Bar’s decision to auction these materials was based on consideration of the condition and quantity of these historic items. “While we have treasured all of the one-of-a-kind books and materials that have come to our library over the past century and a half, the City Bar’s focus is on serving the legal profession, and we cannot give these volumes the type of care they will continue to need,” said the City Bar’s Library Director, Richard Tuske, who began working in the Association’s library in 1972. “Making a number of these works available for auction will better lead to their preservation.”

Doyle states that the City Bar’s collection contains a number of examples so rare that they have never appeared on the market, with others having been off the market for over a century. Among the items of note are Northwest Territory – Maxwell’s Code, the first book printed in Ohio, which guided western expansion into the Northwest Territory and which Doyle calls a “noted American rarity”; Hawaii Constitution & Laws; The General Laws and Liberties of the Masachusetts Colony; The Lawes of Virginia Now in Force; and Laws of the Territory of New Mexico.

The City Bar will host a viewing reception in its library on November 12th, and Doyle New York will host an exhibition on November 21 – 23. Private previews are available in advance by appointment with Doyle (info@DoyleNewYork.com; 212-427-2730). The auction catalogue for the November 24, 2014 sale will be available in early November.

View auction details on Doyle New York’s website here.

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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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