Dozens of New York City Bar Association committees each year prepare reports on legislation or comment letters on pending regulations on the city, state and national level. A substantial number of these committees go beyond drafting reports to meet with legislators and agency officials, or even draft legislation that they then seek to have enacted.

This work is coordinated by our Legislative Director, Maria Cilenti, and our Assistant Director, Elizabeth Kocienda. They are a regular presence in Albany, and the City Bar has had good success advocating for, and occasionally against, legislation. In recent years we have contributed to the drafting of several pieces of legislation and proposed bills in the Trusts and Estates, Lien Law and Art Law areas that were signed into law. Achieving passage of those bills requires far more than just coming up with bill language. Effective sponsors for the bill must be found in each House.  In addition, the committees that draft the legislation must be prepared to work with legislative committee members and staff, and the leadership staff in both Houses, to address any questions that arise at any time during the bill’s progress. They must line up support from other organizations and respond to criticisms from those interests that oppose or question the bill. It requires extensive, long-term involvement in the legislative process, and we very much appreciate those committee members who have given so much time to participate in this process on behalf of the City Bar.

On the city level, over 20 committees contributed to the report we issued in May that presented a wide range of policy issues for consideration by the mayoral candidates. With the election virtually upon us, we will soon have a new mayor transitioning into office, and we plan to reach out to the appropriate members of the transition team and new administration to follow up on those policy issues; in addition, a number of committees will provide further policy input. I am sure many committees will seek to connect with officials of the new government, inviting them to committee meetings and having them speak at programs, to develop an important two-way dialog with those who govern our City.

Nationally, the Association’s business and finance committees continue to issue comment letters and meet with government officials to address the efforts of several agencies to implement Dodd-Frank, the JOBS Act and other recent legislation. Our Immigration and Nationality Law Committee has worked continuously with members of both Houses of Congress to advance meaningful immigration reform, with a focus on providing a right to counsel for those most in need of assistance. Other committees continue to advocate for civil liberties, First Amendment and other federal issues. And twice in the past year we visited Congress with the State Bar Association to impress upon New York’s congressional delegation the harsh effects of the sequester on funding for civil legal services and on the federal courts. Our Federal Courts Committee and the Pro Bono and Legal Services Committees are monitoring developments, as we – and everyone else – await the outcome of the current stalemate in Washington.

You can follow our legislative advocacy on the Legislative Affairs page of our website and on the various committees’ Reports pages, and on the 44th Street Blog on our homepage. If you do, you will see how seriously we take one of our original missions when the City Bar was founded in 1870: “promoting reforms in the law.”

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

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The City Bar has wrapped up an active State legislative session, during which our committees issued or reissued 85 reports proposing new legislation and commenting on pending legislation or proposed agency rules. We’ve responded to tragedies and controversies, supporting measures to strengthen New York’s gun laws and calling on the legislature to bring about necessary campaign finance reforms. We provided comments on a number of provisions of the 2013-2014 NYS Budget, which included a $15 million increase in funding for civil legal services. Once again, we opposed the enactment of measures which would harm New York consumers by expanding the ability of dubious debt settlement agencies and payday lenders to operate in the state.  And we supported the Women’s Equality Act, a 10-point plan aimed at providing women the opportunity to participate fully and equally in society, including by codifying the protections of Roe v. Wade and strengthening anti-trafficking and pay equity laws.

We are pleased to report that, as of this writing, 15 bills supported by the City Bar passed both houses of the legislature.  Some of these bills have been enacted, while others still await signature by the Governor:

  • The Legal Problems of the Aging Committee supported the Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act, which will provide a mechanism for resolving multi-state jurisdictional disputes as they relate to adult guardianships cases.
  • The Sex and Law Committee supported legislation which will require local services districts to notify the Office of Children and Family Services and family services providers where there is a change in eligibility level so that families can better plan their child care needs.
  • The State Courts of Superior Jurisdiction Committee supported a bill proposed by the Office of Court Administration which will help prevent abuse during the discovery process by permitting non-parties who are not actually served with a subpoena, but whose records are nevertheless sought by the subpoena, to seek a protective order. (Enacted)
  • The Construction Law Committee supported a bill which will ensure that contractors on NYC School Construction Authority jobs do not unknowingly waive their claim rights.
  • The Corrections and Community Reentry Committee and Criminal Courts Committee supported a bill to give judges greater discretion in ordering probationary sentences and eliminate the requirement of pre-sentence investigations in limited circumstances.
  • The Housing and Urban Development Committee supported a measure that will grant greater eligibility for admission to certain limited profit housing company housing accommodations.
  • The Animal Law Committee had another productive year, authoring reports in support of three bills that were passed by the legislature, which will (1) allow municipalities to better regulate pet dealers; (2) ban shark fins for sale or possession (enacted); and (3) increase penalties for harming a police animal (enacted).
  • The Trusts, Estates and Surrogate’s Courts Committee issued reports on four bills passed by the legislature, which will (1) deal with the tax treatment of trusts created for surviving spouses who are not U.S. citizens; (2) clarify the application of the anti-lapse statute to multi-generational gifts (enacted); (3) clarify the law in relation to partial tax abatements for certain residential real property held in trust (enacted); and (4) allow a resigning fiduciary to file an informal judicial accounting under certain circumstances.
  • The Non-Profit Organizations Committee voiced its support for the Non-Profit Revitalization Act, which remedies many of the weaknesses in the current nonprofit law and strengthens New York law to enhance governance and accountability by setting forth clearer expectations of board duties.  A number of the Committee’s drafting recommendations were included in the measure that passed the legislature.

We also are pleased to report that two legislative proposals drafted by our committees were introduced in the legislature this year.  The first, developed by the Banking Law Committee, would create a statewide program to provide temporary and repayable mortgage bridge loans to homeowners facing a sudden loss of income.  The second is an overhaul of the state’s Uniform Commercial Code, on which the Commercial Law and Uniform State Laws Committee is working with the New York State Uniform Laws Commission.

It is worth noting that our committees’ state level work was matched by an equally productive year on the city and federal levels.  Notably, 27 of our committees contributed to an extensive report of policy recommendations for New York City’s next mayor, which was complimented by a public forum featuring the mayoral candidates that was held in June.  At the federal level, the City Bar once again participated in the ABA’s annual lobby day in Washington, DC where we voiced our opposition to reducing funding for the Legal Services Corporation and our support for reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.  Our Immigration and Nationality Law Committee has provided timely and extensive comments on federal immigration reform proposals, addressing and proposing amendments for various versions of the bills.

To learn more about these or any other legislative activities at the City Bar, please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and visit our Legislative Affairs webpage.

 

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The New York City Bar Association has issued a statement in support of Proposal 6 to be on the ballot on November 5th. The proposal would amend section 25, article 6 of the New York State Constitution to raise the mandatory retirement age to 80 for Court of Appeals judges and Supreme Court justices.

“The City Bar supports Proposal 6, consistent with our longstanding position that the mandatory judicial retirement age, which was enacted in 1869, is outdated. Many individuals who reach the age of 70 have a substantial number of productive years ahead of them. Many states and the federal judiciary permit judges to serve past the age of 70, and New York should as well. The certification process is in place to determine that only those who remain competent to serve will be permitted to continue,” reads the statement.

The statement cites the potential impact that raising the retirement age would have on the strained court system: “The Office of Court Administration estimates that up to 40 justices who otherwise would retire might remain on the bench over the next four years. Despite growing caseloads, the number of positions authorized for trial level judges has remained constant and there is little prospect that more positions will be authorized. By ensuring that experienced, productive judges continue to serve, the amendment provides the clearest path to increase judicial capacity in the foreseeable future.” The amendment also would permit the transfer of Supreme Court justices to the State’s seriously overburdened Family Courts.

In addition to addressing Proposal 6, the statement calls for the Legislature, in the coming session, to turn its attention to additional constitutional amendments that would allow all judges to serve past the age of 70, and would consolidate and simplify the State’s court system. “For decades, commissions, scholars, legislative panels, and others (including the City Bar) have decried the inefficient and wasteful structure of New York’s trial courts and advanced proposals for reform.  The latest commission estimated that court consolidation would save the State $500 million per year.  Time after time, however, such efforts have stalled because of entrenched and competing interests and a lack of political will.  So, while we support the current amendment as a step in the right direction on retirement age, we believe that it should be the first step in a much broader effort at constitutional reform of the judiciary,” reads the statement.

The statement can be read here: http://bit.ly/15hzupi

 

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New York has become the first state in the nation to establish a statewide system of specialized criminal courts which will handle cases involving charges of prostitution and related offenses and provide supportive services to victims of human trafficking. The City Bar’s Sex and Law Committee applauds the Judiciary’s recognition of the historical and misplaced criminalization of victims of trafficking. Under the new system, cases involving prostitution and related offenses that continue past arraignment will be evaluated by specially trained judges, defense lawyers and prosecutors. If they agree, the court will refer the defendant to services that include shelter, health care, immigration assistance, education, drug treatment, and job training. These specialized criminal courts intend to provide victims of trafficking with access to necessary services and opportunities to rebuild their lives. Further, this statewide initiative represents a significant step towards ending the vicious cycle of discrimination and stigmatization faced by victims of sex trafficking regarding their criminal histories, which often impacts victims’ lives long after their escape from trafficking. The new courts are expected to be functioning by the end of October.

 

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The New York City Bar Chorus is celebrating its 20th year of serving the community, and will mark that milestone with a gala performance at the City Bar on November 15th.

Since 1993, New York’s only “all-legal” chorus, acting as a goodwill ambassador for the New York City Bar Association, has put on more than 200 concerts at senior residences, homeless shelters, AIDS and cancer patient residences, and pediatric and rehab facilities around the city. The Chorus, directed by Kathryn E. Schneider and accompanied by Matthew V. Grieco, has also sung for luminaries of the bench and bar and appeared on local and national television.

Over the years, while providing “musical pro bono” and giving a kinder face and a more harmonious voice to the legal profession, the Chorus has grown into an 80-voice, multi-part group with a professional sound and a wide repertoire.  “Our outreach audience members have ranged in age from single to triple digits, so we assemble an especially diverse repertoire to appeal to everyone,” said musical director Kathryn Schneider (who is Associate General Counsel of ACE Group). “A typical show will mix Broadway numbers from ‘South Pacific,’ ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Pippin,’ ‘Rent’ or ‘Wicked’ with jazz, gospel, rock and pop songs.  Imagine the wall of sound when dozens of legal professionals sing Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ with electric guitars blazing.”

Added Heather L. Kalachman, Chair of the New York City Bar Chorus Committee, “I always enter every outreach show ready to win over our audiences, yet time and time again I find it is the audiences who win me over with their deep appreciation and gratitude for what the Chorus does for them. Our members really enjoy engaging with these audiences.”

“I am so proud of how the Chorus has blossomed and of all the good cheer it has brought to its audiences,” said former City Bar President John D. Feerick, who founded the Chorus.

Current City Bar President Carey R. Dunne said, “I think they sound more like singers who practice law than lawyers who sing. The multiple talents of our members never cease to impress me.”

The City Bar Chorus will celebrate its 20th Anniversary with a gala performance at the New York City Bar Association, 42 West 44th Street in Manhattan, on Friday evening, November 15, 2013.   For more information and to watch a video, please visit the Chorus’s website: www.citybarchorus.org, or Facebook page: www.facebook.com/citybarchorus, or email the Chorus.

 

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The New York City Bar Association’s Capital Punishment Committee has honored Eleanor Jackson Piel with its Norman Redlich Capital Defense Lifetime Achievement Award, and James W. B. Benkard with its Norman Redlich Capital Defense Pro Bono Award.

In a ceremony at the City Bar on July 15, 2013, Piel was honored for her career, principally in solo practice, as a civil rights, criminal defense and capital defense attorney. She was the first chair of what is now known as the Association’s Capital Punishment Committee (currently chaired by Muhammad U. Faridi). In her first pro bono capital case, in 1982, Piel successfully represented Florida death row inmate William Jent with under a month left before he and his stepbrother were scheduled to be executed.

Norman Redlich Capital Defense Awards

From left: City Bar President Carey R. Dunne; James W. B. Benkard; Eleanor Jackson Piel; former Chief Judge Judith Kaye

Piel’s award was presented by Norman L. Greene of the Capital Punishment Committee, who succeeded her as the Committee’s chair. “Eleanor was not only a pioneer in her chosen field, attending law school and entering law practice at a time few women did,” Greene said, “but she excelled as a practicing attorney.” According to Hofstra Law Professor Eric M. Freedman, who served with Piel on the Committee and spoke at the event, “Eleanor never had a client who she thought was not innocent. And in many cases she turned out to be right.” Ron Tabak, another of Piel’s longtime Committee colleagues, added that one of her special contributions, consistent with the Committee’s mission, was to reach out personally to law firms, large, medium, and small, to encourage them to take on the representation of death row inmates.

In her remarks, Piel expressed delight in receiving the award, especially since it was named after Norman Redlich, who was a mentor to her. She referenced her many conversations with Redlich on capital punishment, including while he was a member of the Capital Punishment Committee, and expressed her wish that the practice of capital punishment, which she termed “hideous,” be terminated at last.

Benkard’s award was presented by City Bar President Carey R. Dunne, who described several of his Davis Polk colleague’s cases. Benkard’s successful representation of Joseph James in 1975, in the lawyer’s first capital case, formed part of a series of events culminating in the eventual elimination of the death penalty in New York in 2007 when the Court of Appeals held that New York’s death penalty statute was unconstitutional. The last person to be executed in New York was Eddie Lee Mays in 1963.

More recently, among other cases, Benkard represented Timothy McKinney on appeal following his sentence to death for the murder of an off-duty police officer in Tennessee. The prosecution’s case had relied on the testimony of eyewitnesses, which Benkard showed to be unreliable. Following Benkard’s oral argument, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals vacated the capital murder conviction and ordered a new trial – one of only a few times since 1977 that a Tennessee court has vacated a conviction and ordered a new trial in a capital murder case based on ineffective assistance of counsel. Benkard is currently representing Henri Broadway, an inmate on death row in Louisiana.

“His efforts and dedication in helping capital defendants desperately in need of representation are very much in the spirit of Norman Redlich,” said Dunne. In his remarks, Benkard acknowledged that his capital punishment work was part of his firm’s team effort and expressed gratitude for their support.

Following the awards ceremony, former Chief Judge Judith Kaye made a special presentation describing her experience in capital cases on the New York Court of Appeals, referencing the high cost of death penalty cases and stressing the importance of providing capital defendants with “competent, qualified counsel.”  Judge Kaye served on the Court when it issued a number of key decisions, concluding with the Taylor case, which had the collective effect of ending the death penalty in New York State, and she commented on the excellent representation defendants received in those cases.

Before the awards ceremony, the Committee presented its Annual Post-Conviction Capital Defense Training Program, which trains attorneys and law students who are currently representing or are interested in representing death-row inmates in post-conviction proceedings. The program, which was chaired by John Howley of the Capital Punishment Committee, featured nationally recognized death penalty experts, including John Blume, Deborah Denno, Bruce Green and Samuel Spital.

As Norman Greene noted in his opening remarks, Norman Redlich, former dean of the New York University School of Law, had been one of the nation’s most prominent advocates against the death penalty as well as a longtime member of the Capital Punishment Committee.

As an example of Dean Redlich’s thinking, Greene cited an Association program entitled and subsequently published as The Condemned, the Tinkerers and the Machinery of Death: Capital Punishment in New York Before 1965, 38 CRIMINAL LAW BULLETIN 510 (2002) at which Redlich spoke. At the program, Redlich argued, among other things, that capital punishment was a sentence that improperly assumed perfection in the legal system, although the system was obviously imperfect, since it did not require proof beyond any doubt, only beyond a reasonable doubt, and that such punishment was otherwise inconsistent with our core values.

 

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Beginning with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, the nations of the world agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in order to slow, and ultimately reverse, global warming. Despite these promises, global warming has continued to accelerate, with likely severe consequences for coastal cities, potable water sources, marine life, agriculture, forests and many island states. Superstorm Sandy and droughts across much of the U.S. farm belt have made dramatically clear that the U.S., including New York City, is at risk from these threats. While most attention has been focused on legal and regulatory tools to reduce GHG emissions, it is also essential to identify ways for nations to adapt to the global warming that now appears inevitable.

To address these issues, the City Bar has established a special Task Force on Legal Issues of Climate Adaptation, chaired by Stephen L. Kass. The Task Force includes representatives of the Association’s committees on Environmental Law, International Environmental Law, Energy, International Human Rights, Immigration and other relevant fields of law, as well as representatives of non-profit organizations, academia and governmental agencies dealing with climate change. The Task Force is focusing on three critical areas of climate adaptation, both in the U.S. and abroad: urban adaptation to floods and other threats to municipal infrastructure and residents; climate-driven migration, particularly in developing countries; and financing mechanisms and legal reforms necessary to help cities and nations undertake the investments needed to address these challenges.

As the New York City Bar Association, we have a special interest in how our own city is adapting to climate change. Moreover, by virtue of its global profile, New York City serves as a model for other cities and countries. The outgoing Mayor deserves credit for his environmental focus in recent years. PlaNYC, with its initiative to make the City’s buildings more energy efficient and sustainable, and the resulting Green Codes Task Force are great strides in the right direction.

But there’s plenty more to do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to protect the City and its most vulnerable populations from the effects of climate change. That’s why we devoted a large section of our recent Policy Recommendations for New York City’s Next Mayor to climate change and the environment.

In addition to maintaining and building upon the existing PlaNYC objectives and programs, we recommended that New York City’s next Mayor bring “environmental justice” into the mainstream lexicon. One of the most important takeaways from Superstorm Sandy has got to be the disproportionate impact the storm had on disadvantaged communities in Red Hook, the Rockaways and Coney Island. Our City Bar Justice Center lawyers witnessed the fallout firsthand when they held a series of clinics in the Rockaways and Brooklyn following the storm. Among other steps, environmental justice concerns should be integrated into the City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) process.

With half of the world’s population, cities are on the front line, figuratively and often literally, in facing climate change. Later this month at the City Bar, on September 25th, Poland’s Minister of Environment, Marcin Korolec, will preview the 19th meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to take place in Warsaw this November, and he’ll address possible scenarios for climate mitigation, adaptation and compensation for victims of the world’s failure to address this most important of issues. On October 7th, a separate program at the City Bar on “Innovations in Climate Adaptation: Through the Lens of Cities” will discuss adaptation strategies being implemented in cities around the world, including New York.

Through these and other future programs, the City Bar intends to remain an active participant in the search for workable programs to confront the impacts of climate change both at home and abroad.

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

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Calling the trial of former Guatemalan President Efraín Ríos Montt, and his former head of military intelligence Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, “a historic and crucial experience in Guatemala’s establishment of the rule of law,” a Delegation of business lawyers from the U.S. and Latin America urges the resumption of the proceeding at the earliest possible date.

The Delegation, organized by the New York City Bar Association, traveled to Guatemala on August 12th and 13th to meet with a wide range of individuals and groups with an interest in the trial. Today the Delegation releases its report on its visit.

In March of this year, Guatemala put the two men on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity against Guatemala’s Maya Ixil indigenous population. It was the first time a domestic court had tried a former head of state for genocide. The trial resulted in a guilty verdict against Rios Montt, who was sentenced to 80 years in prison, while Rodriguez Sanchez was acquitted of both charges. However, just ten days after the trial court’s verdict, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, granting a constitutional amparo request from the defendants, overturned the verdict and set the trial back to its status on April 19th. A three-judge panel has been appointed to oversee the next stage of the case, but it has not yet set a date for a new trial except to announce that it will not take place before April 2014.

“The Delegation recommends the resumption of the Proceeding at the earliest possible date, with the expectation that the Proceeding will result in a fair and final decision on the merits of the charges one way or the other,” the delegation states in its seven-page report. “The Delegation recognizes that such resumption will require extraordinary measures in scheduling the Proceeding, but considers that this is appropriate, even necessary, in light of the significance of the Proceeding for the rule of law and international business opportunity in Guatemala….The Delegation recommends and urges that all participants and interested parties in the resumed Proceeding, as well as the Government of Guatemala, exercise and publicly express full and constant respect for the law and procedures, including internationally-recognized standards, and specifically for the status, safety, and independence of the judges, attorneys, and witnesses.”

“I believe what we saw was both encouraging and disturbing all at once,” said Eric Ordway, a member of the delegation who is a partner at Weil Gotshal & Manges and a member of the City Bar’s Vance Center Committee. “Clearly, it was encouraging to see the vigorous prosecution of a former military leader by the domestic courts of a previously war-torn country. Nevertheless, many of the concerns raised by participants during the visit left some of us with questions as to whether the trial itself and political reactions to it might result in the judicial system taking a step back. We hope that the rule of law not only continues to be observed but is also regarded as critical to the country’s future political and economic well-being.”

In its report, the Delegation addresses the view of some in Guatemala that a finding of genocide, or even a trial on such a charge, against a former leader of the country would inevitably harm the country’s image and business climate internationally. While taking no view on the veracity of the charges, “[t]he Delegation is firmly of the view that the contrary is the case,” states the report. “Indeed, several members of the Delegation come from countries that have accounted for their own pasts in this way, and then transformed into vibrant economies and political systems.”

José Ugaz, a delegation member from Peru who was Special State Attorney during the investigations into the Fujimori regime which resulted in hundreds of investigations and 120 incarcerations, including 14 Generals, said, “When foreign investors see that a country has well-established judicial institutions, capable of punishing those in power who commit serious crimes, they feel confident that their investments will be protected by the rule of law. The delegation considers it of utmost importance for the good of Guatemala that the case be concluded on the merits, and that in the near future the appointments process for attorney general, judges and other officials be transparent, free of political influence, and carried out with the participation of independent experts from Guatemala and other countries.”

During its two-day visit, the Delegation met with, among many others, the President and an Associate Justice (Magistrado Titular) of the Guatemalan Constitutional Court; The President of the Guatemalan Supreme Court; The President of the Criminal Chamber of the Guatemalan Supreme Court; The Controlling Judge (Juez Controlador) of Guatemala’s High Risk Court who conducted part of the preliminary phase of the proceeding; The Chief Judge and Members of the High-Risk Court who conducted the trial in the proceeding; The Human Rights Ombudsman of Guatemala; The Country Representative in Guatemala of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; and one of the attorneys from former President Ríos Montt’s trial defense team.

The members of the Delegation, who participated strictly as individuals, not as representatives of their employers, and on a voluntary, pro bono basis, were Hunter T. Carter (U.S.), Arent Fox, chair of City Bar Inter-American Affairs Committee; Ciro Colombara (Chile), Rivadaneira, Colombara & Zegers; Robert Cusumano (U.S.), Executive Director of the Legal Horizons Foundation, former general counsel of ACE Group of Insurance Companies, and member of Vance Center Committee; Eric Ordway (U.S.), Weil Gotshal & Manges, member of Vance Center Committee; Alexander Papachristou (U.S.), executive director of Vance Center; Lindsay Sykes (Bolivia and U.S.), Ferrere; Amanda Taub (United States), Member of the International Human Rights Committee of the City Bar, counsel Buhler, Duggal & Henry; José Ugaz (Peru), Benitez, Forno & Ugaz; José Antonio Urrutia (Chile), Urrutia & Cia Abogados; and Macarena Vasallo (Chile), Urrutia & Cia Abogados.

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

For the Spanish version of the report, click here: http://bit.ly/18PnqcD

 

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