City Bar President’s Testimony at Chief Judge’s Hearings on Civil Legal Services

Last month, City Bar President Carey R. Dunne testified at hearings on civil legal services convened by Hon. Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of New York. The transcripts have now been posted on the website. Judge Lippman introduced the day’s proceedings by describing a “crisis in this State, in this city, in this country in civil legal services for the poor. What we’re talking about are people fighting for the necessities of life, the roof over their head, their physical safety, health care, their livelihoods, the well-being of their family.” Dunne’s testimony focused on the work of the City Bar Justice Center. “Last year, the Justice Center provided the equivalent of $21 million worth of legal services to low income New Yorkers, in areas such as homelessness, debt relief, veteran’s benefits, immigration and elder law,” he said. “We did all this with a very small staff of 18 attorneys, who were able however to enlist a pro bono army of over 1,000 attorneys from firms around the city. Now, one of the small but essential sources of financial support for this effort has been Legal Services funding from the judiciary, and because of our leverage, again, those dollars go a very long way.” Dunne went on to describe the Justice Center’s response to the enormous and sudden demand for legal services brought on by Superstorm Sandy. “In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the Justice Center helped train 375 pro bono lawyers in sessions at the City Bar. These hundreds of volunteers then fanned out with just three Justice Center staff to places in the Rockaways, and later in Staten Island and Brooklyn, to provide emergency legal help. These efforts assisted 450 households and small businesses,” he said. Following Dunne’s testimony, Judge Lippman brought up Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court ruling providing representation for criminal defendants without the means to pay for their own attorneys, and asked, “Are we anywhere near a civil Gideon v. Wainwright?” Dunne responded, “Well, my own personal view is I don’t see it on the horizon….I think it is something that ought to be discussed more actively. Not just in our city, but on a national level.” Read the complete testimony here: This blog has been cross-posted on the City Bar Justice Center’s website.