Legislative Action at the City Bar – Samuel W. Seymour

Samuel W. Seymour

President’s Column, March 2011


One of the most significant benefits of City Bar membership is the ability to participate in the development of public policy through serving on one of our 150 committees. Committee members have the unique opportunity to develop a position on existing legislation as well as work on proposals for new legislation involving a broad range of important issues. As stated in the City Bar’s constitution, “the Association was established for the purposes of cultivating the science of jurisprudence, promoting reforms in the law, facilitating and improving the administration of justice.” I believe that through the policy and legislative work undertaken by our committees and our Legislative Affairs department, which acts as a conduit between the City Bar’s committees and policymakers, the City Bar remains true to the goals of our founders.

The breadth of issues we address is vast, ranging from civil rights and criminal law to trusts and estates, business law, judicial administration and legal issues affecting children. As the legislative session begins to pick up, I thought it was a great opportunity to discuss some of the state legislative issues that the City Bar has participated in thus far, as well as to highlight some of our policy objectives for the 2011 term.

As president of the New York City Bar, every Committee report is subject to my review and approval before it is released. When appropriate, I also actively participate in our advocacy work. For example, this past February, I testified before the New York Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means Committees on the Judiciary’s 2011-2012 Budget Request. As I noted in my testimony, the New York court system’s caseload is growing enormously; yet it has a constitutional responsibility to handle all matters that pass through the courthouse doors. Because of the importance of access to justice and the severe strain our court system is under, the City Bar urged the Legislature to adopt in its entirety the Judiciary’s proposed budget.

In 2011, the City Bar will continue to advocate for government reform and accountability of public officials through stronger ethics laws and legislative rules designed to make the legislative process more responsive and transparent. We will support increasing the availability of legal representation for low-income parties in civil cases, the continued operation of the Office of the Taxpayer Rights Advocate within the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance, increasing the number of Family Court judges statewide, and implementing greater fairness and accountability in consumer debt litigation. With respect to previously incarcerated persons and individuals with criminal records, we will advocate for legislation that will aid their reentry into society and lower their recidivism rates.

The City Bar has always been and will remain a strong supporter for the equal civil rights of all New Yorkers and will advocate for passage of the Marriage Equality Act, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (‘GENDA’), the Reproductive Health Act and laws that protect victims of domestic violence and trafficking. We will support legislation that seeks to meet more effectively the permanency needs of children in foster care.

In addition to commenting on existing legislation, our committees are active in drafting legislation. Our proposed legislation includes measures that will authorize an attorney to attach a lien to awards and settlement proceeds received by his or her client through alternative dispute resolution or settlement; amendments to the Arts and Cultural Affairs Law to protect artists, their heirs and representatives when consigning artwork to galleries and merchants; amendments to the formula clause statute of the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law necessitated by changes to the federal tax laws; and legislation that would allow for the sealing of records containing certain arrest, petty offense, and youthful offender information. The ability of our committee members to use their legal expertise to introduce policy change is one of the many reasons joining a committee is such a meaningful experience.

Our committees are consistently developing new recommendations and our Legislative Affairs department will monitor developments throughout the legislative session to assist the committees in their policy work. To view the City Bar’s 2011 Legislative Program, which is a compilation of state legislative issues that have been addressed by our committees, click here.