Press Releases

City Bar President Roger Juan Maldonado Addresses Need for Continued Civil Legal Services

Citing the New York City Bar Association’s enthusiastic support of the work of New York State’s Permanent Commission on Access to Justice to close the justice gap, City Bar President Roger Juan Maldonado delivered a statement at the Chief Judge’s 2018 Hearing on Civil Legal Services in Albany on September 24.

Applauding the Judiciary’s annual allocation of $100 million of its budget to funding of civil legal services for low income New Yorkers who face threatened loss of essentials of life, Maldonado noted that this “provides important momentum in New York towards access to justice for all low income persons.” His remarks focused on three areas: the work of the City Bar Justice Center; continuing issues of concern facing consumer debt defendants in New York City’s Civil Court; and the work of the City Bar’s Legal Referral Service, and the Court Square Law Project, which the City Bar and participating law firms helped to design and seed.

The City Bar Justice Center, the City Bar’s 501c3 organization, annually delivers free legal assistance to more than 26,000 low-income New Yorkers from all five boroughs through limited and full scope legal representation, and tens of thousands of other New Yorkers are helped through the Justice Center’s significant community outreach and education efforts. “Simply put,” Maldonado stated, “the Judiciary’s commitment to funding civil legal services has been and will continue to be a game changer for the City Bar Justice Center and the civil justice providers in New York.  It translates into healthier and more stable communities, homes and families.”

Noting that consumer debt defense is also of growing concern, with over 75,000 consumer credit actions filed in New York City Civil Court last year, Maldonado addressed the ways that the challenges of consumer debt cases may be alleviated and how funding for legal representation can make a difference in the lives of the untold numbers of low-income defendants facing these cases without lawyers or with only limited assistance. “Consumer debt litigation threatens low income New Yorkers’ limited wages and assets which, in turn, threatens their ability to secure the ‘essentials of life,’ such as housing, basic income, and personal safety.” Maldonado discussed, among other things, the need for defendants to have quicker access to court files, particularly when contesting default judgments; the proliferation of “broken lease” cases in which, following the presumed resolution of a landlord-tenant action, the landlord sues in civil court for money damages for the remainder of the lease term; and the pressure on unrepresented defendants to quickly settle cases whereby they agree to draconian settlement agreements. In sum, Maldonado proposes several solutions, including the need for community outreach on how to respond when receiving a summons, enhanced judicial training on consumer debt cases and the attendant cultural biases, and the development of a cadre of lawyers trained and willing to take on these cases in order to raise viable defenses and reduce the unacceptably high number of default judgments.

Additionally, Maldonado mentioned the City Bar’s efforts to increase access to civil attorneys willing to handle cases on a contingency fee or for statutory attorneys’ fees. “Our Legal Referral Service continues to answer nearly 60,000 requests per year from New Yorkers who don’t know where to turn or even if they have a legal claim. Poor people with a personal injury or other meritorious tort claim can be matched with panel attorneys; some other areas of the law will provide attorneys’ fees for the counsel.”

He concludes, “We are proud to continue our collaboration with the court system and other stakeholders to address and, ultimately, close the justice gap faced by individuals who cannot afford legal representation in cases threatening the essentials of life. Complex problems require myriad solutions and I think we’ve learned that there is no silver bullet here. The City Bar stands ready to assist as we all strive to fully understand the scope of the problem and the best available solutions.”

Read the statement here.

About the Association
The mission of the New York City Bar Association, which was founded in 1870 and has 24,000 members, is to equip and mobilize the legal profession to practice with excellence, promote reform of the law, and uphold the rule of law and access to justice in support of a fair society and the public interest in our community, our nation, and throughout the world.