Press Releases

City Bar Urges Increased Funding for Civil Legal Services

City Bar President Roger Juan Maldonado Urges
Increased Funding for Civil Legal Services

New York, September 24, 2019 – In remarks to the Chief Judge’s Statewide 2019 Civil Legal Services Hearing, New York City Bar Association President Roger Juan Maldonado praised the Judiciary’s annual allocation of $100 million to fund civil legal services for low-income New Yorkers who face threatened loss of the essentials of life, and urged that an increase in the next budget year be considered.

Maldonado’s remarks focused on four areas: the work of the City Bar Justice Center; the funding needs of the civil justice community regarding disaster relief; the value to the New York City community of steady court funding for nonprofits providing civil legal aid; and the new Right to Counsel Law, which guarantees legal representation to low-income tenants facing eviction in New York City.

The City Bar Justice Center, the City Bar’s nonprofit affiliate, 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. “The Legal Hotline now answers 90% of calls that it receives as of 2018-19 up from 60% answered two years ago…In aggregate, this past year the Justice Center helped clients obtain over $10.3 million in benefits and monetary awards, including estate settlements; saved NY taxpayers an estimated $2 million by assisting clients obtain or maintain housing, employment, and appropriate government benefits; helped clients divest themselves of over $2.4 million in debt through consumer, bankruptcy and foreclosure prevention advocacy, and through avoidance of filing fees, estate taxes and tuition fees; and leveraged over $15 million in pro bono legal services for the poor and economically distressed,” Maldonado said. He stressed that “[T]he Judiciary’s commitment to stable funding for civil legal services has been and will continue to be vital for the Justice Center and the civil justice providers in New York…This commitment translates into healthier and more stable communities, homes and families.”

Maldonado emphasized the critical work that the Justice Center has done in the aftermath of disasters like 9/11, Superstorm Sandy, and Hurricane Maria, and the importance of Judicial Civil Legal Services (JCLS) funding to those efforts. “Programs that are stretched thin financially cannot innovate effectively and cannot be expected to spring into action when a disaster strikes,” he said. “As costs increase and funding stays flat, the unfortunate but inevitable outcome will be an inability to afford to fill staff lines as people leave.” Civil legal services providers have utilized technological and administrative innovations in recent years to find efficiencies and reduce costs, but Maldonado reiterated that it’s “imperative that New York’s judiciary continue to take the lead and make this work sustainable.”

He added, “The Judiciary’s commitment to legal services funding has helped to change hearts and minds when it comes to supporting legal services providers and maintaining a court system that is fair, just and efficient…Although the justice gap is shrinking, it is still significant, and the City Bar stands ready to continue its partnership with the Judiciary to fully close the gap.”

Maldonado called the Right to Counsel law in New York City Housing Court a “game-changer…It’s about due process and all that flows from that fundamental precept.” Tenants feel better treated; judges and opposing counsel are more cooperative; more issues are being litigated and resolved. Maldonado pointed, however, to further reforms that should be made and which the City Bar has called for: improving “the physical conditions of the Housing Court,…The need to connect tenants with their lawyers earlier in the process,…build[ing] a robust pipeline of lawyers who can provide the highest quality representation,…[and the use of] more efficient and effective data collection to assist the right to counsel efforts.”

He concluded, “We are proud to continue our collaboration with the court system and other stakeholders to address and, ultimately, close the civil justice gap faced by individuals who cannot afford legal representation in cases threatening the essentials of life.”

Read the statement here: