Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Predicts Dire Consequences for Poor New Yorkers With Cuts in State and City Funding for Criminal Defense and Civil Legal Services

Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told the City Council March 20 that the proposed cuts for criminal defense and civil legal services in the FY2009-2010 Preliminary Budget will hurt New Yorkers accused of crimes and families and individuals who need civil legal help in the midst of this severe economic downturn.

"In the criminal defense area, we cannot keep taking on new cases, provide the constitutionally mandated defense for New Yorkers, and absorb new City cuts on top of $2.7 million in cuts that we have already sustained in the 2008-2009 City and State budgets this year," Banks said.  "On the civil side, we have also already suffered $3 million in cuts in the 2008-2009 City and State budgets and we are forced to turn away six out of every seven New Yorkers who seek our help. With the new proposed City cuts, we will have to turn away more families and individuals who need legal aid to get unemployment and disability benefits, flee from domestic violence, and prevent evictions, foreclosures, and homelessness which is at record levels in New York City."

Banks said that City funding is essential to support our city-wide criminal and civil legal assistance. For many years, the City Council has been a leading advocate for adequate funding for our services in order to ensure the availability of high quality legal services for community residents. Special annual funding allocations for criminal and civil services have provided crucial support for the Society’s legal services for New Yorkers who have nowhere else to turn for legal help. "We are mindful of the extreme financial difficulties that the City is facing. At the same time, these extraordinary economic conditions are having an especially harsh impact on low income New Yorkers and the need for the legal help that the Society provides to these struggling families and individuals is increasing exponentially."

Read the full testimony.