Chief Judge Lippman Announces First Statewide System To Deal With Human Trafficking; Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Says New Approach Gives Survivors A Second Chance
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2013

At a Citizens Crime Commission forum, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced the creation of the new Human Trafficking Intervention Courts, the first statewide system in the nation to deal with human trafficking, which will handle all prostitution cases and provide services such as drug treatment, shelter, immigration assistance, health care, and job training.

Speaking at the same forum, Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, said, "Our front-line Legal Aid staff in all five boroughs see the painful impact of charging survivors of human trafficking with crimes when they are actually crime victims. Criminal convictions in these cases can indelibly scar those who have been subjected to human trafficking by leaving them with a criminal record that affects employment, housing, financial aid for college, government benefits, and immigration status. Legal Aid staff attorneys, social workers and paralegals see this every day as we represent clients in the model court parts in the Midtown Community Court and in Queens Criminal Court, and as we advocate for survivors of trafficking in civil and immigration matters. By providing supportive services and vacating past criminal convictions, we can literally give human trafficking survivors a second chance in life. We stand ready to do our part to make this ground-breaking initiative a success." The Legal Aid Society handles some 300,000 legal matters each year for low-income New Yorkers with criminal, civil or juvenile rights legal problems in all five boroughs of New York City, and operates a special Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project which will help carry out the Chief Judge's new initiative.

Banks told the New York Times that the new system was “an extremely important step forward nationally” to set up courts where people accused of prostitution and prostitution-related offenses can be connected to programs that offer what he called “a pathway to change.” He said that “It’s certainly critical that underlying all of this is the concept of providing a helping hand rather than the back of a hand. Survivors of trafficking are left with literally an indelible scar in the form of a criminal record that affects employment, housing, financial aid for college and government benefits and even the ability to stay in this county.” The approach being tried in New York, he added, "give human trafficking survivors a second chance in life." Banks told the Wall Street Journal that "Linking clients to services is a path to change their lives as opposed to the prior punitive approach. What's a common theme to all these cases is people need services to have a second chance."

In an article in the New York Law Journal, Banks said that this approach offers great hope to clients and "a pathway to change."

NY1 also covered the story.




The New York Times
September 25, 2013
Special Courts for Human Trafficking and Prostitution Cases Are Planned in New York
By William K. Rashbaum

New York State is creating a statewide system of specialized criminal courts to handle prostitution cases and provide services to help wrest human- and sex-trafficking victims from the cycle of exploitation and arrest, the state’s chief judge announced on Wednesday. The initiative, he said, is the first of its kind in the nation.

Eleven new courts across the state, modeled on three narrower pilot projects in New York City and Nassau County, will bring together specially trained prosecutors, judges and defense lawyers, along with social workers and an array of other services, the chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, said in a speech to the Citizens Crime Commission in Midtown Manhattan.

“Human trafficking is a crime that inflicts terrible harm on the most vulnerable members of society: victims of abuse, the poor, children, runaways, immigrants,” Judge Lippman said. “It is in every sense a form of modern-day slavery. We cannot tolerate this practice in a civilized society, nor can we afford to let victims of trafficking slip between the cracks of our justice system.”

The new Human Trafficking Intervention Courts will handle all cases involving prostitution-related offenses that continue past arraignment, Judge Lippman said. Cases will be evaluated by the judge, defense lawyer and prosecutor, and if they agree, the court will refer defendants to services like drug treatment, shelter, immigration assistance and health care, as well as education and job training, in an effort to keep them from returning to the sex trade.

The new program is in some measure modeled after specialized courts for domestic violence and low-level drug offenses. They are intended to end the Sisyphean shuffling of victims of trafficking through the criminal justice system, a process that fails to address the underlying reasons for their landing in court — or on the streets — in the first place, the judge said.

The initiative comes at a time of growing consensus among criminal justice professionals across the country that in many cases it makes more sense to treat people charged with prostitution offenses as victims rather than defendants. It is a view that is in some measure born of an increasing focus on the widespread trafficking of under-age girls; women typically enter prostitution in the United States between ages 12 and 14, Judge Lippman said.

That consensus was reflected by some of the people who joined Judge Lippman for the announcement. There were district attorneys from across the state, including Cyrus R. Vance Jr. from Manhattan, Richard A. Brown from Queens and Daniel M. Donovan Jr. from Staten Island; Kathleen M. Rice from Nassau County, who heads the state’s District Attorneys Association; Steven Banks, the Legal Aid Society’s attorney in chief; and Lori L. Cohen, director of Sanctuary for Families’ Anti-Trafficking Initiative, a leading advocate for trafficking victims. Representatives of some of the dozen other service providers involved in the new program also attended.

The consensus was also reflected by three laws passed by the New York Legislature in recent years, including the Anti-Human Trafficking Act, which criminalizes sex and labor trafficking; the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act, under which anyone younger than 18 who is arrested on prostitution charges is treated as “a sexually exploited child”; and a law that allows trafficking victims to have their prostitution convictions vacated.

The new courts, one in each of New York City’s five boroughs and six others situated from Long Island to Buffalo, will all be functioning by the end of October, Judge Lippman said. They will handle 95 percent of the thousands of cases each year in which people are charged with prostitution and human trafficking offenses.

Other cities across the country have special trafficking courts, including Baltimore; Columbus, Ohio; Phoenix; and West Palm Beach, Fla. A law that took effect this month in Texas requires the largest counties to start prostitution diversion programs, and Connecticut has two courts that deal with so-called quality-of-life offenses, including prostitution.

But New York State’s new courts, Judge Lippman said, represent the first statewide system to deal with human trafficking. He said setting up the courts would require minimal to no additional spending because the system would simply be handling the same cases in a more creative manner. He said there would be more costs to the service providers, which are financed largely by government grants and private sources, but he could not provide a dollar figure.

Mr. Banks, of the Legal Aid Society, said in an interview that the new system was “an extremely important step forward nationally” to set up courts where people accused of prostitution and prostitution-related offenses can be connected to programs that offer what he called “a pathway to change.”

“It’s certainly critical that underlying all of this is the concept of providing a helping hand rather than the back of a hand,” he said. “Survivors of trafficking are left with literally an indelible scar in the form of a criminal record that affects employment, housing, financial aid for college and government benefits and even the ability to stay in this county.”

The approach being tried in New York, he added, "give human trafficking survivors a second chance in life."




The Wall Street Journal
NY CRIME
September 25, 2013
Prostitutes Face Fewer Prosecutions
New York Is Creating a Statewide Court System for Defendants Seen by Many as Human-Trafficking Victims
By Alison Fox

New York state courts are expanding a policy of not prosecuting most prostitutes in the traditional criminal-justice system and diverting them to a separate court that treats them as sex-trafficking victims in need of a wide array of social services.

Jonathan Lippman, chief judge of the state's highest judicial body, the Court of Appeals, said Wednesday that next month he would expand pilot projects that exist currently in New York City and Nassau County to eight other places: Staten Island, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Suffolk County, Syracuse, Yonkers, Rochester and Buffalo. He said he wanted 95% of those charged with prostitution-related offenses to have their cases heard in a court system called the Human Trafficking Intervention Initiative.

The courts would have judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys who specialize in prostitution cases. Their goal would be to help prostitutes avoid a criminal conviction by giving them access to education, better jobs and government services.

Judge Lippman called prostitution a complex problem, and said the new system would recognize that "the vast majority of children and adults charged with prostitution offenses are commercially exploited or at risk of exploitation." Judge Lippman called the initiative the first prostitution court started statewide in the nation.

The program began in Queens in 2004 and expanded to Manhattan. In October 2012 it was extended to Nassau County, where District Attorney Kathleen Rice said the court has changed how the county prosecutes prostitutes. Of about 260 prostitution cases in that Nassau court, 109 defendants have accepted services. So far, all have avoided a criminal conviction, Ms. Rice's office said. "I'm certain that our human trafficking intervention court has changed lives and I'm certain that it has also saved lives," she said.

Eligibility for the court is determined by a consensus between the judge, the defense attorney and the prosecutor. Defendants can choose not to participate. The program will target areas with high concentrations of prostitution-related arrests, said David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the state court system.

Judge Toko Serita, who presides over the Queens prostitution court, said she saw more than 450 cases in 2012 alone, and about 80% of those were resolved in noncriminal convictions, including adjournments in contemplation of dismissal—which allows a charge to be dismissed if the defendant doesn't get arrested over a certain period of time.

"You just see amazing transformations. You see defendants going for their GEDs or getting a job, getting their convictions vacated," Judge Serita said.

In one Manhattan court, about 90% of the 151 people who appeared last year completed the programs offered, said Liberty Aldrich, general counsel at the Center for Court Innovation, an organization that runs the services at that human-trafficking court.

Eugene O'Donnell, a former prosecutor and New York City police officer who now lectures at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said there has been a national push toward alternative courts and less jail time, partly because prison is so costly.

"We've gone a very long way from overusing jail and punishment. This is just a further step along the trail to more enlightened enforcement," said Mr. O'Donnell.

Steve Banks, chief attorney at the Legal Aid Society, said different services are offered to different defendants. He said the new courts take the best aspects of the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act—which offers a path to noncriminal convictions for those arrested on prostitution-related charges under 18— and extends a "helping-hand approach throughout the city and throughout the state to a much larger number of victims."

"Linking clients to services is a path to change their lives as opposed to the prior punitive approach," said Mr. Banks. "What's a common theme to all these cases is people need services to have a second chance."




New York Law Journal
Special Parts Created to Aid Human Trafficking Victims
By Andrew Keshner
September 26, 2013

The New York court system is creating a statewide network of special parts to aid victims of human trafficking by linking prostitution defendants with services and holding out the possibility of dismissing their cases.

Calling human trafficking "a form of modern-day slavery," Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said Wednesday, "We cannot tolerate this practice in a civilized society, nor can we afford to let victims of trafficking slip between the cracks of our justice system."

Lippman unveiled a program that will identify trafficking victims and refer them to services like housing, healthcare, immigration assistance, drug treatment and job training. Those who successfully complete court-mandated programs can end up with non-criminal dispositions and reduced or dismissed charges.

Under the Human Trafficking Intervention Initiative, special court parts will be established in New York City's five boroughs and six other counties: Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Onondaga, Monroe and Erie. In Westchester and upstate, the assigned judges will sit in City Courts for Yonkers, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo.

New York City and the other six jurisdictions account for 95 percent of state defendants charged with prostitution and trafficking related offenses.

Three pilot parts have already been set up in Queens, Nassau County and Manhattan's Midtown Community Court. All of the parts will be up and running by the end of October.

Speaking at a Citizens Crime Commission event, Lippman said the initiative is "unprecedented," making New York "the first state in the nation to create a statewide system of courts, designed to intervene in the lives of trafficked human beings and to help them break the cycle of exploitation and arrest."

The program applies to defendants charged with prostitution, prostitution in a school zone, loitering for the purposes of prostitution and unauthorized practice of a licensed profession—often workers at illegal massage parlors. "Overwhelmingly in almost all respects, most of these defendants are victims," Lippman said.

One judge will sit part-time in each trafficking part. Attorneys from both the district attorney's offices and indigent defense organizations will be assigned to the parts.

If the case is not resolved at arraignment, it will be transferred to the trafficking court, where the judge, defense and prosecution will determine whether the defendant needs services.

Some of the organizations involved in the initiative include Sanctuary for Families, Covenant House New York, the Mount Sinai Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Program, Girls Educational & Mentoring Services and the Center for Court Innovation.

Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Felicia Mennin will sit at the Midtown Community Court. Criminal Court Judge John Hecht will oversee Brooklyn's part and Judge Toko Serita will handle the Queens part. The Bronx court will be assigned to Criminal Court Judge Alvin Yearwood and Judge Alan Meyer will handle the Staten Island part.

Syracuse City Court Judge Theodore Limpert, Rochester City Court Judge Ellen Yacknin and Buffalo City Court Judge Amy Martoche will handle parts in their counties.

Yonkers City Court Judge Michael Martinelli will oversee the part in Westchester and Nassau County District Court Judge William O'Brien and Suffolk County District Court Judge Richard Horowitz will sit in the Long Island parts.

Lippman said the cost of launching the initiative would be "negligible," but he said providers could bear increased costs. Still, Lippman said organizations working with the court expressed "tremendous enthusiasm for what we are doing." Lippman added, "If there are ways we can help in terms of grants and letters of support, you bet we will."

New York State has already been a "pioneer" in combatting trafficking, Lippman said.

He noted the state's 2007 enactment of an anti-trafficking statute and the 2008 enactment of the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act, which treats youths charged with prostitution as persons in need of supervision rather than delinquents. He also noted the 2010 amendment to Criminal Procedure Law, whereby proof of a defendant's being trafficked was grounds to dismiss prostitution convictions, pursuant to CPL §440.10(1)(i).

The specialized parts "usher in another new chapter in the continued battle to end the ongoing exploitation of these vulnerable individuals," according to Lippman.

He acknowledged a young woman in attendance named Lakisha, who managed to get out of the sex trade with the help of social service providers and has had her convictions vacated.

"We want everyone else to have that hope and that chance," he said, noting Lakisha is now pursuing a bachelor's degree and considering master's programs for social work.

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, president of the District Attorneys Association of New York, said she was "certain" the pilot program in Nassau had both changed and saved lives.

"We are signaling to the state and the nation that we need to look at human trafficking and the sex trade in a new way that recognizes that these two problems are closely related, and those working in sex trade are often doing it not by choice but by force and coercion. We have to think differently about how we prosecute prostitution cases and who we prosecute to combat the exploitation and the demand that fuel human trafficking."

Nassau's pilot program has handled just over 260 cases since it started in October 2012. Nassau County District Attorney spokesman Shams Tarek said 109 defendants have been referred to various services and their cases have resulted in non-criminal dispositions. The rest of the cases are pending, he said.

Steven Banks, Legal Aid Society attorney-in-chief, said "creating a systemic approach in these parts offers great hope to our clients. The provision of services offers a pathway for change."

He said prostitution-related convictions "leave our clients indelibly scarred" and harm their future in many ways. Both the ability to vacate trafficking-related prostitution convictions and the establishment of the new parts "literally provides a second chance for our clients," he said.

The organization in 2011 established a Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project, under which one staff attorney and one social worker per borough are assigned to handle prostitution-related cases. Banks said 104 motions to vacate convictions for prostitution related offenses have been granted and another 80 are pending (NYLJ, Q&A, July 26).

After the event, Lakisha, 27, who declined to give her last name, said she was "really excited" by the initiative. "I feel like it's a big step in support of victims. It will definitely help the process of victims realizing they are not criminals," she said.

News All Day
NY1 (IND) New York
September 25h, 2013

Lewis Dodley, Co-Anchor: A new initiative aims to help victims of sex trafficking and prostitution. New York 1 Criminal Justice Reporter Dean Meminger has details.

Dean Meminger, Reporter: New York State’s top judge says prostitutes don’t freely choose the career, but rather are forced or manipulated into it.

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, State Court of Appeals: It is, in every sense, a form of modern day slavery. We cannot tolerate this practice in a civilized society, nor can we afford to let victims of trafficking slip between the cracks of our justice system.

Dean Meminger: So, at a Citizen’s Crime Commission meeting, Judge Lippman said by the end of next month, courtrooms will be set up across the state to specifically deal with prostitution and sex trafficking cases. There will be an effort to dismiss cases against accused prostitutes, or lessened charges against them to non-criminal offenses. Counseling and other services will also be offered. The Legal Aid Society is praising the move, saying the majority of prostitutes are victims.

Stephen Banks, the Legal Aid Society: There’s almost a double punishment. These are individuals who are survivors of human trafficking, who are charged with crimes when they themselves are victims.

Dean Meminger: Lakisha was one of those victims who turned her life around. She says more help like the court initiative is needed.

Lakisha, Former Human Trafficking E-mail: People are starting to get it, to understand that, you know, these girls are not criminals. They’re victims, and they need help.

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman: The typical age of entry into prostitution in the United States is only twelve to fourteen years of age.

Dean Meminger: For the last few years, there have been pilot court programs in Manhattan and Queens. Judges say the initiative works, and it is clear the majority of women and children are abused and fearful.

Judge Toko Serita, Queens Human Trafficking Court: Many of the defendants, they are forced to give their money to their pimps. They are often beaten if they do not provide the money that is owed to their pimps.

Dean Meminger: The judges and prosecutors here admit there has to be more emphasis on going after the pimps, human traffickers, and clients, and not just the prostitutes. In Manhattan, Dean Meminger, New York 1.