Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Urges Legislators To Provide Adequate Funding for Civil and Criminal Representation of Low-Income New Yorkers

Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, urged the State to make provision in the final adopted State budget for low-income New Yorkers who urgently need civil legal assistance in the midst of this severe economic downturn as well as New Yorkers accused -- often wrongfully -- of criminal conduct. Deborah Wright, President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/United Auto Workers, testified with Mr. Banks before the State Senate Finance Committee, the State Assembly Committee on Ways and Means, and the State Senate and Assembly Judiciary Committees.

Banks pointed out that over the past year in literally every zip code in the City, we are able to help only one out of every nine New Yorkers who seek our help with civil legal problems because of our lack of resources. An unprecedented series of hearings in all four Judicial Departments of the State that Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman conducted last fall as part of his Task Force on civil legal services revealed widespread support for civil assistance from business leaders, judges, government officials, educators, physicians, providers of domestic violence prevention assistance, and labor leaders. In addition, recently released federal poverty data shows that the number of children and adults living at 200 percent of the federal poverty level or below in New York State has increased from 5.6 million in 2008 to 6.3 million in 2009. Banks urged support for the Judiciary's budget which contains urgently needed Statewide support for civil legal assistance as well as funding for the continued implementation of New York's landmark criminal defense caseload limits in New York City. In order to provide constitutionally mandated criminal defense representation, the Society is also dependant on direct annual allocations of State Aid to Defense that the State Division of Criminal Justice Services provides. Banks also urged legislators to continue to make specific provision for the Society's Aid to Defense allocation.

View the full testimony (PDF).