Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Warns of Harsh Impact on Low Income New Yorkers

Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, testified before the New York City Council today and warned that proposed City cuts for criminal defense and civil legal services in the Mayor's Fiscal Year 2011 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 State cuts, especially at a time when our criminal defense caseload of new cases continues to increase as a result of increased arrests in New York City – even as officials proclaim that crime is down.

On the civil side, the numbers of vulnerable New Yorkers who are seeking our civil legal assistance have increased dramatically during this extraordinary economic downturn and we are forced to turn away eight out of every nine New Yorkers who seek our help. With the new proposed State 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.

Read the full testimony (PDF).