Legal Aid's Chief Lawyer Reacts To State Budget Cuts for Criminal and Civil Work

Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, released the following statement on the impact of proposed State budget cuts. He is quoted in the New York Law Journal article.

The proposed State cuts for criminal defense and civil legal services will hurt New Yorkers accused of crimes and families and individuals who need 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 on top of $3 million in cuts that we have already sustained in the State and City budgets this year. On the civil side, we have also already suffered $3 million in cuts in the State and City budgets and we are forced to turn away six out of every seven New Yorkers who seek our help, and now with the new State cuts we'll 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.

New York Law Journal
N.Y. Governor Praises Courts' Budget, Passes on Judges' Raise
Joel Stashenko
December 17, 2008

N.Y. Gov. David A. Paterson praised the judiciary for making an austere spending request even while the courts confront an influx of foreclosure, personal debt and other cases related to the "greatest economic and fiscal challenge of our lifetime."

However, Paterson did not include a raise for judges, whose salaries have not increased since January 1999, in the spending plan he submitted Tuesday to the Legislature.

His two immediate predecessors, George E. Pataki and Eliot Spitzer, had both proposed judicial pay increases in the last three executive budget submissions. Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye has advanced higher pay for judges in the judiciary's budget annually since 2005.

By law, the governor was bound to forward the judiciary's proposal for the 2009-10 state budget to the Legislature as it was sent him by Kaye and the other six members of the Court of Appeals.

But governors can add commentary on the courts' proposals, if they wish. And Paterson acknowledged court efforts to curb spending.

"To its credit, the Judiciary has submitted a request that does not appeal for an increase in resources, but rather seeks to better utilize existing funding to meet its core constitutional mission," Paterson said in his submission.

He called the judiciary's $2.5 billion budget proposal "responsive" to the spirit of belt-tightening he said he has been trying to instill on state government to close a budget gap of $1.7 billion in the current fiscal year and a projected $13.7 billion gap in fiscal 2009-10.

The overall judiciary budget, including federal monies, represents an increase of 0.1 percent or $2.3 million. Support for the courts from the state's General Fund, comprising most taxpayer funding flowing to the state treasury, would be flat at $2.27 billion.

Paterson also added a personal word to Kaye, who will step down on Dec. 31 due to mandatory retirement rules after 25 years on the court.

"The chief judge is to be commended for her thoughtfulness in preparing this proposal, and I wish her well in her future endeavors," said Paterson, who must nominate Kaye's successor to the Senate between Jan. 1 and Jan. 15.

The overall size of the state budget put forward by Paterson would be $121.1 billion, which is $1.3 billion, or 1.1 percent, higher than this year's spending plan. It contains a slew of new taxes, fees and cost-cutting initiatives.

The new budget year begins April 1, 2009. Paterson said he was submitting his proposal about six weeks earlier than usual because of the "extraordinary" fiscal obstacles faced by the state and the "gaping gash" in the budget that needs to be plugged.

"Unfortunately, we have lived beyond our means," Paterson told state lawmakers gathered Tuesday in Albany to hear him outline the new spending plan. "We've made too many promises and, unfortunately, have asked for few too sacrifices."

The adoption of the judiciary budget and other aspects of the 2009-10 spending plan is now up to the Legislature, subject to bargaining with the governor. The judiciary's spending plan can be altered in that process.

Internal cost-cutting measures have saved the judiciary more than $40 million this year, according to Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau.

She said Tuesday the judiciary's budget was drawn up with the tight fiscal times in mind.


Court administrators will review Paterson's overall budget proposal to gauge its effect on the Office of Children and Family Services and other state and local agencies whose work directly affects the courts, Pfau said.

"We are mindful that severe cuts in the agencies that support our litigants can have an impact on our courts and we are concerned about that," she said.

In addition to the added burden on the courts from foreclosures and other economic-related problems, Paterson reported a 12 percent increase in family matter filings statewide due to a July 2008 law allowing people to seek civil orders of protection against those with whom they have had "relationships." The law previously had limited the securing of those orders to spouses or blood relatives of alleged abusers and not boyfriends and girlfriends of abuse victims.

The budget also cited the continued surge in child abuse and neglect cases -- up by more than a third in New York City over the past five years -- as posing a caseload challenge to the judiciary.

The budget does not contain money, other than that to be provided by the Interest on Lawyer Accounts (IOLA) program, for civil legal services for the poor. State funding outside of IOLA fell from a record $15.3 million in fiscal 2007-08 to a projected $7.3 million in 2008-09 due to budget problems.

Historically, the Assembly has provided millions of dollars above IOLA funding for civil legal services during final budget negotiations.

Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief for the Legal Aid Society in New York City, said cuts for criminal defense and civil legal services in the governor's budget "will hurt New Yorkers accused of crimes and families and individuals who need legal help in the midst of this severe economic downturn."