"It Was The First Time In Months That Someone Believed In Us," Legal Aid Client Tells Chief Judge
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2014
NY1's Dean Meminger interviews Yvette Walker, after she testified at the First Department hearing

In a moving testimony that brought many in the audience to tears, Yvette Walker told the horrible story of eviction and homelessness until Kathryn Kliff, a Legal Aid attorney stepped in and helped. "It was the first time we felt human again," Ms. Walker said of her first meeting with Kathryn Kliff. "It mattered what we had to say. It was the first time in months that someone believed in us."

Ms. Walker testified before Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman on the process the City is making in expanding civil legal services. Ms. Walker and her teenage daughter, Jasmine, were evicted from a homeless shelter while she was in the hospital for leg surgery. They spent several months in and out of temporary shelters­—all of which were inaccessible for the walker she uses—before The Legal Aid Society stepped in and found them medically appropriate shelter.



The New York Law Journal
Justice Gap Remains Wide, Hearing Witnesses Say
By Tania Karas
September 23, 2014

Speakers at a public hearing Monday said the state is nowhere near closing a "justice gap" in legal representation for low-income New Yorkers despite increased funding for civil legal services in recent years.

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter and New York City Bar Association president Debra Raskin were among nine people who testified before Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman on the city's progress in expanding civil legal services while warning of work ahead if the judiciary expects to make good on its goal of equal justice for all.

During his testimony, Carter, who began his career in criminal practice, said that the right to representation in civil matters is just as integral as the right to counsel in criminal cases upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963).

"Individuals seeking access to our courts of civil jurisdiction often have interests at stake nearly as dear as liberty or even life itself," Carter said. "Think of a family facing foreclosure or eviction, or a parent threatened with the loss of custody of a child, or the loss of access to health services, or reasonable accommodations for a disability."

The two-hour hearing at the Appellate Division, First Department, was the first of four taking place throughout the state over the next month to highlight the individual needs of New York's four Appellate Division departments. It was the beginning of the fifth annual series of hearings where Lippman's Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York has collected information for the state Legislature.

Since 2010, state funding for judiciary civil legal services has increased from $12.5 million for fiscal year 2011-12 to $55 million for 2014-15. An additional $15 million has been earmarked for replacement of diminished IOLA funds.

Even so, that funding does not come close to closing the "justice gap" in New York, Lippman said.

"That is the tip of the iceberg in terms of need," he said. "It is very important we understand, and our public officials understand, that legal services are just as important as housing and education and hospitals and all the other things that are so fundamental in our society."

Lippman was joined on the panel presiding over Monday's hearing by Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti, First Department Presiding Justice Luis Gonzalez and New York State Bar Association president Glenn Lau-Kee.

Mark-Viverito, the council speaker, touted several city-funded initiatives introduced in fiscal year 2014-15, such as its $3.75 million commitment to civil legal services—a 150 percent increase.

But one of the city's biggest and most underfunded crises, she said, is the lack of representation for indigent, undocumented immigrants as the Obama administration ramps up enforcement efforts.

"The upheaval for families and communities caused by detention and deportation is heartbreaking, unnecessary and fundamentally unfair," Mark-Viverito told the panel.

Last year, the city gave $4.9 million to the New York Immigration Family Unity Project, a program aimed at offering legal representation to every detained immigrant facing deportation. But that program doesn't cover the surge of unaccompanied immigrant youth nationwide facing expedited deportations, more than 4,200 of whom have come to New York since Jan. 1 (NYLJ, Sept. 4).

"The numbers are staggering, and make no mistake—this is a humanitarian crisis," Mark-Viverito said. "We have an obligation to protect these kids."

Raskin said that increased state funding has enabled the City Bar Justice Center, the bar association's pro bono arm, to provide more opportunities and training for pro bono lawyers.

But one of the city's biggest and most underfunded crises, she said, is the lack of representation for indigent, undocumented immigrants as the Obama administration ramps up enforcement efforts.

"The upheaval for families and communities caused by detention and deportation is heartbreaking, unnecessary and fundamentally unfair," Mark-Viverito told the panel.

Last year, the city gave $4.9 million to the New York Immigration Family Unity Project, a program aimed at offering legal representation to every detained immigrant facing deportation. But that program doesn't cover the surge of unaccompanied immigrant youth nationwide facing expedited deportations, more than 4,200 of whom have come to New York since Jan. 1 (NYLJ, Sept. 4).

"The numbers are staggering, and make no mistake—this is a humanitarian crisis," Mark-Viverito said. "We have an obligation to protect these kids."

Raskin said that increased state funding has enabled the City Bar Justice Center, the bar association's pro bono arm, to provide more opportunities and training for pro bono lawyers.

"Our combined commitment has not generated a sufficient amount of pro bono hours coming close to meeting the need," she said.

The panel also heard from three clients of legal services providers. Yvette Walker said she and her teenage daughter were evicted from a homeless shelter while she was in the hospital for leg surgery. They spent several months in and out of temporary shelters­—all of which were inaccessible for the walker she uses—before the Legal Aid Society stepped in and found them medically appropriate shelter.

"It was the first time we felt human again," Walker said of her first meeting with Legal Aid attorney Kathryn Kliff. "It mattered what we had to say. It was the first time in months that someone believed in us."

Other hearings will be held at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 29 at the Telesca Center for Justice, 1 West Main St. in Rochester; at 10 a.m. Sept. 30 at Staten Island Supreme Court, 26 Central Ave.; and at 2 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Court of Appeals, 20 Eagle St. in Albany.