Without Adequate Funding, Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Predicts Further Problems In Providing A Constitutionally Mandated Defense And That The Most Vulnerable New Yorkers Will Be Turned Away At Record Levels
TUESDAY, JANUARY 27, 2009

Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told the State Legislature today that the new proposed State budget cuts will force the nation's largest legal services organization to turn away vulnerable New Yorkers who need legal help at record levels. "We are mindful of the extreme financial difficulties that the State is facing," Banks said. "At the same time, these extraordinary economic conditions are having an especially harsh impact on low income New Yorkers and the need for the legal help that the Society provides to these struggling families and individuals is increasing exponentially."

Banks testified before the State Senate Finance Committee and the State Assembly Committee on Ways and Means on the impact of proposed State Executive Budget funding cuts for civil legal services, criminal defense and indigent parolee defense. He also spoke of the needs in the Juvenile Rights Practice, which is funded by the Office of Court Administration. During the past year, The Legal Aid Society provided civil, criminal and juvenile rights legal services in some 295,000 cases for low income families and individuals in all five boroughs of New York City.

"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 $2.7 million in cuts that we have already sustained in the 2008-2009 State and City budgets this year." Banks said. "On the civil side, we have also already suffered $3 million in cuts in the 2008-2009 State and City budgets and we are forced to turn away six out of every seven 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."

Debbie Wright, President of The Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, the union representing Legal Aid staff lawyers, also testified before the Legislature. Members of ALAA were in Albany today meeting with state legislators on the new proposed budget cuts.

Read the full testimony