March  8 , 2013


» Visit
» Contact Us

The Legal Aid Society, the nation's oldest and largest not-for-profit legal services organization, is more than a law firm for low-income clients. It is an indispensable component of the legal, social, and economic fabric of New York City - passionately advocating for low-income individuals and families across a variety of civil, criminal and juvenile rights matters, while also fighting for legal reform. Through a network of borough, neighborhood, and courthouse offices in 25 locations in New York City, the Society provides comprehensive legal services in all five boroughs of New York City for clients who cannot afford to pay for private counsel.

Annually, the Society handles some 300,000 cases and legal matters for clients. The Legal Aid Society takes on more cases for more clients than any other legal services organization in the United States. And it brings a depth and breadth of perspective that is unmatched in the legal profession. The Legal Aid Society's unique value is an ability to go beyond any one case to create more equitable outcomes for individuals and broader, more powerful systemic change for society as a whole. In addition to the annual caseload of 300,000 individual cases and legal matters, the Society's law reform work benefits some two million low-income families and individuals in New York City and the landmark rulings in many of these cases have a Statewide and national impact.

Legal Aid in the News

Attorney-in-Chief Cites Increased Need For Legal Aid's Civil Legal Assistance As The Legal Profession's First Responder And Largest Disaster Relief Provider In The Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

As the legal profession's First Responder and largest disaster relief provider, The Legal Aid Society continues to help thousands of needy New Yorkers in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Legal Aid staff members continue to provide the comprehensive disaster relief legal assistance at shelters for homeless and displaced New Yorkers, at the disaster centers, at community-based organizations, and through the Society's Mobile Justice Unit. "It was a desperate situation before the storm and it has become exponentially worse as the result of the storm," Steven Banks , Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told the media. He added that "[t]here are other natural disasters that are examples of what is going to happen as we go forward. What was found after [Hurricane] Katrina is that there is an increased amount of immediate needs and [then] also an increased amount of longer-term needs-an increased amount of family law because of the increased tension on family life, for instance . . . [an increased need for assistance] with retraining services to help people get back into the job market and, of course, increased needs in terms of housing." The Society serves more than 100,000 adults and children with civil legal problems each year.

In January, thousands of individuals and families who were income eligible and who lost their homes, property, power, heat and income because of Hurricane Sandy were unlawfully denied assistance because the City Administration limited the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Several elected officials joined a group of low-income New Yorkers, represented by The Legal Aid Society's Civil Practice, in a lawsuit against the City.



Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Raises Concerns About Destruction Of Evidence At NYPD Warehouse Because of Hurricane Sandy

The Legal Aid Society's Attorney-in-Chief, Steven Banks, appeared on national and local television and radio, including MSNBC, CNN, WABC, NY1 and National Public Radio to raise concerns about potential wrongful convictions because 11,000 barrels of evidence may have been lost due to damage at two New York Police Department warehouses in Brooklyn as a result of Hurricane Sandy. He also said that New York State's antiquated discovery law may prevent many New Yorkers accused of crimes, often wrongfully, from even knowing whether evidence in their cases has been lost until the time of trial. In a New York Times article, Banks said that "[t]his is likely to be the tip of the iceberg." One of the first six cases, a New Yorker represented by The Legal Aid Society's Brooklyn Criminal Defense office was convicted recently of a crime based, in part, on DNA evidence destroyed during Hurricane Sandy. "We believe the ruling that permitted the evidence to come in was incorrect and we are appealing," Banks said, adding that the situation was "a recipe for wrongful convictions."




Legal Aid's Chief Attorney, The New York City Council and WilmerHale Protect Vulnerable Homeless Women and Men; First Department Upholds Trial Court Order Stopping City Plan To Deny Them Shelter

A unanimous decision on February 14 by the Appellate Division, First Department affirmed a 2012 trial court ruling that the New York City Department of Homeless Services cannot implement a controversial new policy that would have permitted the denial of shelter from the elements for homeless single women and men. On behalf of homeless women and men and the Coalition for the Homeless, The Legal Aid Society and pro bono counsel Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP argued that the Department of Homeless Services failed to comply with the City Administrative Procedure Act because the Department did not provide public notice and an opportunity for public comment on this sea change in City policy. The New York City Council also challenged the proposed new policy on the grounds that the Department violated the City Administrative Procedure Act. Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society who argued the case before the First Department last month, said the ruling "will protect vulnerable women and men from being denied shelter under the Department of Homeless Services' proposed new shelter denial plan. It should not have required litigation to stop this plan that would have resulted in women and men in need of shelter being turned away when they seek help from the Department of Homeless Services. We greatly appreciate the leadership of the Speaker and the City Council in this matter."



Petty Arrests Take Toll On Lives of New Yorkers, Tremendous Cost To The City

Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society, and Joel Schmidt, a Staff Attorney in the Queens office of the Criminal Practice, appeared on WCBS, Channel 2 News, on February 26 in a segment on over policing where New Yorkers are arrested for minor things, spend the night in jail and are released the next day. Banks told WCBS that jail time for these petty crimes is on the rise. "It seems like they're hitting an ant with a sledgehammer," Banks said. "It's a tremendous cost to the system, and a tremendous individual cost to New Yorkers." Schmidt called the arrest of one of his clients for taking up two seats on a subway outrageous. The construction worker fell asleep on the subway at 1 a.m. and slipped onto a second seat.



The Legal Aid Society Marks The 50th Anniversary Of Gideon; A Series of Events Are Planned

The Legal Aid Society and The Association of Legal Aid Attorneys have planned a series of events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court's landmark Gideon vs. Wainwright decision which established a federal constitutional right to counsel for adults accused of crimes in the United States.

As the oldest and largest legal services provider in the United States, The Legal Aid Society plans to mark the anniversary with a series of events, including: a March 19th showing of the award-winning documentary Scenes of a Crime; a special program on the implementation of criminal defense caseload limitations to enable The Legal Aid Society's Criminal Practice to help New Yorkers accused of crimes, often wrongfully, secure the promise of Gideon; and a 50th anniversary celebration of The Legal Aid Society's Juvenile Rights Practice which represented children in Family Court even before such representation was legally mandated. As part of the Gideon anniversary events, ALAA is also conducting "know your rights" programs on March 18, the actual anniversary of the decision, on Riker's Island and in other New York City Department of Corrections facilities.

On March 19, The Legal Aid Society and the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys are sponsoring a showing of the award-winning documentary "Scenes of a Crime," a 90-minute film which presents a riveting insight into a fully recorded police interrogation and its consequences, seen through the eyes of the detectives, witnesses, the defense and prosecution teams, jurors, and the defendant himself. The documentary presents the case of People v. Adrian Thomas, which will be heard by the New York Court of Appeals later this year. The screening is on Tuesday, March 19, at 6 p.m. at the Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue (at the corner of 2nd Street). The screening will be followed by a presentation and Q & A with Dr. Richard Ofshe, a leading expert on false confessions.

Information on the other Gideon anniversary events will be provided over the course of the next few weeks. For further information, please contact Pat Bath, The Legal Aid Society's Director of Communications, at



Legal Aid Immigration Unit Supervisor Raises Concerns About U.S. Supreme Court's Recent Immigration Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court held that its landmark Padilla ruling does not apply retroactively under federal law. In 2010, the High Court ruled in Padilla v. Kentucky that criminal lawyers are required to advise immigrant clients that they could be deported if they plead guilty to certain crimes. In New York, the State's highest court has not ruled yet on whether the Padilla principle applies retroactively under State law. In response to the U.S. Supreme Court's retroactively ruling, Ward Oliver, a Supervising Attorney in The Legal Aid Society's Immigration Law Unit, told Reuters that, in reviewing cases referred to Legal Aid, Society attorneys "see many cases where if the person had gotten advice, the immigration consequences would have been avoidable."




New York Law Journal Reports On Arrest-to-Arraignment Improvements And Legal Aid's Arraignment Advocacy Role

 On  February 14th, The New York Law Journal published an article on improvements in arrest-to-arraignment times since Criminal Court Judge George Grasso was assigned to monitor arraignments full-time and weekend hours were restored. As the Law Journal reported, last summer, The Legal Aid Society advised the City that it was ready to sue over the high arraignment times and the City responded by providing more resources for the transportation of prisoners. The Society's Attorney-in-Chief, Steven Banks, told the Law Journal that since that time "the 24-hour [arrest-to-arraignment] situation has been relatively stable for a number of months." Banks also credited the resumption of weekend arraignment hours after they had been reduced due to budget cuts and the appointment of Judge Grasso for improving arraignment times. Judge Grasso has "demonstrated a great feel for the realities of the system and solutions to certain problems that had been endemic," such as bringing prisoners and paperwork to the courthouse, Banks told the Law Journal. Arraigning suspects within 24 hours of their arrest was mandated in a 1991 Court of Appeals decision in a Legal Aid case, Roundtree v. Brown, 77 NY2d 422. When asked if the downward trend marked a new day in compliance with Roundtree, Banks said that Legal Aid attorneys are "perennial optimists" but "also realists and we understand our role is to periodically hold everyone's feet to the fire so that this is a right that's real, rather than one that exists on paper."


Legal Aid Chief Testifies Before Council On The Central Park Five Case And The Need To Require Video-Taping Of Police Interrogations To Prevent Wrongful Convictions

Attorney-in-Chief Steven Banks testified before the New York City Council  on  February 12 in support of a proposed Council resolution calling on the City to settle the civil lawsuit brought by the five young men who, as children, were wrongfully conflicted of raping the Central Park jogger based on false confessions obtained by law enforcement. Banks noted that more than 40 percent of the wrongful convictions in New York State proven by post-conviction DNA testing, as occurred in the Central Park Five case, are the result of false convictions. He added that New York State has had more documented and proven false confessions than any State except Illinois. Banks told the Council that, for many years, The Legal Aid Society has supported the mandatory recording of police interrogations to prevent such wrongful convictions, and that the Central Park Five case is a tragic illustration of the urgent need for this requirement.


Second Department Stops Taking 18-B Applications; Chief Legal Aid Attorney Says Legal Aid Can Provide Cost-Effective And Comprehensive Representation To Additional New Yorkers

A New York Law Journal article on February 22 reported that the Appellate Division, Second Department has stopped taking 18-B assigned counsel applications because it has sufficient individual attorneys on the 18-B assigned counsel panel and does not expect to need more because of the City's criminal defense plan involving greater reliance on institutional providers. Steven Banks, The Legal Aid Society's Attorney-in-Chief, said the Society is "ready, willing and able to provide cost-effective and comprehensive representation to additional New Yorkers accused of crimes, often wrongfully." Banks also told the Law Journal that several other factors could be in play that may reduce the need for assigned 18-B counsel, such as the possibility of revamped stop-and-frisks policies and a proposal to reduce arrests for low-level marijuana possession. The City's current contract with The Legal Aid Society provides for the organization to handle 213,000 cases during this fiscal year across the five boroughs.

In October 2012, the New York State Court of Appeals upheld the City's plan to assign both non-conflict and conflict criminal cases to The Legal Aid Society. The Legal Aid Society had intervened in this case in 2010 because the litigation by various 18-B groups and bar associations to block the City's plan prevented the City from allocating to the Society its full criminal defense caseload and the funding associated with it.


City Announces New Policy To Stop Subjecting Most New Yorkers To A Night In Jail For Possession Of Small Quantities Of Marijuana

During his final State of the City address on February 14, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the City will no longer subject most individuals to a night in jail pending their appearance before a Judge for possessing small amounts of marijuana, and will back the Governor's proposed legislation to treat the cases as violations. "Until the (State) legislation is passed, this is an important step that will spare thousands of New Yorkers from the harm of spending a night in jail," Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told Reuters. In June 2012, The Legal Aid Society and the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court to prohibit the New York Police Department from continuing to make unlawful marijuana arrests. State law requires that people who possess small amounts of marijuana that is not open to public view should be charged only with a violation and be given a ticket to appear in court at a later date.



Legal Aid's Holiday Party For Children Delights 500 Children

The Legal Aid Society sponsored its annual holiday party for more than 500 children and their families on December 18 at Synod Hall on the grounds of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Special thanks to Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP; Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP; Hughes, Hubbard & Reed LLP; Terri and Richard Kim; Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP; Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason, Anello & Bohrer P.C.; Scholastic Books; Sidley Austin, LLP; Sullivan & Cromwell LLP; and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, and the Board of Directors and Board of Advisors and the Legal Aid staff for donating toys and contributions and volunteers. The New Amsterdam Singers and Legal Aid's own Human Resources Director Allan Fox and his ensemble entertained the children. The highlight was a special visit from Santa Claus, A. Robert Pietrzak, a partner at Sidley Austin LLP and a member of the Society's Board of Directors.



Legal Aid Chief Raises Concern About Whether NYCHA Will Keep Promise To Eliminate Backlog In Repairs In Public Housing

A New York Times editorial in the February 7th edition cited comments by The Legal Aid Society's Attorney-in-Chief Steven Banks about a City plan to eliminate the backlog of 420,000 repairs in the apartments of some 400,000 New York City Housing Authority residents. The Times editorial reported that Banks was skeptical about such promises, and said that while he welcomed the NYCHA plan he noted that the Housing Authority has made similar promises before without making a dent in the backlog.


Legal Aid Chief Says Says Current Bail System Punishes New Yorkers Before They Even Have Their Day In Court

Steven Banks, The Legal Aid Society's Attorney-in-Chief, praised Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's proposal to reform the bail system for low-income New Yorkers in the New York Daily News and the New York Law Journal and on WNYC. Banks told the Daily News that front-line Legal Aid lawyers "see a substantial number of clients who can't pay bail amounts in the hundreds of dollars, let alone in the thousands of dollars." In an interview on WNYC, Banks said the current bail system punishes defendants before they are convicted of anything. "When people are behind the prison walls of Rikers, it wears them down and the main goal is to get out and sometimes the goal of getting out overwhelms the goal of vindication," he told WNYC. In the New York Law Journal, he said that the current system effectively keeps low-income people accused of low-level, non-violent offenses in jail because they cannot get bonds for relatively small amounts.




Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Supports New York State Chief Judge's Call For Bail Reform To Prevent Low-Income New Yorkers From Languishing In Jail

In his annual state of the Judiciary address on February 5 Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman called for bail reform because, as reported in The New York Times, the current system is stacked against those accused of minor crimes, keeping them in jail at great personal hardship and weakening their resolve in plea negotiations. The Chief Judge called that outcome "unfair" and said it "strips our justice system of its credibility." Reporting on the Chief Judge's proposal, The New York Times cited data showing that there were 19,137 nonfelony defendants arrested in New York City who had bail set at $1,000 or less and that 87 percent of the defendants in those cases did not post bail and went to jail to await trial where they remained for an average of 15.7 days. One of the underlying principles of the bail system in New York is that bail should not reflexively reflect a presumption of guilt of a crime. But, as The Legal Aid Society has frequently pointed out, for low-income defendants, the current bail system often serves as a de facto sentence before trial. Steven Banks, The Legal Aid Society's Attorney-in-Chief, told the Times that "[t]he bail system in New York is frankly an embarrassment." Banks added that "[i]t's essentially sentence first, disposition second."


Legal Aid Paralegal Intervenes On Behalf Of Homeless Family Who Was Denied Shelter In Sub-Freezing Weather

A Daily News report February 16 reveals that the City's Department of Homeless Services denied shelter to families in sub-freezing weather. Previously, such shelter denials for families had been suspended when the temperature fell below 32 degrees. The Daily News story recounted how a family was turned away when it was 13 degrees outside until Cristina Schrum-Herrera, a paralegal in The Legal Aid Society's Homeless Rights Project, intervened on the family's behalf with the City and the decision was reversed. Ms. Schrum-Herrera expressed concern to the Daily News that The Legal Aid Society cannot assist every family in these desperate circumstances.



Op-Ed Piece By ABA President Features Great Work of Kate Mogulescu; Carried in 16 Newspapers Nation-Wide

An op-ed piece by American Bar Association President, Laurel Bellows, focusing on the trafficking work of Kate Mogulescu, who heads the Trafficking Victims Legal Defense and Advocacy Project of The Legal Aid Society, was published on the McClatchy-Tribune opinion wire and picked up by 16 newspapers across the country.



Jeopardy, Number 1 Quiz Show In U.S., Features The Legal Aid Society

On its nationally syndicated television show that is the highest rated quiz show in the United States, Jeopardy focused December 28 on The Legal Aid Society, the oldest and largest not-for-profit legal services organization in the nation that annually provides legal assistance in some 300,000 legal matters for low-income families and individuals with civil, criminal, and juvenile rights legal problems. The category was "LA," the hint was the Society's motto "making the case for humanity," and the answer was "The Legal Aid Society."

The Legal Aid Society's New Leadership Program Launch Party ; Sponsors Panel on The Scope of Violence Against Women and How to End it

Approximately 70 of New York's leading young professionals from all walks of life convened at the Dream Downtown's Electric Room on January 31, 2013 to toast the launch of a new program at The Legal Aid Society-The New Leadership Program. The New Leadership Program is a group of young professionals who share the Legal Aid Society's belief that no New Yorker should be denied access to justice because of poverty. Among other New Leadership Program supporters, attorneys, bankers, consultants, financiers, graphic designers, luxury manufacturers and real estate representatives gathered in the Electric Room's British-style venue to support a great cause. Developed over the past 12 months by a core group of young lawyers, the New Leadership Program's Board currently consists of 33 members representing 11 banks, hedge funds, private equity firms, and real estate firms in addition to 22 top law firms in New York City. Revenue raised at this January 31st event went directly to support the Society's civil legal assistance for the most vulnerable children and adults in all five boroughs of the City, including senior citizens, children and adults with disabilities, survivors of domestic violence, immigrants, low-wage workers, persons living with HIV/AIDS, and homeless and imminently homeless children and adults as well as families and individuals with new problems caused by Hurricane Sandy. For more information about NLP, please contact Susanna Bonilla-Bowman at

The Legal Aid Society's New Leadership Program Board also presented a panel discussion on "The Scope of Violence Against Women and How to End it" on February 14 at The Legal Aid Society's headquarters at 199 Water Street. Panelists included Tiloma Jayasinghe, executive director of Sakhi; Dori Lewis, supervising attorney in the Society's Prisoners' Rights Project; Kate Mogulescu, staff attorney in the Society's Traffickig Victims Legal Defense & Advocacy Project; and Laura Russell, supervising attorney in the Society's Domestic Violence Unit. The moderator is Svetlana Eisenberg of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, who is chair of the New Leadership Program Board.



Legal Aid 's Brooklyn Criminal Defense Staff Helps Clients Through The Community-based Safe Surrender Program

For the third year, The Legal Aid Society Brooklyn Criminal Defense staff participated in Project Safe Surrender, a program to vacate outstanding warrants and thereby give community residents a second chance. The program is an impressive collaboration among the Kings County District Attorney's Office, The Legal Aid Society, the New York State Office of Court Administration, the police, and a number of churches in Bedford Stuyvesant in an effort to restore the lives of those in the community with outstanding summonses. Under the leadership Dawn Ryan, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Society's Brooklyn Criminal Defense office, lawyers, paralegals, investigators, administrative and support staff, and technical support staff worked at Mount Sion Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant where a temporary courtroom was set up. Hundreds of New Yorkers received a second chance by getting summonses and warrants dismissed December 14, and December 15, 2012.



The Legal Aid Society Celebrates Black History Month

Aishah Bruno, Paralegal Casehandler in the Employment Law Unit of the Civil Practice; Social Worker James "Greg" Graves of the Manhattan office of the Criminal Practice; and Antoinette Kirwan, a Staff Attorney in the Bronx office of the Juvenile Rights Practice, spoke to a standing-room only crowd at The Legal Aid Society's Black History celebration on February 28 at The Legal Aid Society headquarters at 199 Water Street. The special reception celebrating Black History month honors all Black women and men who are members of the Legal Aid family for their many accomplishments and contributions.




Directors Elected, Staff Honored At 136th Annual Meeting

Seventeen Directors were elected or re-elected to the Board of The Legal Aid Society at its 136th Annual Meeting on Thursday, December 13, 2012, at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, 450 Lexington. Seven members of the staff received the prestigious Orson S. Marden Awards for outstanding service and dedication.

New Directors include: Matthew S. Furman, senior vice president, group general counsel and corporate secretary of The Travelers Companies, Inc.; James D. Herschlein, a partner at Kaye Scholer LLP; Tracy Richelle High, a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP; Joon Kim, a partner at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton LLP; Jeremy H. Temkin, a partner at Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason, Anello & Bohrer P.C.; and Marc Wolinsky, a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. Re-elected to the Board of Directors were: Peter A. Bicks, partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP; Christopher P. Conniff, partner at Ropes & Gray LLP; Michele Hirshman, partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; Steven G. Kobre, partner at Kobre & Kim LLP; Alan Levine, partner at Cooley LLP; Aaron H. Marks, partner at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP; Martin Nussbaum, partner at Dechert LLP; Vincent Pagano, Jr., partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP; Miles N. Ruthberg, partner at Latham & Watkins, LLP; Charles Weinstein,CEO and member of the Executive Committee at EisnerAmper LLP; and Jonathan B. Whitney, partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw LLP.

The following persons were elected or re-elected to the Board of Advisors: Thomas R. Brome, Michael J. Chepiga, Barbara Latz Cohen, J. Peter Coll, Jr. Michael A. Cooper, George A. Davidson, Richard A. Eisner, Michael D. Fricklas, John Kirby, Maurice N. Nessen, Lawrence B. Pedowitz, and Linda Rapapport.

The Orison S. Marden Awards which recognize outstanding service and dedication were presented to: Jane Sujen Bock, Staff Attorney in the Civil Practice's Homeless Rights Project; John Schoeffel, Staff Attorney in the Criminal Practice's Special Litigation Unit; Jose Martinez, Support Staff in Bronx Civil; Wendy Remy, Paralegal in Brooklyn Civil; Nicholas Rivera, Investigator in Queens Criminal; Vanessa Cherena, Supervising Attorney in the Bronx Juvenile Rights Office; and Magda Rosa-Rios, Supervising Attorney in the Civil Practice's Harlem Community Law Office.

Staff members who are celebrating their 25th, 30th, 35th and 40th year with the Society were recognized . . . Read more



The Legal Aid Society Newsletter is written and edited by Pat Bath, Director of Communications, with technical assistance from Jason Smallwood, Web Developer.

© 2013 The Legal Aid Society • 199 Water Street, New York, NY 10038 •