September 24, 2015



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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 26 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 and its 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 State-wide and national impact. 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.

Legal Aid in the News


Peter Sloane and David Januszewski Honored for Pro Bono Work on Behalf of Kathryn A. McDonald Education Advocacy Project G. Sloane and David G. Januszewski, partners at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP were honored by The Legal Aid Society for their pro bono work on behalf of clients of the Kathryn A. McDonald Education Advocacy Project. Januszewski is also a member of the Legal Aid Board of Directors. Seymour W. James, Attorney-in-Chief, presented the awards at the EAP Fall Benefit at New York Law School. .Ann McDonald of Robinson McDonald & Canna LLP and Susan Butler Plum, Founding Director of the Skadden Fellowship Foundation, served as honorary chairs.

The EAP provides early intervention, special education, and general education advocacy for children in New York City's child welfare, delinquency, and persons-in-need-of-supervision systems. Since 2001, EAP has provided direct advocacy to over 3,800 abused, neglected, and disadvantaged children. EAP has engaged in systemic reform to protect and define the special education rights of children involved in Family Court cases and has trained thousands of parents, foster parents, and child welfare professionals.


Eight Bills Lead the Way to Rikers Island Reforms; Legal Aid Worked Closely With New York City Council

The New York City Council passed eight bills, which are expected to be signed into law by Mayor de Blasio, which lead the way to reforms for inmates at Rikers Island. The bills are an effort to mandate greater transparency into and oversight of the Department of Correction and to reduce violence within the city's jails. One of the bills (Intro 784-A) creates an inmate Bill of Rights and Code of Conduct and mandates rules for ensuring that it is presented to prisoners to inform all incoming inmates of their rights and responsibilities under the DOC rules of conduct. Other bills are specifically intended to increase Department of Correction transparency by mandating that the city makes far more information publically available, including: demographic breakdowns of inmates; the rules regarding the use of force by staff on inmates; the number of inmates on a waiting list for a segregated housing unit; the bail amounts set for inmates; how long inmates are incarcerated pretrial; the number of visits inmates in city jails receive; and the number of grievances filed by inmates, the status of grievances, and the resolution or dismissal of grievances.

Seymour James, Jr., the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, who worked closely with the City Council to develop the legislation, told Gotham Gazette that he believes the bills will go a long way to address some of the problems. He added that "there needs to be greater oversight and discipline of the correctional officers. We believe that if they (correction officers) have to report on the problems that are in existence, then there will be pressure on them to reduce the problems and limit them. If in fact there are long waits for people to get into housing, if there are problems with visitation, if they have to report on it, it's an incentive for them to correct the problem." Aid Participates in New Program Called Poverty Justice Solutions to Help Low-Income Tenants in Housing Court

The Center for Court Innovation launched a new program called Poverty Justice Solutions, which involves recent law school graduates who represent low-income clients in Housing Court. The 20 fellows in the program will spend two years representing tenants facing eviction or those who are seeking housing repairs. The Legal Aid Society is one of 12 legal services organizations to whom the fellows have been assigned.


Legal Aid and Mayer Brown File Suit Against Brooklyn Landlord for Refusing to Rent to Low-Income People Using City Subsidy

A Brooklyn landlord's refusal to rent to tenants who plan to pay rent through the City's Living in Communities (LINC) Rental Assistance Program prompted a lawsuit by The Legal Aid Society and Mayer Brown LLP. The suit was filed in New York County Supreme Court on behalf of a homeless woman, a couple with two children, and the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC). "It's totally illegal for this landlord to say that they are not going to accept tenants because of how they are going to pay their rent," Robert Desir, a Staff Attorney in the Civil Law Reform Unit, told DNAinfo. The lawsuit charges Starrett City, Inc., and Grenadier Realty with source of income discrimination.

Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit, told the Daily News that the litigation is designed to get landlords to "open their doors" to the LINC Rental Assistance Program. HRA Commissioner Steven Banks said in a statement that The Legal Aid Society informed his agency that Spring Creek Towers, the apartment complex, wasn't accepting the rental vouchers. He added that his agency was glad legal action was being taken.

"People receiving rent assistance have the same legal right to rent an apartment as anyone else," he said. "HRA will take firm action anytime we learn of discrimination against families receiving rent help."


Seymour James Serves As Keynote at NYCLA Awards Ceremony; Maria Navarro and Cynthia Pong Are Recognized James, Attorney-in-Chief, was the keynote speaker at the New York County Lawyers' Association 2015 Public Service Awards and spoke about the work of the Prisoners' Rights Project and PRP efforts to reduce violence against inmates by the DOC staff.

Maria Navarro, Supervising Attorney in the Legal Aid Immigration Law Unit, was honored as one of the recipients of the public service awards. Cynthia Pong, a Staff Attorney in the Bronx office of the Criminal Practice, was the winner of the Public Fellowship Award presented by the Criminal Justice Section.

Caption: The New York County Lawyers' Association presented the 2015 Public Service Awards on September 17. Awardees: third from left to right: Catherine Bowman-Director, HIV/LGBTQ Project, Legal Services NYC; Jennifer Brown-Attorney-in-Charge, Southern District of New York Trial Unit, Federal Defenders of New York, Inc.; Randal Jeffrey-Director, General Legal Services Unit, New York Legal Assistance Group; Bonnie Jonas-Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division, U.S Attorney's Office, SDNY; Melissa Mourges-Chief of the Forensic Sciences/Cold Case Unit, New York County District Attorney's Office; Maria Navarro-Supervising Attorney, Immigration Law Unit, The Legal Aid Society; and Criminal Justice Section's Public Service Fellowship Award winner Cynthia Pong- Staff Attorney, The Legal Aid Society, Bronx.Also attending was Carol Sigmond-NYCLA President, left; Catherine Christian Public Service Awards Committee Chair, second from left. Seymour James-Attorney-in-Chief, Legal Aid Society and the keynote speaker, Right. Geoffrey Bickford- Criminal Justice Section co-chair, second from right.


Legal Aid Client Has Force Complaint Against Officer Who Arrested Tennis Star

Leroy Cline, a Queens resident was a college student in 2012 when he was pulled over by Officer James Frascatore because of a broken taillight and punched three times in the mouth.

Cline recalled the ordeal to the New York Times and CNN in light of Franscatore's manhandling arrest of former tennis star James Blake. A memorandum Kenneth Finkelman, Staff Attorney in the Queens office of the Criminal Practice, sent to the Queens District Attorney's office outlined the incident. The memo quotes an expert who had reviewed the  medical records, indicating that the cut on the officer's hand was consistent with him punching Cline in the mouth even though the officer had accused Cline of biting him and charged him with assaulting a police officer. The assault charges were dropped in exchange for Cline pleading guilty to a traffic infraction, Finkelman said. CNN Sports also carried an interview with Cline who has filed a lawsuit.


Legal Aid's Community Justice Unit Featured in NLADA's Update

The National Legal Aid and Defender Association featured The Legal Aid Society's Community Justice Unit in its NLADA Update. The unit, which was begun in 2012, was originally known as the LAS Anti-Gun Violence Unit until the Society recently changed the name to better describe the work it does throughout the City and its mission to connect with people where the problems exist and not simply wait to meet our clients in offices and courthouses. The unit's dedicated attorneys and paralegals work in communities through the five boroughs of New York City assisting our community partners.

CJU is The Legal Aid Society's way to engage the community before the problem has gone too far. Too often we, at The Legal Aid Society, are meeting our clients when they've have already been arrested and had their constitutional rights violated, been wrongfully evicted, been terminated from employment, or relied on bad legal advice. In our effort to preempt these bad outcomes, the Community Justice Unit will be starting a toll-free hotline that will initially be made available to our Cure Violence partners but eventually will be available to anyone in NYC to call 24 hours a day. In addition, this unit will be working to improve public policy by garnering information from the ground level and coordinating with each of the special litigation units within LAS to bring lawsuits that work to correct the most pressing problems facing our clients. We believe that working in the community alongside our community partners, tenants' associations and school and youth organizations gives us a better understanding of the everyday issues that we, as lawyers for New Yorkers, must address and fight to change.


Honors In The Family

  • Marty Feinman, Attorney-in-Charge of the Brooklyn office of the Juvenile Rights Practice, and his wife, Amy Cooney, will be honored in October by the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center at the Breakfast of Legends in the Plaza Hotel. The event celebrates outstanding advocates and providers who work to improve the health and well-being of teens and young adults in New York City.
  • Tamara Steckler, Attorney-in-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice, attended a Juvenile Justice Roundtable hosted by Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Using the Department's Statement of Interest in the case N.P. v. Georgia and the Department's other juvenile justice work as a starting point, the Roundtable discussed due process in juvenile delinquency proceedings. The Department was interested in hearing from advocates about the due process concerns they encounter in their work on behalf of juveniles in specific jurisdictions and national trends.


Legal Aid and Weil Secure Victory for Alabama Death Row Inmate

Legal Aid Staff and the firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges won a tremendous victory when the State of Alabama declared that it would no longer seek to impose his death sentence on our client, an Alabama death row inmate. In 2014, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit overturned our client's death sentence, holding that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel because his trial counsel conducted virtually no investigation at the sentencing phase and failed to present powerful mitigating evidence to the jury. The Eleventh Circuit vacated the death sentence and remanded for the State to conduct a new sentencing proceeding. The State sought to appeal the Eleventh Circuit's decision twice: first to the full Eleventh Circuit, and then to the U.S. Supreme Court. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the State's certiorari petition. Thereafter, the State was ordered to show cause why our client's sentence should not be commuted to a life sentence. On August 27.the State declared that it would not continue to pursue the death penalty. Our client's sentence will be commuted to a life sentence. The legal fight for this client's life spanned nearly two decades.

Congratulations to Legal Aid's team that includes Marlen Bodden, a Staff Attorney in the Criminal Practice's Special Litigation Unit; Josh Goldfein, Staff Attorney in the Civil Law Reform Unit; and Arthur Hopkirk, Staff Attorney in the Criminal Appeals Bureau, and to the Weil pro bono team members including partners Bruce Rich, Carl Lobell, Liz Weiswasser, and Greg Silbert, associates Adam Banks and Kami Lizarraga, and former Weil attorneys Danielle Rosenthal and Lucy Muzzy.

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

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