The Legal Aid Society
News In Brief
Making the Case for Humanity
The Legal Aid Society is an indispensable component of the legal, social and economic fabric of New York City - passionately
January 8, 2009
Welcome to the first issue of The Legal Aid Society Newsletter for the Board of Directors. The newsletter, which will contain news items about the work of The Legal Aid Society and various events, will be emailed to you on a regular basis. We will also share updates on funding matters that are sent to staff by Theodore Levine and Steven Banks through our LASnet, the internal website. This first issue covers items of interest from December 1, 2008, and includes the year-end message to all Legal Aid employees from Ted and Steve.
Legal Aid In The News
Criminal Practice Extern Program Featured in New York Law Journal
The Legal Aid Society's
Criminal Practice Extern Program in the Manhattan office was featured
New York Law Journal article on December 19.
The program was started to help
lawyers handle their cases, help demonstrate to government that even
making the same use of pro bono assistance as the District Attorneys do
there is still an urgent need for more criminal defense funding, and
enhance our relationship with the firms that support the Civil Practice.
As Steve Banks said in this article, this program is no substitute for
Legal Aid staff . . . Read more
Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, released the following
statement on the impact of proposed State budget cuts. He was quoted in a New York
Law Journal article on December 17. Read more
Yesterday, the Governor issued the proposed budget for the April 1, 2009 - March 31, 2010 State fiscal year and began the budget negotiation process with the Assembly and Senate that will result in the adoption of a State budget for the new fiscal year on April 1st. At the end of next month, the Mayor will propose mid-year budget cuts for the current July 1, 2008 - June 30, 2009 City fiscal year as well as funding levels for the City fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2009. As you know, as a result of the national, State, and local economic downturn and resulting government budget cuts, The Legal Aid Society has already absorbed the loss of nearly $6 million in City and State funding reductions for our July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2009 fiscal year funding -- approximately $3 million for the Civil Practice and $2.7 million for the Criminal Practice. We have managed this significant reduction by reducing planned staffing and other expenses for the current fiscal year .
The new proposed State budget contains a cut in our Aid to Defense funding of approximately $1 million and seeks to reduce our Criminal and Civil practice legislative funding for the remaining months of the State fiscal year that ends on March 31. As in prior years, for the coming State fiscal year that begins on April 1, the Governor's proposed budget eliminates all legislative program funding, including $1.6 million for our Criminal Practice and $1.3 million for our Civil Practice.
As everyone knows, the extraordinary State and City budget deficits this year present significant challenges to our annual budget advocacy efforts. However, together with ALAA and 1199, the Society will continue to oppose any additional cuts and focus on how harmful the proposed additional State cuts will be at a time when our clients need our services more than ever. We have been in constant contact with the Governor's office and the leadership in the Assembly and the Senate to make it clear that these cuts are unacceptable. We will keep you advised as the City and State budget processes continue and as we evaluate how best to move forward over the coming weeks.
Below is a statement that we issued yesterday in response to the proposed budget cuts.
Statement of the Legal Aid Society
Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief said: "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."Court Approves Landmark Settlement in Homeless Families Case
Deputy Chief Administrative Justice
Jacqueline W. Silbermann, during a fairness hearing in New York County
State Supreme Court on December 15, approved the landmark settlement in
the McCain litigation between The Legal Aid Society and the City of New
York, which includes a permanent, enforceable legal framework to alleviate
the problems in the family shelter system that children and families have
experienced . . . Read more
Dechert LLP has initiated two
new pro bono partnerships with The Legal Aid Society that have expanded
our capacity to provide legal services to clients. The firm recently
created a pilot externship with the Community Development Project at the
Harlem Community Law Office. Andrew Weprin, a fourth year real estate
associate, is working at HCLO for up to six months helping low income
co-ops, small businesses, and nonprofits with commercial leasing and real
estate related legal matters. Dechert attorneys under the leadership of
Thomas Munno, Managing Partner of the law firm's New York office, also
will be representing 19 clients whose landlords have refused to accept
their Section 8 vouchers. Many of these tenants are elderly or single
mothers who would be compelled to pay 60 - 80 % of their income towards
The private bar plays an instrumental role
in The Legal Aid Society’s Community Development Project, which provides
business legal services for low-income clients, with attorneys from New
York’s leading law firms providing pro bono assistance on 75 % of the
matters. Until recently, however, the Community Development Project lacked
the financial and accounting expertise to advise community based
nonprofits and low-income micro entrepreneurs on sound accounting
practices. PricewaterhouseCooper has made a commitment to fill this void
and ensure clients operate with appropriate internal financial controls
and transparency. . . . Read more
New York County Supreme Court
Justice Emily Jane Goodman heard arguments December
11 during a
hearing on the low-income tenants' challenge to the New York City Rent
Guidelines Board for imposing a poor tax against tenants who have lived in
an apartment for more than six years and pay less than $1,000 a month. The
case was argued by Afua Atta-Mensah, a staff attorney in the Civil
Practice's Law Reform Unit. . . . Read more
The dedication of our social
workers was exemplified in the quick and effective response to the Civil
Practice's Health Law Unit provided by Roseanne Tzitzouris, social worker
for the Brooklyn Office for the Aging, and Lisa Orloff, Director of Social
Workers for the Criminal Practice. Lisa Sbrana, Attorney-in-Charge of the
Health Law Unit, shared the following with all of us. During the last few
weeks, especially around Thanksgiving, the Health Law Unit's hotline has
received some very difficult and desperate calls from low-income New
Yorkers who were unable to obtain public health insurance or gain access
to health care services. Roseanne quickly provided very detailed advice to
help the clients and Lisa prepared two training session on suicide
prevention and boundaries. Both trainings were given this past Monday. In
the meantime, Roseanne was given a full scholarship by AARP and the ABA
Commission on the Elderly to attend a National Aging and Law Conference in
Washington. Thanks to Roseanne and Lisa.
The Second Circuit unanimously affirmed the Federal District Court's decision granting the writ to Tyrone Harris, who was represented by CAB attorney Bob Budner. Tyrone Harris faced charges of third-degree criminal sale and possession of a controlled substance in Supreme Court, New York County. Beth Unger of Manhattan office of the Criminal Practice represented him. The prosecution's case included the testimony of an undercover officer who, from an observation post, purportedly observed Harris sell crack to another individual, who was also apprehended. When the police arrested Harris, they found 17 bags of crack and some money on his person. These narcotics formed the basis of the possession with intent to sell charge .
Before the grand jury, Harris admitted that he possessed the
crack that police recovered from him. He claimed that earlier in the
evening of his arrest, he had encountered a prostitute with whom he had
had a previous relationship and with whom he had previously shared drugs.
She provided him with some money and suggested that he purchase crack,
which they would use together later that night. According to Harris, he
made the purchase and was waiting for the appointment at the time of his
arrest. He had not sold drugs to the apprehended buyer or anyone else that
A team spearheaded by Melanie Shapiro, a staff attorney at Queens JRP, and Deb McGee, a JRP social worker, collaborated with investigators at Queens CDP to secure a victory on behalf of a young man who was erroneously charged with causing a friend’s death. In the early spring of 2007, 13- year-old Steven C. went with a group of boys to “slap box” in a Queens park, an activity they had engaged in before. Later that evening, one of the kids fell ill and was taken to the hospital, where he passed away. Because Steven had been the one who had slap boxed with the decedent , he was arrested and charged .
The Corporation Counsel’s
office was so determined to lay blame, that despite a lack of evidence –
the highest charge they could file against Steven was Assault in the Third
Degree – Steven was prosecuted vigorously. After more than a year of
hearings and a trial, Judge Bogacz found on December 3, 2008, that the
charges had not been proven and dismissed the case. For many reasons, the
lives of Steven and his family will never be the same, but due to the
tireless advocacy of Melanie and her team, they can at least try to move
past what was truly a tragedy on so many
Attorney Interviewed for World AIDS Day
Diane Spicer, staff attorney in the
Civil Practice's Health Law Unit, was interviewed December 1 on WBAI Radio for World
AIDS Day, regarding the work she and Rebecca Novick, also a staff attorney
in the HLU, have been doing around the state's plan to mandatorily enroll
Medicaid recipients with HIV/AIDS into Medicaid managed care plans . . .
As 2008 comes to a close and 2009 begins, we want to thank you for your extraordinarywork on behalf of our clients over the past year. In the face of the severe national, State,and local economic downturn, the needs of our clients are increasing exponentially. However, under these extremely difficult circumstances that confront our client communities and our organization, your work has enabled the Legal Aid Society to continue to provide outstanding legal assistance for clients. We are very grateful for your efforts to maintain our client services despite nearly $6 million in State and City funding cuts that we have suffered during this fiscal year which have resulted in various cost containment measures.
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