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October 4, 2011

MAKING THE CASE FOR HUMANITY

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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 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 2 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.


Legal Aid in the News

Chief Judge Lippman Calls for Juvenile Justice Reform Based on Rehabilitation and Best Interests of the Child Rather Than Punishment and Incarceration

On September 27, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced that he will establish court parts dedicated to the handling of cases of 16-and 17 year olds who are charged with crimes in an effort to demonstrate that the age of criminal responsibility can be raised in New York. New York and North Carolina are the only states that treat 16 and 17-year-olds as adult offenders, a policy the Chief Judge said breeds "abuse and future criminality." Responding to the Chief Judge's proposal, Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told The New York Law Journal that "this seems to be a moment when the sun, moon and stars are aligned with a governor greatly concerned with the failures of the system and [who] has been closing these horrible facilities that cost money and accomplish nothing. We have a Legislature which is concerned with the cost-effectiveness of services, a mayor who has repeatedly said that the juvenile justice system can function better by keeping young people in their communities, and now we have a chief judge who has laid out a blueprint to make it all happen within the judicial system." Banks continued that diversion from the criminal justice system is "exactly what they need, a helping hand instead of, all too often, the back of the hand." Seymour James, president-elect of the New York State Bar Association and Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society, said in a statement that scientific studies of the adolescent mind demonstrate "that 16- and 17-year-old kids lack the maturity and judgment to understand the legal consequences of their actions. Additionally, children who are incarcerated in adult jails are more likely to commit crimes again. The consequences of being convicted of a nonviolent crime can last a lifetime.

The New York Law Journal.


Changing Lives, Offering Second Chances

The Legal Aid Society's efforts on behalf of a forgotten group of young women, ages 18 to 24, who are victims of human trafficking and have been arrested and prosecuted for prostitution, was the subject of a column in The New York Times by Jim Dwyer on September 21. Lawyers and social workers in the Society's Criminal Practice are helping the women get a second chance and change their lives by working to vacate their convictions under a new law that took effect in August 2010 that recognizes that children and minors who perform sex for money are victims and should not bear the residual effects of conviction. The subject of Mr. Dwyer's column, a young woman who was forced into prostitution at the age of 13, and is now living in Georgia beginning a new life with her young daughter, is the third woman in the State to have used the new statute to erase prostitution convictions and the first United States citizen to do so, said Kate Mogulescu, a staff attorney in the Society's Manhattan Criminal Office who represents her. "This is a landmark moment," Steve Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society told The New York Times. "There are thousands of women who will benefit over time. It removes a blot on their lives." The Legal Aid Society has been awarded a grant from the NoVo Foundation for this innovative, interdisciplinary pilot project to address the comprehensive needs of these victims.

The New York Times.
The New York Daily News.
Reuters.


Legal Aid's Chief Lawyer Warned That Thousands of Formerly Homeless Families and Individuals Are At Risk of Losing Their Homes and Flooding the City's Shelter System

Following a Manhattan State Supreme Court ruling September 14 that the City is not required to continue paying Advantage rent subsidies to some 16,000 formerly homeless families and individuals, Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, cautioned that "by winning, the City loses" because "thousands of formerly homeless families and individuals are at risk of losing their homes and flooding the shelter system." In interviews with the Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Reuters, and the New York Law Journal, Banks warned that the City "will have to pay far more to shelter these families and individuals than by continuing to make the rental payments." Banks also pointed out that, pending a prior appeal, there is an Appellate Division, First Department order in place stopping the City from terminating rental assistance for these thousands of families and individuals until their Advantage rent subsidy agreements expire. Therefore the subsidies will continue to be paid unless the City is able to obtain a further ruling vacating that appellate order. Banks said that an appeal from yesterday's ruling would also be forthcoming. In the litigation, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP has served as pro bono co-counsel with the Society.

Wall Street Journal.
Associated Press.
Reuters.
New York Law Journal.
New York 1 Road to City Hall.
New York Daily News.


Federal Lawsuits Challenge NYC Housing Authority for Wrongful Termination and Illegal Rents

The Legal Aid Society and Legal Services NYC have filed two federal lawsuits against the New York City Housing Authority on behalf of clients whose Section 8 subsidies have been wrongfully terminated or who have been required to pay unaffordable and illegal rents each month due to NYCHA's failure to adjust their family rent share. The lawsuits charge that NYCHA has violated federal law, the implementing regulations and its own policies and procedures. In countless instances, NYCHA has either failed to send the recertification package that Section 8 participants must complete as part of their annual review or failed to track the return of such packages. Because of NYCHA's failures, and not their own, participants were terminated from the program. Due to NYCHA's unlawful policies and practices, numerous low-income families throughout New York City that rely on the Section 8 subsidy to help pay their monthly rent are subject to eviction because their landlords consider them responsible for paying the entire rent after their subsidies are terminated. "NYCHA is systematically terminating needy Section 8 families for allegedly failing to fill out proper paperwork when the families have submitted the paperwork and NYCHA has lost it or because NYCHA never sent the families the paperwork in the first instance. Families are being sued in housing court and many are at risk of homelessness. Although we have continually asked NYCHA to fix these problems, NYCHA has refused," said Legal Aid Society Staff Attorney Robert Desir, who is one of the lawyers on the cases.


Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman Champions Access to Legal Assistance in Civil Matters, Making New York The Leader In A National Effort for Low-Income Families and Individuals

Last year, New York's Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced an unprecedented effort "to bring us closer to the ideal of equal access to civil justice" by expanding the availability of civil legal assistance for low-income New Yorkers in matters involving the "essentials of life." At the time, Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told The New York Times that Chief Judge Lippman's announcement is "a huge step" forward for low-income families and individuals with civil legal problems in New York. As part of this civil legal services initiative, following a joint legislative resolution in June 2010, the Chief Judge conducted hearings on civil legal assistance in each of the four judicial districts in the State. This year, the Chief Judge is conducting a second series of hearings in each of the four districts. Hearings were held in Westchester on September 20, in Manhattan on September 26, and in Albany on October 3. There will be a hearing in Buffalo on October 6. In every category of legal problem on the civil side we're continuing to see dramatic increases," Banks said in an interview. "One of the hardest things that our front-line staff has to do is turn away families and individuals whose evictions we know we could stop, whose foreclosures we know we could stop, who we know we could help get food stamps or unemployment benefits or access to health care, but we can't because of lack of resources.

As part of the civil legal services initiative, Chief Judge Lippman appointed a task force to develop recommendations to expand access to civil legal assistance and his appointees to the task force include: Steven Banks (representing the Society), Deborah Wright (representing the UAW), and Kevin Finnegan (representing SEIU/1199). The task force is chaired by Helaine Barnett, the former head of the federal Legal Services Corporation and the former Attorney-in-Charge of the Society's Civil Practice.

In August, in the first phase of the Chief Judge's civil legal services initiative, the Office of Court Administration announced grants to 56 legal services providers throughout the State, including The Legal Aid Society, which will be used for civil legal assistance in matters involving the "essentials of life" such as housing, health care, education, disability, employment income and subsistence income, domestic violence.

Reuters.
The New York Times.
The New York Law Journal.
The New York Law Journal.


Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Responds to the NYPD's Change in Marijuana Possession Policy

In an interview with The New York Times on September 25, Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, responded to the change in the NYPD's marijuana possession policy that was communicated by Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly in a written directive advising police officers that they are not to arrest people who have small amounts of marijuana in their possession unless it is in public view. The Commissioner specifically instructed officers that they are not to arrest persons for the public possession of marijuana who are commanded to empty their pockets which then results in the public display of small quantities of marijuana. "This will make a tremendous difference because tens of thousands of young people - predominately young people of color - will not be run through the system as criminals," Banks told The New York Times. In the last several months, various media outlets including The New York Times, WNYC and National Public Radio, have run stories on the collateral consequences of marijuana arrests which, statistics prove, affect predominately people of color. Because of the extensive, comprehensive services provided by The Legal Aid Society, Criminal Practice clients who are arrested for marijuana possession, can be assisted by the Civil Practice with respect to the collateral consequences of an arrest. These cases are clogging the courts and ruining people's lives, in terms of potential collateral consequences for housing, employment, immigration, Banks said. The Criminal Practice provided representation in more than 30,000 of these minor marijuana cases last year.

The New York Times.


New York Law Journal Unsung Heroes Awards

The New York Law Journal announced "Unsung Heroes Awards" on September 19 noting that: "Dedicated service providers, facing ever-diminishing resources, can handle only about 20 percent of the legal needs of low-income New Yorkers. With that daunting gap in mind, the New York Law Journal set out to identify the firms and attorneys who have stepped in to fill the void, who routinely assist The Legal Aid Society with individual criminal appeals; help neighbors avoid foreclosure or the loss of the car they need for work; advocate for the elderly or disabled to win Social Security disability benefits; help women escape domestic violence and rebuild their lives; challenge the government to live up to its commitments. The result of our search is "Lawyers Who Lead by Example." Among the recipients are the following who were nominated by The Legal Aid Society:

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP
Nurtures Pro Bono Culture From Associates to Senior Counsel

Daniel M. Boglioli (Kaye Scholer LLP)
Knows Small Cases Have a Huge Impact

From Law Firms to Legal Aid
Steven B. Rosenfeld and Allen S. Joslyn



The Legal Aid Society Reports Increase in Pro Bono Services for
Calendar Year 2010


Over 3,400 legal professionals, including 2,174 attorneys primarily from major law firms, volunteered over 241,000 hours of pro bono services during 2010. The generosity of these professionals allowed The Legal Aid Society to assist the neediest New Yorkers on over 6,500 pro bono matters. Increased assistance came from 45 Public Interest Externs, placed in Legal Aid offices throughout the City. Their combined efforts resulted in over 43,000 hours of volunteer service to the Society. The total valuation of pro bono services contributed to The Legal Aid Society in 2010 was over $74.5 million, an approximate increase of 20% from 2009.


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

© 2011 The Legal Aid Society • 199 Water Street, New York, NY 10038 • www.legal-aid.org