February 7, 2012


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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

In this issue:

The Legal Aid Society Celebrates 130 Years of Legal Service to Brooklyn,
More Than 5 Million Brooklyn Residents Served

Hundreds Of Low-Income New Yorkers In Need Wait For Help In Overflowing Welfare Center Lines

At 7 a.m. weekday mornings, hundreds of low-income individuals and families with children begin to line up at City welfare centers seeking emergency help to prevent an eviction or a utility shutoff or to meet other basic needs. They may wait for hours in the cold.

On January 3, 2012, the media focused on the problem with a story in the Wall Street Journal and WNYC coverage. A follow up story appeared in the Wall Street Journal on January 4. Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society, told the Wall Street Journal that "at best it's benign neglect. At worst, it's like the English poor laws, in which the aim was to make the seeking of assistance so miserable that people wouldn't seek it." Katie Kelleher, a staff attorney in the Civil Practice who represents many of these New Yorkers, told the WSJ and WNYC that the City could help solve some of the problems by reducing the number of times recipients are required to visit a center and she vividly described the current crisis by saying "what we're talking about now are lines that actually are outside of the center, so that people are having to wait hours just to literally get in the door of the building."

The City says it is trying to solve the problem and blames it on the growing number of low-income New Yorkers seeking food stamps. But in addition to seeking emergency assistance other than food stamps, many of the adults and children waiting out in the cold now have been told to come to the centers for an appointment or to submit a document.

After a hearing held by the New York City Council January 31, 2012, Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit, told The Wall Street Journal, that the long lines haven't yet been eliminated. "HRA has still not managed to solve the problem - it has only managed to move the lines inside," she said in a statement. The City is also still requiring people seeking benefits to show up at appointments that are "entirely unnecessary," she said.

Requiring finger-imaging for anyone who applies for food stamps has also been identified as a further problem. In the January 6, 2012, edition of The New York Times, Jim Dwyer reports in his column that "New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he will end this practice in New York saying it was an unnecessary stigma for working people who needed a hand during hard times."

The Wall Street Journal - February 1, 2012
The Wall Street Journal - January 3, 2012
The Wall Street Journal - January 4, 2012
The New York Times - January 3, 2012

Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Warns That Low-Income New Yorkers Urgently Need Legal Assistance

Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, testified on January 30 before the Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means regarding the 2012-2013 Executive Budget and warned that the current economic conditions are especially harsh on low-income New Yorkers who are in desperate need of legal assistance.

"We are mindful of the continuing significant financial challenges that the State is facing. At the same time, these extraordinary economic conditions are having an especially harsh impact on low-income New Yorkers," Banks said." The need for the legal help that the Society provides to these struggling families and individuals is increasing exponentially. However, due to a lack of resources, we are forced to turn away eight out of every nine New Yorkers who, among other things, seek our help to obtain unemployment and disability benefits, flee from domestic violence, and prevent evictions, foreclosures, and homelessness - which is at record levels in New York City. It is therefore essential that the final adopted State budget make provision for low-income New Yorkers who urgently need civil legal assistance in the midst of this severe economic downturn as well as New Yorkers accused - often wrongfully - of criminal conduct."

State funding from the Executive and the Judiciary has supported the Society's legal assistance in the areas of civil legal services, criminal defense, indigent parolee defense, and juvenile rights. Special annual allocations from the Legislature for civil and criminal services have also provided crucial funding for the Society's legal assistance for New Yorkers who have nowhere else to turn for legal help. Banks spoke about the impact of the proposed State budget on civil legal services, criminal defense, indigent parolee defense, and juvenile rights as well as the impact of several proposed juvenile justice and criminal justice measures.

View the full text of the testimony (PDF)

The Legal Aid Society and New York City Council Fight for
Rights of Homeless Women and Men

The Legal Aid Society and the New York City Council were in court on January 20 fighting the City's new policy to begin to deny shelter from the elements for homeless women and men. Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told New York 1 that "it is unfortunate that it required a court proceeding to keep the City from implementing a new policy to turn away women and men seeking shelter."

In November, the City had agreed to postpone the implementation of this new shelter denial procedure. The agreement was reached after The Legal Aid Society commenced litigation in State Supreme Court, New York County to enforce the 1981 consent decree requiring the provision of shelter to women and men who are in need of shelter "by reason of physical, mental or social dysfunction" or who meet the need standard for public assistance. The City agreed to delay implementation of its new plan -- which represents a sea change in City policy -- so that Supreme Court Justice Judith Gische will have time to review the matter.

Both The Legal Aid Society and the New York City Council are also challenging the City's failure to comply with the City Administrative Procedure Act that requires the City to provide public notice of rules and an opportunity for public comment. The January 20 court hearing focused on this issue. At the hearing, the City argued that the shelter denial procedure is not a rule. Along with NY1, WNBC TV and WNYC Radio covered the hearing.

In addition to representing homeless women and men, The Legal Aid Society is representing the Coalition for the Homeless which is a long-standing Plaintiff-Intervenor in the litigation. The law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP is co-counsel with Society. The Society has represented homeless New Yorkers for some 30 years and Mr. Banks has been lead counsel in the litigation.

NBCNY Nonstop New York
NY1 New York

Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Raises Concerns About Arrests of New Yorkers For Subway Seat Violations

In an article January 7, 2012, in The New York Times regarding arrests for subway seat violations, Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, observed that "[i]t is far easier to give the back of the hand than a helping hand" because many of these arrests are made by the NYPD homeless outreach unit. Banks also noted that police officers who make these arrests face pressure to produce arrests and may be driven by the prospect of overtime pay.

Offices of the District Attorneys provided the Times with statistics showing that while more than 6,000 tickets were handed out, approximately 1,600 people found themselves spending 8 to 12 hours in jail before seeing a judge, only to have the case dismissed.

"This is one of those cases that makes people lose faith in our criminal justice system," said Joel Schmidt, a staff attorney in The Legal Aid Society's Queens Criminal Office who represented a construction worker who had fallen asleep on a subway train and leaned over onto a second seat. After he spent the night in a cell with two dozen men, he appeared before a Judge who offered to dismiss the case if he stayed out of trouble for six months. "Makes me wonder what our police officers are really doing at 1 o'clock in the morning," Schmidt told The New York Times.

The New York Times

The Legal Aid Society Praises Governor's Plan To Place Youth Closer To Home

Under an initiative proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in his 2012-2013 State budget, youth from New York City would no longer be placed in upstate state-run non-secure and limited-secure facilities, but would be closer to home in City agencies where they would receive services and be able to see family members on a regular basis.

Tamara A. Steckler, Attorney-in-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice of The Legal Aid Society, told the New York Law Journal that the Governor's plan "is going to be great for this population of kids." She said that the current system does not "help our clients" or foster re-entry. She praised the City through Administration for Children Services and its Probation Department with building "a robust continuum of services" for juveniles and said that the current planning process has been "very collaborative."

The New York Law Journal

Federal Court Condemns Use of Force and Restraints on Children in Juvenile Detention Faciltiies But Does Not Issue Injunction

In a decision issued on January 19, Federal Judge Paul A. Crotty of the Southern District of New York condemned the use of force and restraints on children in State Office of Children and Family Services facilities, but he did not issue a preliminary injunction. "The problem at Office of Children and Family Services facilities is not the policy on use of force and physical restraints, but the practices utilized by the staff that are not consistent with the policy," Judge Crotty wrote in G.B. v. Carrion, 09 Civ. 10582. The lawsuit was filed against the State OCFS by The Legal Aid Society and the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.

"We are pleased that the court recognized the harm to our young clients resulting from the admitted excessive use of force in these detention facilities, and while we certainly would rather have obtained a court order we are pleased that the court has told the commissioner that the agency has to provide the resources and staff training that she said it would to stop this harm to children," Tamara A. Steckler, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice, told the New York Law Journal.

"The continuing excessive use of force in these facilities is exactly why we are supporting the governor's proposed legislation to return our clients to new facilities in New York City where they can be closer to their communities and under the watchful eyes of their families and our lawyers," Ms. Steckler added (NYLJ, Jan. 25).

The New York Law Journal

The Legal Aid Society's Services In The Bronx Enhanced By All Three Practices

The Legal Aid Society's Bronx Neighborhood Office, the Bronx Criminal Defense Trial Office, and the Bronx Juvenile Rights Trial Office are all located at 260 East 161st Street as of Friday, January 27, 2012, enhancing the Society's presence and client services in the Bronx. The Bronx Neighborhood Office moved from 953 Southern Boulevard to the 161st Street location and part of the Juvenile Rights Trial Office moved to 161st Street. The move of part of the JRP Bronx operations to 161st Street will help alleviate overcrowding at the JRP Trial Office that will continue to operate at the Bronx Family Court Building at 900 Sheridan Avenue, room 6-C12.

Governor Submits Judiciary Proposed Budget With Statement of Support; Judiciary Budget Includes $25 Million for Civil Legal Services, and Funding for Criminal Defense Case Caps and Juvenile Rights Services

On January 24, Governor Andrew Cuomo submitted the Judiciary's proposed budget for the April 1, 2012-March 31, 2013 State fiscal year to the Legislature with a statement of support. The Chief Judge's proposed budget includes funding to continue to implement Criminal Defense case caps, to maintain the Legal Aid Juvenile Rights Practice's legal assistance for children, and to increase the Statewide civil legal services allocation from $12.5 million to $25 million.

"This is an important step forward and we are very appreciative of the Chief Judge's inclusion of funding for civil legal assistance at a time when we can only help one of nine New Yorkers who come to us for civil legal help," Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told the New York Law Journal.

The New York Law Journal

The Legal Aid Society Celebrates 130 Years of Legal Service to Brooklyn,
5 Million Brooklyn Residents Served

The Legal Aid Society celebrated 130 years of legal services to Brooklyn on Tuesday, January 17, 2012, with a special welcome and proclamation from The Honorable Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Borough President, and an address by The Honorable Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of New York. The celebration was held in the Cermonial Court of the Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn. Additional proclamations were presented by Comptroller John Liu and Councilmember Tish James. Senior Advisor to the Mayor and Criminal Justice Coordinator John Feinblatt, Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo, and Councilmembers David Greenfield and Stephen Levin also attended the celebration.

Participating in the event were: The Honorable Barry Kamins, Administrative Judge of New York City Criminal Courts; The Honorable Sylvia O. Hinds-Radix, Administrative Judge for Civil Matters, Second Judicial District, Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term; The Honorable Paula Hepner, Supervising Judge, Family Court, Kings and Richmond Counties; The Honorable John Lansden, Supervising Judge, Kings County Housing Court; The Honorable William Miller, Supervising Judge, Criminal Court, Kings County; and The Honorable Lisa Ottley, Supervising Judge, Kings County Civil Court.

During the last century, The Legal Aid Society has handled more than 5 million cases serving Brooklyn residents. Today, the offices of The Legal Aid Society's three major practices- Civil, Juvenile Rights, and Criminal Defense-handle approximately 96,488 individual cases and client matters every year.

  • More than 5 million cases in 130 years serving Brooklyn residents.
  • A total of 248 lawyers working with a staff of 124 including social workers, investigators, paralegals and support and administrative staff serving Brooklyn.
  • Ten offices in Brooklyn offering legal assistance in three major practices-Civil, Criminal and Juvenile Rights.
  • Partnership with government agencies and scores of community organizations to expand service to Brooklyn with limited resources.

A Second Century of Service

The Legal Aid Society's history in Brooklyn is a legacy of excellence, dedication and service. During the last 130 years, The Legal Aid Society has handled more than 5 million cases in Brooklyn.

In the early 1880s, Henry Ward Beecher donated space in the Plymouth Church as a temporary office for volunteer lawyers to provide legal assistance for Brooklyn residents who could not afford the carriage fare to Manhattan. During the next 10 years, the Society referred hundreds of cases to volunteer lawyers in Brooklyn and also continued to represent Brooklyn residents who were able to afford the carriage fare to the Society's main office at the corner of Park Place and Broadway in Manhattan. By 1906, the need for a Brooklyn Branch was clearly demonstrated by the fact that 1,639 applicants traveled from Brooklyn to the Society's main office. An early history of the Society pointed out the burden of that trip: "the loss of time and the cost of carfare to many a defrauded workman or deserted wife in Brooklyn make their application for help almost prohibitive." On January 1, 1907, the Brooklyn Branch, servicing Kings, Queens and parts of Nassau Counties was opened at 186 Remsen. Service to Brooklyn has continued through various locations ever since.

In 1949, a Criminal Court office was opened in Brooklyn to represent Brooklyn residents in Felony Court . By 1959, a Criminal Court office was established to serve people charged with misdemeanors and felonies. In 1962, a Juvenile Rights Offices was established in Brooklyn to represent children. The Legal Aid Society opened the Brooklyn Office for the Aging in 1974, the first of its kind in the nation to serve only senior citizens.

In 1998, The Legal Aid Society relocated many of its client services programs to 111 Livingston Street, to enable staff to provide more efficient and cost effective service. Since 2004, all of the Society's Civil, Criminal, and Juvenile Rights client services for Brooklyn have been centered at the 111 Livingston Street office.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

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

© 2012 The Legal Aid Society • 199 Water Street, New York, NY 10038 • www.legal-aid.org