July 11, 2012

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 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.


Legal Aid in the News



Look for The Legal Aid Society In Times Square

The Legal Aid Society is featured in a 15-second spot on the CBS Super Screen located at 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues beginning June 28 through September 30. The Legal Aid Society was given the wonderful opportunity for this broad scale exposure in Times Square when a major advertiser changed plans. We were able to create a 15 second spot with the tremendous assistance and wisdom of Alan Siegel of Siegel + Gale who created our new logo and who serves as a member of the Society's Board of Directors. The ad will run once an hour for 18 hours during a 24-hour period each day.

Click to see The Legal Aid Society's ad in Times Square



New York Times Editorial Calls for End of Unlawful Marijuana Arrests;
Cites Legal Aid's Lawsuit


The New York Times on July 5 carried an editorial calling for the end of unlawful marijuana arrests. The editorial says that a lawsuit filed by The Legal Aid Society late in June charges that the NYPD is still arresting people illegally in clear violation of the law and of the memo issued by Commissioner Raymond Kelly.


The New York Times Editorial
The Marijuana Arrest Problem, Continued
July 5, 2012


Commissioner Raymond Kelly of the New York Police Department issued a memorandum in September ordering officers to follow a 1977 state law that bars them from arresting people with small amounts of marijuana, unless the drug is publicly displayed.

Yet a lawsuit filed in state court in late June charges that the police were still arresting people illegally - in clear violation of both the law and the memo - as recently as May. State data show that the number of marijuana arrests declined in the months after the directive was issued but began climbing again this spring.

The Legislature passed the 1977 decriminalization law to allow prosecutors to focus on serious crime and to stop police from jailing young people for tiny amounts of marijuana. It made possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana a violation punishable by a $100 fine for the first offense. To discourage public smoking of the drug, lawmakers made public display a misdemeanor punishable by up to three months in jail and a $500 fine.

The number of arrests in the city for minor possession declined after the law was passed but shot up from less than 1,000 in 1990 to 50,000 in 2011. And, of the nearly 12,000 16-to-19-year-olds arrested last year, almost 94 percent had no prior convictions and nearly half had never before been arrested. More than 80 percent of those arrested were black and Hispanic young people.

Defense lawyers have increasingly made the case that officers were illegally charging suspects with "public possession" after directing them to reveal the drug or fishing it out of their pockets during constitutionally questionable searches. The new lawsuit, filed by the Legal Aid Society, lists five plaintiffs, all of whom lawyers say were illegally arrested this spring. In one case, according to the lawsuit, the police officer admitted in a supporting deposition that he had searched the individual and retrieved the drugs to make the arrest.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo tried to end unfair prosecutions with a measure to make public possession a violation, unless the person was smoking the marijuana in public. The State Senate killed the bill. With Albany's failure to act, the courts need to step in to stop this abusive behavior.



The Legal Aid Society Sues to Stop the NYPD from Continuing to Make Unlawful Marijuana Arrests; Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Had Supported the Governor's Marijuana Reform Proposal; Warns of Collateral Consequences of Arrests

The Legal Aid Society and the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court on June 22 to prohibit the NYPD 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.

In thousands of cases every year, however, NYPD officers, having found a small quantity of marijuana in a pocket or bag, charge people with a misdemeanor and subject them to the full arrest process, which often takes 24 hours or more and leaves them with a criminal record. "This practice of the New York Police Department makes a mockery of the law and causes very serious collateral consequences for large numbers of people," Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told the New York City Council on June 12 when he testified in support of Governor Cuomo's proposal to decriminalize the open possession of a small quantity of marijuana in order to stop the continuing unlawful arrests Read the testimony (PDF).

In September 2011, Police Commissioner Kelly issued an order that prohibited misdemeanor charges and arrests in cases where marijuana is brought into public view as a result of police action. In spite of this order, the practice of filing misdemeanor charges and ordering the arrest for non-public-view cases has continued to this day. Arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana now represent roughly one-seventh of all offenses arraigned in the New York City Criminal Court.

The plaintiffs are five New Yorkers who come from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Their arrests occurred in April and May of this year. Each plaintiff was charged with the misdemeanor-level possession of marijuana in public view despite the fact that the marijuana was produced only as a result of a police order or action. In one case the person was charged with public view possession and arrested even though the complaint written by the arresting officer said that the marijuana was recovered from the defendant's person.

The State court action seeks a declaration that these police practices are illegal and an order that directs the NYPD to take the necessary steps to ensure that its officers comply with the law. Along with Mr. Banks, William Gibney and Tom O'Brien are the Legal Aid attorneys on the case. Read the complaint (PDF).

Statistics show that more than 85 percent of the people arrested during stop and frisk searches for possession of small quantities of marijuana are Black or Hispanic. On June 5, Banks told The New York Times that the Society was prepared to sue the City unless the NYPD stopped making the unlawful arrests.

Media reports in recent days have focused on a lawsuit brought by The Legal Aid Society and Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP to stop unlawful marijuana arrests. Steven Banks, The Legal Aid Society's Attorney-in-Chief, told The New York Times that "It's certainly a sad commentary that the commissioner can issue a directive that reads well on paper but on the street corners of the city doesn't exist."

In his commentary the week of June 25, former Mayor Edward Koch congratulated The Legal Aid Society's efforts led by Mr. Banks "for bringing a lawsuit to end the arrests and punish the individual cops who have failed and are failing to carry out the order of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Those young men and women who have received misdemeanor sentences unfairly when violations would have been appropriate should be given the opportunity to have their records cleared of the erroneous charge."





Tom Klein Is Named Recipient of The New York State Defenders Association's Servant of Justice Award

Tom Klein has been named recipient of the prestigious Servant of Justice Award from the New York State Defenders Association for his outstanding work in the defense community. Tom was praised as "a great trial lawyer. . . An inspiring one. . .because you represent the commitment to quality services that we espouse, because you are one of the state's best trial lawyers, and because you have been in the trenches for three decades dedicated to the work, we are privileged to honor you." Tom, a senior staff attorney in the Manhattan Criminal Office, will receive the award at the association's annual meeting on July 23 in Sarasota Springs.



The Legal Aid Society Received City Bar's Diversity Champion Award; Joint Efforts by Legal Aid Managers and Staff Are Recognized; Attorneys of Color Caucus at Legal Aid Begins Pilot Mentoring Project for Law Student Interns in the Society's Civil, Criminal and Juvenile Rights Programs in Brooklyn

Early in June, the City Bar Association recognized The Legal Aid Society's enhanced efforts to recruit and retain a diverse workforce by conferring the City Bar's "Diversity Champion" designation this year. Accepting the award, Steven Banks, the Society's Attorney-in-Chief, said that this designation distinguishes the joint efforts of the Society's management and staff from those at other legal services organizations and will thereby help the Society to continue to make progress in recruiting, hiring and retaining diverse law students. The award was presented by the Honorable Rolando T. Acosta, Justice of the Appellate Division, First Department, who is a former Legal Aid staff attorney and manager and whose family was represented by the Society's Civil Practice in the Bronx when he was a young child.

In recognition of the joint efforts of the Legal Aid management team, the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, the Attorneys of Color Caucus at Legal Aid (ACLA), and 1199 SEIU, the City Bar's designation is based on a number of the recent diversity initiatives at The Legal Aid Society, including revamped recruitment initiatives by managers and staff, innovative investigator and law student internship programs, "Awareness Month" events, and a new pilot mentoring program.

Working with the Society's managers in Brooklyn, ACLA is leading the new pilot mentoring project for law student interns of color. The goal of this project is to enhance our recruitment of diverse law student interns and staff attorneys. ACLA pairs law students with mentors who are staff attorneys of color, who can provide participating student interns with support during their internships at Legal Aid and in the recruitment process.

The City Bar's Diversity Champion award reflects the progress that has been made which is exemplified in the fact that two of the three leaders of the Society's Practices are persons of color and two are women, 40% of the Criminal Defense and Juvenile Rights borough heads are persons of color, diverse applicants made up half of the early offers for the 2012 Criminal Defense staff attorney class, and half of those hired for the 2011 Criminal Defense class consisted of diverse law graduates and attorneys.



April Newbauer Appointed Court of Claims Judge; Congratulations, April

Governor Andrew Cuomo nominated April Newbauer, Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society's Queens Neighborhood Office, to the Court of Claims on June 22. April joined the Society's Civil Practice in 1991 as a supervising attorney in the Harlem Neighborhood Office. While in Harlem, April supervised the housing and government benefits practice. After she distinguished herself quickly as an excellent litigator and mentor, April was appointed Attorney-in-Charge of the Queens Neighborhood Office in 1997, where she has worked tirelessly to ensure that low-income residents of Queens have access to comprehensive representation in civil matters and has, in fact, expanded the range of services provided by the office which represents the entire borough of Queens.

April is a city-wide leader in addressing the sub-prime loan, foreclosure and consumer crisis. She identified these issues when they first arose in Queens and engineered creative legal theories to address them. As a result, the foreclosure and consumer practices are now city-wide projects at The Legal Aid Society. In addition, April has focused on the impact of the foreclosure crisis on renters, and helped secure citywide funding on behalf of The Legal Aid Society to assist the tenant victims of foreclosed owners who abandon properties, and of indifferent lenders who seek to evict them but do not provide essential services. In addition to her advocacy with Legal Aid, April is immediate past Chair of the Civil Court Committee of the New York City Bar, Vice-Chair of the Judiciary Committee of the Queens County Bar Association, and a former Vice President and a member of the Board of Directors of the New York State Women's Bar Association, Queens Chapter. She has also served on the Housing Court Committee and the Housing Court Advisory Council. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Queens Volunteer Lawyers Project and a member of the Consumer Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association.

With the help of the Office of Court Administration and three area law school clinics, April established a pilot consumer debt advocacy project in the Brooklyn Civil Court in 2006 ("CLARO") which expanded to Manhattan and Queens in 2008. April chaired the bimonthly Consumer Advocates Task Force and served on the planning committee for the first Consumer Debt Working Conference, sponsored by the Feerick Center for Justice at Fordham Law School. In 2009, April began the first homeowners' assistance pilot screening project in the State, a joint Legal Aid and pro bono partnership to assist homeowners in the foreclosure crisis. Part of the original Access to Justice team of the New York State court system, April has helped establish numerous other legal assistance projects, including the Foreclosure Pilot Conference Project. Most recently, April has been involved in the foreclosure initiatives sponsored by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. Recognizing the critical importance of homeowner access to legal expertise in foreclosure proceedings, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced in his 2011 "State of the Judiciary" address a program "to ensure, over time, that all homeowners who cannot afford a lawyer will be provided with legal assistance or representation at foreclosure settlement appearances." At the Chief Judge's request, The Legal Aid Society is leading the program's pilot effort in Queens which April helped to set up in collaboration with the Office of Court Administration. April recently was named to the Special Task Force on Foreclosures.



The Legal Aid Society Files a Federal Lawsuit to Stop Unnecessary and Excessive Use of Force Inflicted Upon Inmates by DOC Staff

The Legal Aid Society filed a federal lawsuit in May to stop unnecessary and excessive force inflicted upon inmates in New York City jails by Department of Correction staff. The plaintiffs include 11 current and former inmates in New York City jails who charged that DOC officials have tolerated and even condoned unprovoked beatings of inmates by guards. The 89-page complaint was filed in the Federal District Court in Manhattan by the Prisoners' Rights Project and the law firms of Ropes & Gray and Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady. The lawsuit seeks reforms in how DOC selects, trains and disciplines personnel and how it investigates brutality complaints. The lawsuit also seeks damages for the individual plaintiffs, all of whom suffered severe injuries when beaten by DOC uniformed staff.

The complaint points out that "the pattern of brutality in the City's jails is deeply entrenched. In five class actions and scores on individual lawsuits in 25 years, New York City Department of Correction inmates have come before this court alleging a pattern of brutality in New York City's jails."



Legal Aid Welcomes 141 Law Interns and 55 Intern Investigators

Legal Aid Intern Orientation at Skadden; Blaine (Fin) Fogg (right) . The Legal Aid Society welcomed 141 summer law interns and 55 intern investigators on June 14 during an intern orientation program at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. Blaine (Fin) Fogg, President, welcomed the group and Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief, provided an overview of the work of the Society.

Also addressing the group were Ricardo Granderson, Director of Legal Recruitment and Diversity; Seymour James, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice; Adriene Holder, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Practice; Tamara Steckler, Attorney-in-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice; Allan Fox, Director of Human Resources; and Scott Rosenberg, General Counsel.



After City Advantage Rent Subsidy Cutoffs, Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Warns Of Increased Homelessness And Increased Cost for Taxpayers

Following a divided 4-3 New York Court of Appeals ruling on June 25 there are no further court proceedings to prevent the New York City Department of Homeless Services from ending Advantage rent subsidies for the last 8,000 formerly homeless families and individuals in the subsidy program. In March 2011, the Department announced that it would end the Advantage program and stop providing rent subsidies to thousands of formerly homeless families and individuals. In response, The Legal Aid Society and the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP filed Zheng v. City of New York on behalf of what was then a class of 16,000 formerly homeless households. Court orders continued the Advantage payments from April 2011 through January 2012. After the Advantage landlords of class members received their last subsidy payments in January 2012, all of the remaining 8,000 class member households have been at imminent risk of eviction and repeat homelessness.

Steven Banks, The Legal Aid Society's Attorney-in-Chief, told The New York Law Journal this week that as a result of the City's determination to cut off the rent payments the municipal shelter system will be "swamped" with homeless individuals and families who have been receiving rent subsidies under the Advantage program. "[B]y winning the City is actually losing because now 8,000 formerly homeless families and individuals will lose their homes prematurely and flood the shelter system at a greater cost to the taxpayers than the cost of continuing to pay the subsidies until the Advantage agreements expire in March 2013," he said. Banks added that the taxpayers are being left to hold the bag for the City's position that [a] 'guarantee' [to pay the rent] doesn't mean what the dictionary says it means." It costs $3,000 per month to provide shelter for a family in comparison to approximately $1,000 per month for an Advantage rent subsidy.

Banks also told The Wall Street Journal that "[i]t's astounding the City would have gone all the way to the Court of Appeals to defend their right to leave families without the ability to pay their rent." He confirmed that the court's ruling marks the end of the legal fight. There is no further court to appeal to, he said, "except the court of public opinion." The Wall Street Journal and Reuters also reported on Mr. Banks' warning of increased homelessness as a result of the Advantage cutoffs. Earlier in June, The Wall Street Journal and the Daily News reported on increasing numbers of families who are in the City's shelter system because of the end of the Advantage rent subsidies. At that time, Mr. Banks told The Wall Street Journal that the end of the subsidy is "a ticking time-bomb" that will cost taxpayers more than the subsidies. He also told the Daily News that in the past "the last year or so of transition between administrations has led to substantial issues in the shelter system, as the lingering problems of one administration are passed on to the next."





Kate Mogulescu Participates in ABA Meeting on Youth Trafficking Victims

Kate Mogulescu will participate in an ABA meeting on Youth Trafficking Victims in Chicago in August. Kate runs the specialized unit on sex trafficking for the Criminal Practice.The goal of this program is to provide first responders and the community at large with tools to first identify victims and then to improve access to and delivery of services to victims of sex trafficking.

In June, Kate was named a finalist for the David Carliner Public Interest Award, sponsored by the American Constitution Society. The award "recognizes outstanding mid-career public interest lawyers whose work best exemplifies its namesake's legacy of fearless, uncompromising and creative advocacy on behalf of marginalized people."



Seymour W. James Jr. Assumes the Office of New York State Bar President

Seymour W. James, Jr., Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice of The Legal Aid Society, assumed the office of the President of the 77,000-member New York State Bar Association on June 1 . James, who began his Legal Aid career 38 years ago, is the State Bar's third African-American president and first president to come from the nonprofit legal community since 1994. Archibald R. Murray, who served as Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society from 1975 to 1994, was the first African American President of the New York State Bar Association.

"Making a difference" with an emphasis on access to justice is the theme of his presidency. "Too often, justice is denied those least able to fight for themselves, such as the 16-year-old runaway forced into prostitution or the father of three who is denied a job or decent place to live because of a criminal conviction. We as lawyers must give a voice to the voiceless whether in the courtroom or the halls of Congress and state Legislature," James said. Among his top priorities will be reforming New York's criminal discovery laws, helping former prisoners re-enter society, combating human trafficking and increasing public participation in elections.

Active in the State Bar since 1978, James for the past year served as president-elect, chairing the House of Delegates and co-chairing the President's Committee on Access to Justice. He previously served three terms as treasurer and as the vice president for the 11th district. In addition to his Bar Association activities, James is a member of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's Justice Task Force, the state Permanent Sentencing Commission, the Departmental Disciplinary Committee for the First Judicial Department, the Committee on Character and Fitness for the Second Judicial Department and the Independent Judicial Election Qualification Commission for the 11th Judicial District.

James is a past president of the Queens County Bar Association and a former board member of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association. He also is a former secretary and current board member of the Correctional Association of New York, a member of the American Council of Chief Defenders of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association and a board member of the New York State Defenders Association. James earned his undergraduate degree from Brown University and his law degree from Boston University School of Law. He is married to Cheryl E. Chambers, associate justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department. They live in Brooklyn and have three adult children: Christopher, Cheryl Allison and Carole.

New York Law Journal (June 1, 2012) A Veteran Defense Attorney Takes Helm at the State Bar




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