December 6, 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



Comprehensive Disaster Relief Provided By Legal Aid Staff

Our thoughts are with all those who have suffered losses as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Richard J. Davis, our Chairperson, refers to The Legal Aid Society as the legal profession's First Responders. The events of the past few weeks have demonstrated that this is exactly the role that the Society plays in New York City. Our own headquarters building at 199 Water Street in Lower Manhattan has been closed due to damage from the flooding and the 400 Legal Aid staff members who work there have been relocated to work from other Society offices and alternative locations. Nevertheless, in the finest tradition of our organization, in the immediate aftermath of the storm, we represented New Yorkers in court in arraignments on Tuesday night, October 30, and in civil, criminal and family court matters on Wednesday, October 31. Moreover, since right after the storm subsided, Legal Aid staff members have been providing comprehensive disaster relief legal assistance at the shelters for homeless and displaced New Yorkers, at the disaster centers, at community-based organizations, and through the Society's Mobile Justice Unit van. The Legal Aid Society has targeted disaster relief services in the most affected communities in Far Rockaway, Coney Island, Red Hook, and Staten Island. New Yorkers in need of disaster relief legal assistance can also call The Legal Aid Society's toll-free disaster relief hotline at (888) 663-6880. Legal Aid staff members are assisting affected New Yorkers with FEMA and Disaster Unemployment Insurance claims; replacing medications and access to health care; obtaining Food Stamps and public assistance; landlord-tenant, public housing, federal Section 8 matters, and homeowner/foreclosure help; assistance with loans and other small businesses matters; school transfers and transportation issues; and family law and immigration matters. Since the storm died down through this week, we have been assisting hundreds of adults and children each week who are desperately seeking our civil legal help. Before the Hurricane, because of lack of resources and increasing requests for our assistance due to the economic downturn, we could only help one out of every nine low-income families and individuals who sought our assistance. Since the storm, requests for our civil legal aid have increased exponentially and low-income New Yorkers need our legal help more than ever. Below are some selected media reports of The Legal Aid Society's legal advocacy on behalf of New Yorkers affected by Hurricane Sandy:






Skadden Receives Top Law Firm Award At Legal Aid's Pro Bono Awards Ceremony; Chief Judge Lippman Presents Awards To 331 Attorneys For Outstanding Service

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP received the 2012 Pro Bono Publico and Public Service Law Firm Award from The Legal Aid Society during the organization's 2012 Pro Bono Awards Ceremony November 19 at the Liberty Theatre in Times Square. Robert Sheehan of Counsel at Skadden, who heads the firm's pro bono program, accepted the award for the firm.

The Honorable Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of New York, presented awards to 43 law firms and 331 lawyers for outstanding pro bono service. For more than 135 years, the major New York City law firms have served as partners with The Legal Aid Society by securing through pro bono service the fundamental legal rights of low-income New Yorkers in critical need of counsel but unable to afford it, and by supporting the work of the Civil Practice. The Legal Aid Society's 2012 Pro Bono Publico Awards epitomize the enduring strength of this partnership, delivering life-changing legal assistance to our City's most vulnerable residents -- for example, survivors of domestic violence, homeless and imminently homeless children and adults, immigrants, senior citizens, unemployed and low-wage workers, children and adults with disabilities and chronic illnesses, neglected or abused children, persons living with HIV/AIDS, New Yorkers wrongfully accused of crimes, and inmates in the jails on Riker's Island and prisoners in correctional facilities throughout the State of New York.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP was honored for its exceptional pro bono commitment to The Legal Aid Society and the Society's clients. The firm is an exemplary pro bono partner, sustaining a litigation externship with the Harlem Community Law Office, dedicating substantial resources to low-income taxpayers, and initiating an uncontested publication matrimonial practice with the Bronx Neighborhood office. For more than 16 years, the firm's associates have provided counsel to hundreds of low-income New Yorkers facing eviction from public housing or being denied Social Security Disability Benefits. The firm has also supported The Legal Aid Society through the leadership of Blaine V. (Fin) Fogg, the Society's President.



New York Times Editorial Cites Legal Aid's Litigation To Stop Unlawful Marijuana Arrests

In an editorial on November 23 criticizing the New York Police Department for unlawful marijuana arrests, The New York Times referred to The Legal Aid Society's pending litigation challenging these arrests. The Times described continuing complaints that police officers have been arresting and charging New Yorkers with public display of marijuana, even though officers had found the marijuana while rifling people's pockets or after tricking them into exposing it by commanding them to empty their pockets.

In 1977, the New York State Legislature enacted a law that bars the police from arresting people with small amounts of marijuana unless the drug is being publicly displayed. The editorial cited data showing those arrested for minor possession -- even if their cases are eventually dismissed -- can endure grave collateral consequences. They can lose job opportunities and access to housing, and can be turned away when applying for military service. About 80 percent of those arrested are persons of color.


The Legal Aid Society Dedicates Its Mobile Justice Unit In Far Rockaway

On November 16, The Legal Aid Society formally dedicated its Mobile Justice Unit at the Joseph P. Addabo Family Health Center in Far Rockaway. Purchased with funding from a Robin Hood Hero's Award and the George Link Jr. Foundation, the Mobile Justice Unit expands the ability of The Legal Aid Society to go directly to those clients who reside in the most vulnerable and isolated communities in New York City in order provide early intervention legal services. By going out directly into these communities rather than waiting for individuals to come see us in our neighborhood- and courthouse-based offices, we are able to address legal problems at an early stage before litigation has begun and clients would normally seek our help.

From July through October of this year, The Legal Aid Society operated the Mobile Justice Unit on a pilot basis in Far Rockaway. Beginning right after the Hurricane, the Society pressed the Mobile Justice Unit into service to help with the Society's community outreach disaster relief efforts, which include community-based services in Far Rockaway and Coney Island as well as in Red Hook and Staten Island. The Mobile Justice Unit enables the Society to reach families and individuals in the low-income and isolated communities that have been devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

The Robin Hood Hero's Award was given to Marshall Green, the long-time Attorney-in-Charge of the Society's Bronx Neighborhood Office. In recognition of this award and his exceptional service to the Society's clients, the Mobile Justice Unit is named in honor of Marshall Green, who began his Legal Aid career as an attorney in what was then the Society's Far Rockaway office. Funding from Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's Civil Legal Services Initiative and general support from New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the New York City Council are supporting some of the Society's ongoing Mobile Justice Unit services for low-income families and individuals.





Legal Aid Praised by ABA President For Its Work With Human Trafficking Victims

In a letter to The New York Times on October 11, Laurel Bellows, President of the American Bar Association, praised the work of The Legal Aid Society -- both its legal and social services -- in helping victims of human trafficking. Along with the Cook County State's Attorney's Office in Illinois, the ABA President cited the Society's work as one of two "bright spots" in the United States that are addressing this national problem.

The Society is helping human trafficking victims by providing comprehensive client services in all five boroughs of New York City through all three of the Society's Practice areas -- Criminal, Civil, and Juvenile Rights. The Society's Criminal Practice operates a Trafficking Victims Legal Defense and Advocacy Project in the Manhattan Criminal Office to provide legal assistance to victims of human trafficking, including groundbreaking litigation to help young women get a new start by vacating their criminal records for prostitution. Kate Mogulescu, a Staff Attorney in the Society's Criminal Defense office in Manhattan, is leading this effort and she has lectured throughout the country and at ABA meetings about the work of Criminal Practice staff and on how States can develop and implement laws to permit trafficking survivors to vacate such convictions.

The Society's Juvenile Rights Practice has a long-standing record of assisting young victims of human trafficking. For example, Cait Mullen, a Staff Attorney in the Society's Juvenile Rights office in Brooklyn, has championed the cause of young trafficking victims for many years and has been credited with being a major force in the successful effort to enact New York's Safe Harbor legislation to provide help for these victims.

As part of its extensive client services in each of the five boroughs, the Society's Civil Practice has successfully represented human trafficking victims in federal and State court litigation, primarily through its citywide Immigration Law Unit, its citywide Employment Law Unit, and its citywide Family Law and Domestic Violence Practice.



The New York Times
October 10, 2012
Victims of Human Trafficking


To the Editor:

"To Combat 'Modern Slavery' " (editorial, Oct. 2) rightly stresses the need for government policies that rigorously break the demand for forced labor and help human trafficking victims. The legal community also has a key role to play, by changing the way it looks at victims, some as young as 10.

The American Bar Association is working to ensure that law enforcement officials are trained to better identify victims so they can help instead of punish.

Two bright spots in this effort are the Illinois Cook County State's Attorney's Office and the New York Legal Aid Society, where legal and social service entities team up in their efforts. Human traffickers prey on the vulnerabilities of their victims and count on police officers, prosecutors, judges and public defenders' lack of experience in identifying and confronting modern-day slavery. It is time to turn the tables on the perpetrators and show the victims that they deserve justice, and a second chance.

LAUREL BELLOWS
President, American Bar Association




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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