June 20, 2013

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 26 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


Attorney-in-Chief Calls For Restoration of Civil Legal Services Funding; Warns That Without Adequate Funding Increased Numbers of Vulnerable New Yorkers Seeking Help Will Be Turned Away


Steven Banks, the Society's Attorney-in-Chief, warned that proposed City budget cuts for The Legal Aid Society's civil legal services in the FY14 Executive Budget will hurt vulnerable New Yorkers seeking assistance because Legal Aid will have to turn away more families and individuals who desperately need legal help, including increasing numbers of New Yorkers seeking our civil legal aid in all five boroughs due to the impact of Superstorm Sandy. Banks testified at a City Council hearing focused on The Legal Aid Society's budget for the July 1, 2013 - June 30, 2014 fiscal year.

Banks said that eliminating this critical civil legal services funding will have dire effects on low-income New Yorkers and will result in increases in evictions, foreclosures and homelessness, increases in the number of women and children who cannot escape domestic violence, increases in the numbers of immigrants lawfully in this country who will be wrongfully deported, and increases in the numbers of children and adults who will go without subsistence income, health care, and food because of bureaucratic mistakes that cannot be challenged effectively in the absence of counsel. The numbers of vulnerable New Yorkers who seek The Legal Society's civil legal assistance have increased dramatically during the continuing economic downturn and as a result of the impact of Superstorm Sandy. Even before the proposed funding cuts, because of lack of resources, The Legal Aid Society is forced to turn away eight out of every nine New Yorkers who seek our help.



Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Participates In Announcement Of City Council Initiative To Better Prepare City For Future Storms And Emergencies


Steven Banks, The Legal Aid Society's Attorney-in-Chief, participated with New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and City Council members in the announcement of the Council's proposed legislative initiative to better prepare the City for future storms and emergencies. The Council's initiative follows up on a series of oversight hearings on the City's response to Superstorm Sandy at which Legal Aid staff testified.

At the announcement, Banks said that "as our front line staff saw in communities that were devastated by Superstorm Sandy, for too many affected children and adults the City's response was too little and too late. Based on our experience in providing comprehensive disaster relief legal services, we support the common sense legislation proposed by the Speaker and the Council to make sure that this never happens again." Banks also noted that The Legal Aid Society has represented Sandy victims in individual legal matters and in class action litigation challenging the City's failure to make federal food stamp benefits available and to continue to provide shelter for substantial numbers of affected New Yorkers .



Legal Aid Launches New Video Series To Provide Basic Know Your Rights Information For New Yorkers


The Legal Aid Society's Attorney-in-Chief, Steven Banks, announced that the Society has "created an initial series of Know Your Rights videos on key legal problems handled by our Civil, Criminal, and Juvenile Rights Practices." Banks said that "the series provides basic information for clients and community advocates about the comprehensive client services we provide and enhances and expands the Society's ongoing Know Your Rights initiatives in all five boroughs of the City, including the Society's self-help Know Your Rights brochures."

"The Know Your Rights video series is available on YouTube with a link from The Legal Aid Society's website. These Know Your Rights videos will be played on a continuous loop for clients in the Society's office waiting rooms. The videos are also being distributed to all elected officials and various community groups within New York City, and The Legal Aid Society is offering to provide additional Know Your Rights training programs for constituents and community groups," Banks said. This Know Your Rights effort will further expand the Society's comprehensive services for New Yorkers. More information about The Legal Aid Society's Know Your Rights video series and brochures may be obtained from the Society's Communications Office by calling 212-577-3346 or by emailing pbath@legal-aid.org.



Congressional Leaders, City Council Speaker and City Council Members Join Resident Association Leaders from the Impacted Developments and Community Advocates Calling for NYCHA To Stop The Land Rush and Halt The NYCHA Infill Project


Congressional and City Council leaders, along with Resident Association Leaders and Community Advocates held a press conference June 10, on the City Hall steps, calling for an immediate halt of the NYCHA Infill Project and demanding transparency, accountability, and increased scrutiny by community leaders in any Infill proposals. The event was coordinated by Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society's Civil Law Reform Unit.

Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez, Congressman Charles Rangel, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, City Council Members Rosie Mendez, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Margaret Chin and Gail Brewer, the Resident Association Presidents from the Impacted Developments and Community Advocates expressed concerns regarding the manner in which NYCHA intends to raise additional revenues, through its disposition of property and charged that sufficient information has not been given to public housing residents, elected officials or other stakeholders about NYCHA's plans to lease "under-utilized" land at select NYCHA sites. The Infill Development project must be slowed-down in order to provide time for meaningful resident and community involvement in the process.



New York Times Reports On The Legal Aid Society's Review Of Potential Wrongful Conviction Cases Involving NYPD Detective


In its continuing reporting on potential wrongful conviction cases involving retired Brooklyn homicide detective Louis Scarcella, The New York Times has found that the phrases "You got it right" and "I was there" appear in confessions in a number of his cases. The Legal Aid Society is reviewing 20 of the nearly 50 Scarcella cases that the Brooklyn District Attorney's office has identified as potential problem cases.

Steven Banks, The Legal Aid Society's Attorney-in-Chief, told the Times that "[i]t's sort of beyond belief that it would be coincidental" that this phrasing would be in multiple confessions obtained by this detective. At the request of The New York Times, the Society reviewed the cases of the 20 clients whose convictions the DA is evaluating and found two with similar wording at the start of the confession. "One of the confessions includes 'I was there' and the other says, 'I want to tell you the truth: you are right,'" Banks said. "Given the patterns that are emerging, clearly that gives great concern about the detective's techniques," he added.





Legal Aid Opposes Special Plan For Southern District Civil Rights Cases Involving The NYPD


The Legal Aid Society has urged the federal judges in the Southern District not to adopt a plan involving the consideration of civil rights cases from the Bronx and Manhattan against the New York Police Department. At a public comment hearing on a pilot program put in place in 2011 to handle Bronx and Manhattan cases alleging excessive force, false arrest or malicious prosecution, The Legal Aid Society and private civil rights lawyers said that the pilot program's procedures tilt unfairly toward the City's Law Department and have done little to speed settlements.

The plan extends the City's obligation to answer a complaint from the normal 21 days to 80 days, and postpones most discovery until after the parties have appeared before a magistrate judge for settlement talks or asked to be exempt. Plaintiffs who elect not to appear before a magistrate judge or seek an exemption are sent straight into mediation. Concerns have been expressed about the requirement that plaintiffs in these cases against the NYPD must serve a release for medical records with complaints filed under 42 U.S.C. §1983 as a well as a release for sealed arrest records and a list of prior arrests without equally timely disclosure being required on the defendant police officer's history of disciplinary problems.

As reported in the New York Law Journal, at the hearing, The Legal Aid Society' Criminal Practice Special Litigation Unit Director, William Gibney, said that The Legal Aid Society objected to "one-sided rules" favoring the City, particularly "the suspension of most discovery." Gibney added that "[t]here is a fundamental presumption that the federal rules apply to everybody."

On behalf of the Society, Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief, submitted extensive comments about problems with the Southern District's pilot plan. Banks noted that "The Legal Aid Society normally does not represent victims of police misconduct in the individual damages suits addressed by this plan. However, the Society and our clients have a substantial interest in maintaining adequate remedies for police misconduct, which our Criminal Defense Practice clients have experienced with dismaying frequency, and we do regularly bring class action and test case litigation about police practices. We also refer substantial individual complaints of police misconduct to the private bar, and we have frequent contact with private practitioners who represent police misconduct victims. Thus our perspective is that of informed observers." The Society's comments are attached below.

Last year, on behalf of the Society, Banks also submitted comments to an Eastern District committee that was considering a similar rule for Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island federal civil rights cases involving the NYPD. The Eastern District determined not to implement the rule. The Society's Eastern District comments are also attached below.



Legal Aid Staff Attorney Coaches Bronx 7th And 8th Grade Team That Wins The 2013 Thurgood Marshall Junior Mock Trial Competition In the Bronx


Special congratulations to Japel Filiaci, a Staff Attorney in The Legal Aid Society's Criminal Practice office in the Bronx, and the 7th and 8th graders from St. Angela Merici Catholic School for winning the 2013 Bronx Thurgood Marshall Junior Mock Trial Competition. Japel was one of the team's coaches. The team was honored at a Yankee game.



The Legal Aid Society Can Provide High-Quality, Cost-Effective Representation To Additional New Yorkers Accused of Crimes With Additional Resources, Says Legal Aid's Chief Attorney


Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, said that with additional resources Legal Aid can and will provide high-quality and cost-effective representation to additional New Yorkers accused of crimes as the City proceeds with its indigent defense plan that will reduce the number of conflict cases assigned to 18-B attorneys.

"We feel that The Legal Aid Society is in a position to provide both high-quality and cost-effective representation to additional New Yorkers accused of crimes if we receive additional resources," Banks told the New York Law Journal. In the City's proposed 2013-2014 budget that begins on July 1, the Bloomberg Administration allocated $14 million for the assignment of 26,000 conflict cases to institutional providers rather than 18-B attorneys. The City is currently evaluating responses to its request for proposals.

In October 2012, the New York State Court of Appeals upheld the City's plan to assign both non-conflict and conflict criminal cases to The Legal Aid Society. The Legal Aid Society had intervened in this case in 2010 because the litigation by various 18-B groups and bar associations to block the City's plan prevented the City from allocating to the Society its full criminal defense caseload and the funding associated with it.

Banks was asked by the Law Journal whether City Council members would oppose the program in the City budget process. "Historically, the City Council has supported the service The Legal Aid Society provides," Banks said, "so I would be surprised if the City Council concluded that the City could not provide additional resources to the Legal Aid Society consistent with the Court of Appeals ruling in order to handle both non-conflict and conflict cases."



Legal Aid Society and Weil Win Major Victory For Hundreds Of Sandy Evacuees


New York County Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chan ruled on May 15 that the City may not end the hotel program for hundreds of Sandy evacuees and pointed out that a new federal program to provide $9 million in rental assistance for Sandy victims could be used to help the families. The Legal Aid Society and the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP represented the plaintiffs. The Legal Aid Society has urged the City to find permanent housing for the Sandy victims.

Joshua Goldfein, a Staff Attorney in the Society's Homeless Rights Project, told the Wall Street Journal that "We hope the city will now implement the rental voucher program quickly. We want our clients moved out of the hotels. That's all we want." Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Society's Civil Law Reform Unit, told the New York Times that the City must now speed up the distribution of rental vouchers to assist all the evacuees in securing a home. "In a couple of months everyone could be out of the hotels," she said.

The Legal Aid Society and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP filed this lawsuit, Alycia Sapp et al v. City of New York, on April 29 on behalf of low-income New Yorkers charging that the City has not done enough to help Sandy refugees find housing and seeking to prevent the City from stopping hotel assistance for Sandy victims. Justice Margaret Chan granted a Temporary Restraining Order, and extended the order until May 15, thereby ensuring that Hurricane Sandy evacuees living in City-paid hotel rooms will have a place to stay for at least two more weeks. Despite the fact that the City had announced at a City Council hearing on April 26 that it would end the hotel program for 196 households on April 30, the City told Justice Chan that it had paid the hotels through May 15. The Legal Aid team includes Judith Goldiner; Joshua Goldfein and Cristina Schrum-Herrara of the Society's Homeless Rights Project and Young Lee and Tashi Lhewa of the Society's Queens Sandy Unit. The Weil pro bono team is comprised of Weil partner Konrad Cailteux, associates Isabella Lacayo, Jesse Morris and Emily Pincow, law clerk Chris Lewarne, and paralegals Elizabeth McConville and Kacey Carter.



Chief Attorney Says Legal Aid Supports Brooklyn DA's New Policy Not To Use Condoms As Evidence In Prostitution Cases


Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, said that The Legal Aid Society supports the Brooklyn District Attorney's new policy not to use possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution or loitering for the purpose of prostitution. For many years, the Society has opposed the use of condoms as evidence in cases involving prostitution because of the importance of using condoms for public health and safety reasons.

Banks told The New York Times that a majority of the nearly 2,500 arrests for misdemeanor prostitution in the City last year never make it to trial and many are resolved at arraignment. Cases are dismissed or suspects released after accepting pleas for time served after a night in jail. "Our front-line staff see these sorts of charges every day." Banks said.

Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn District Attorney, has announced in a letter to Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly that his office would not use possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution or loitering for the purpose of prostitution. The City's Health Department distributes millions of condoms to prevent the spread of deadly diseases. However, the Police Department collects and vouchers condoms as evidence in prostitution arrests.



Head of Legal Aid's Juvenile Rights Practice Says Close To Home Program Must Work; Going Back to Juvenile Upstate Prisons Is Not The Answer


Tamara Steckler, Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society's Juvenile Rights Practice, told The New York Times that the Close to Home Program, which is the centerpiece of an overhaul by the City and State of the Juvenile Justice system, must work. Through the Close to Home Program, the State is phasing out the housing of New York City children in upstate detention facilities and the City is now providing services and placements in New York City. " There are so many reasons why it's better to have these kids down in New York City near their families, their communities and their attorneys. And all of those factors outweigh the growing pains we're having now. Going back to what we had is not an option." Together with pro bono counsel at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, The Legal Aid Society sued the State Office of Children and Family Services in 2009 because of the excessive use of force against children and the lack of mental health services at youth detention facilities in upstate New York.

Legal Aid's Criminal Appeals Bureau Wins Tremendous Victory; Unanimous Decision By The NY Court of Appeals Seen As Powerful Affirmation Of The Right To Counsel


The New York Court of Appeals, in a unanimous decision, affirmed the right to counsel and the right to raise the issue on appeal. In its ruling, the Court of Appeals reversed a conviction where the defendant's Legal Aid Society attorney was removed from the case because he requested an adjournment when he was leaving the Society in order to provide time for another Society attorney to prepare the case. There had been multiple adjournment requests by the prosecution that had been granted. The Manhattan District Attorney had argued that the defendant, Anthony Griffin, had forfeited his claim by pleading guilty.

In the unanimous opinion, Justice Jenny Rivera wrote that "[h]ere, the claim to counsel is so deeply intertwined with the integrity of the process…that defendant's guilty plea is no bar to appellate review. A claim that removal of counsel was part of the court's disparate, unjustifiable treatment of defense counsel goes to the fundamental fairness of our system of justice."

Harold Ferguson Jr., a Legal Aid Criminal Appeals Staff Attorney who represented Mr. Griffin on the appeal, told the New York Law Journal that the ruling "really stands for the proposition that courts have to treat assigned counsel and the prosecutor's office the same."



Legal Aid's Juvenile Rights Practice Wins Court Of Appeals Ruling Clarifying State Statute


In April, The Legal Aid Society's Juvenile Rights Appeals Unit won a significant victory in the New York State Court of Appeals. The question before the Court was the interpretation of the statute permitting findings of severe abuse in child protective cases.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the interpretation presented by the Society's Juvenile Rights Practice attorney, Claire Merkine, that the statute must be read in a way that is consistent with the purpose of the statute, which was to "to expedite permanency for children who suffer . . . the 'aggravated circumstance' of severe abuse." The Court also agreed that the meaning of "depraved indifference" in the relevant Family Court statutes must be interpreted differently from the interpretation given to that phrase in the criminal context.



Federal Court Upholds Claims Of Unlawful Trespass Stops And Arrests In Public Housing; Davis Case Can Proceed To Trial


U.S. District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin declared that Davis v. City of New York, the lawsuit challenging the NYPD's stops and arrests of public housing residents and their guests for trespassing in public housing residences, can proceed to trial. Judge Scheindlin declared that the plaintiffs provided "abundant evidence that adequate training, supervision, and discipline of officers who engage in vertical patrols in NYCHA buildings could have prevented the constitutional harms allegedly suffered by plaintiffs, but that the City chose not to" do so, and ruled that plaintiffs may proceed to trial on the issue of whether the policy and practice of unlawful stops, detentions and arrests in and around NYCHA residences violates the rights of tenants and their guests.

The Legal Aid Society, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., and the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP represent the plaintiffs.

In announcing its decision, the Court recognized the "overlap and similarities" between this case and the Floyd v. City of New York stop-and-frisk case which is currently being tried before Judge Scheindlin. Specifically, she noted that the NYPD's practice of routinely subjecting law-abiding public housing residents and their visitors to illegal stops, frisks, and arrests for criminal trespass in and around their homes takes place in the context of the "NYPD's long history of biased stop, question, and frisk activity."

While the Floyd case challenges the NYPD's "stop-and-frisk" street encounters, the Court noted that Davis "illustrates the tensions between liberty and security in particularly stark form, because it deals with police practices in and around the home, where the interests in both liberty and security are especially strong."

Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, said "The trespass enforcement policies of the NYPD and NYCHA have led to thousands of false arrests of law-abiding people who did nothing more than walk to or from a NYCHA apartment or stand in a NYCHA lobby. New Yorkers who live in public housing want their homes to be safe. Instead, police harass them for "trespassing" in their own homes without suspicion of a crime. Public housing tenants should not have to sacrifice their constitutional rights because they live in public housing."



City Paying Less In Homeless Shelter Costs While Homeless Numbers Reach Record Highs; Legal Aid Raises Concerns About City Policy That Favors Shelter Over Permanent Housing


A Wall Street Journal article revealed that the City is paying less in homeless shelter costs because the federal government's share has increased even though the number of homeless families in the shelter system has increased substantially since Advantage, a rent subsidy program that had helped families and individuals leaving homeless shelters pay their rent for two years, ended in the Spring of 2011.

The Legal Aid Society sued the City in an attempt to continue the Advantage rent supplements for families and individuals who had already been relocated to permanent housing through the program. Although court orders continued the Advantage rental assistance through February 2012 for thousands of families and individuals who were already in the program in order to avert their evictions and repeat homelessness, the Court of Appeals ruled in June 2012 that the City could end the rental assistance if it chose to do so. At oral argument before the Court of Appeals, the City argued that because the City receives more reimbursement for shelter placements than it does for permanent housing rent subsidies ending the Advantage rental assistance for families in Advantage-subsidized apartments would not increase the City's costs if those families eventually had to enter the shelter system.

"They told the court that, 'It's actually not more expensive for us if these people [in the Advantage program] get evicted because these other branches of government are going to pick up a greater portion of the tab,'" Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told the Wall Street Journal. "That's a pretty stunning argument. No administration has argued that in court before," he added.

Banks also expressed concern that the City allowed so much time to pass without any means to move people out of shelters, causing the homeless population to explode through inaction. "The City had a terrible case of tunnel vision," he said.



Legal Aid Participates In Councilmember Williams' Health and Resource Fair


The Legal Aid Society participated with New York City Councilmember Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn), co-chair of the City Council's Task Force to Combat Gun Violence, in his third annual "Not in My Hood" community event to address senseless gun violence in conjunction with East Flatbush Village, Inc, (EFV). As part of this initiative, advocates and hundreds of community members took part in the Councilmember's health and resource fair at Flatbush Gardens. The event, which came a week after 25 New Yorkers were shot in a 48-hour period, promoted a message of keeping young people safe and providing them with a variety of positive opportunities. Participating in the fair were Heidi Cain (Civil), Taylor James (Civil), Emily Ruben (Civil), Noha Arafa (Criminal), and Bharati Narumanchi (Criminal).



Legal Aid To Participate In New York Premier Of HBO Documentary Films' "Gideon's Army"


The Legal Aid Society's Criminal Practice Deputy Attorney-in-Charge Tina Luongo will be speaking as a panelist at the New York Premier of HBO Documentary Films' "Gideon's Army," which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the right to counsel. She joins TV Journalist and panel moderator Jami Floyd, the film's director Dawn Porter and exonerated community activist Norris Henderson to discuss the film and the issues The Legal Aid Society's staff sees every day on the front-line fighting to defend the rights of low-income New Yorkers.



Legal Aid Participates In The City Council's Brooklyn Town Hall On Immigration Reform


Jojo Annobil, the Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society's Immigration Law Unit, participated with New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and members of the New York City Council in a town hall on immigration reform. Annobil said that "comprehensive immigration law would strengthen immigrant communities and keep immigrant families together," and noted that "there is an urgent need to protect and empower vulnerable New York immigrants by providing them with regular accurate information about the legislative process and the proposed laws, and counseling them on documents that may be required under any new law."

The Legal Aid Society provides comprehensive legal assistance for low-income immigrants in all five boroughs of New York City. The Society's Immigration Law Unit is the largest in the country, and has a proven track record of identifying new trends and emerging issues and in quickly responding to policy changes to preserve family integrity, as is evidenced by the Society's immediate response to provide comprehensive client services to immigrant youth through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) over the course of the last year. The Legal Aid Society's Immigration Law Unit is uniquely situated to respond to likely changes in federal immigration policies that will affect low-income immigrant New Yorkers over the coming year.



Legal Aid Lawyers Question Testing Of DNA Samples By Medical Examiner's Office Using Controversial Testing Tool


Legal Aid lawyers have questioned the testing of DNA samples by the City Medical Examiner's office because of the use of a controversial testing tool and the recent resignation of a senior official in the ME's office. Legal Aid lawyers questioned a DNA sample taken from a .38-caliber revolver police recovered, demanding to know whether Theresa Caragine was involved in testing the sample. Caragine has recently resigned. Legal Aid lawyers also requested details about Caragine's "Forensic Statistical Tool," querying prosecutors in at least one Brooklyn criminal case as well.An article on May 16 in the New York Daily News revealed that Caragine had stepped down as a top deputy in the ME's office after it was discovered that she had failed to use certain lab protocols in at least two criminal cases." I believe that the problems that are revealed in the disclosures obtained in the Brooklyn case are the tip of the iceberg," Alan Gardner, head of Legal Aid's DNA Unit, told the Daily News.



Bill Glaberson Of The New York Times Reports On Bronx Criminal Justice System


Beginning with a front page story in the Sunday edition, The New York Times published a three-part story on the Bronx criminal justice system written by Bill Glaberson. In the lead story on Sunday, Steven Banks, The Legal Aid Society's Attorney-in-Chief, said "the Bronx is a window into the problems in the criminal justice system across the City."

In the series, the Times reported on an individual case handled by Legal Aid Society staff attorney A. Casey Burke who obtained the dismissal of charges that had been wrongfully filed against our client. In 2010, a 20-year-old warehouse worker named Corinthian Hills was arrested on charges of robbing a woman at gunpoint. There was a video of the crime, but it took 11 months for prosecutors to turn it over to the defense. As the Times reported, when they did, "it was obvious to his Legal Aid lawyer that the man who seemed to have a gun on the tape was not her client. Case dismissed, a year and a half after the arrest."

"They looked at my face," Mr. Hills said later, "and they think: 'He probably could have done this. Let's put this file at the bottom.' Because I'm black and I live in the Bronx."



Jim Dwyer's New York Times Column Focuses On "Manufactured Misdemeanors"; Legal Aid Chief Comments On The Problem


Jim Dwyer's column in The New York Times on focused on "manufactured misdemeanors" and whether or not legislation will be enacted in Albany to stop needless arrests for possession of small quantities of marijuana. Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told The New York Times that there was a drop in these arrests immediately after Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly issued an order in September 2011 directing officers not to arrest people unless they were actually displaying marijuana in public view but the arrests increased a year ago, which left The Legal Aid Society with no alternative but to sue the City to stop this practice. Dwyer's column focuses on a Legal Aid client who spent the night in jail after police searched him and found a marijuana cigarette. The Legal Aid Society was assigned to represent this client the next day when he was arraigned and at that time he was released when a Judge dismissed the case.

Dwyer's column noted that the arrests are called "manufactured misdemeanors" because carrying marijuana in a pocket or bag is not a crime, but a violation. The column reported on the fact that the Governor's proposed change in law to stop these marijuana arrests was not included in the recent State budget agreement but could be addressed during the remainder of the current State legislative session that ends in June.

In New York City, when people are either searched or told to empty their pockets, the marijuana becomes open to public display, and then the charge is a misdemeanor and New Yorkers have been subjected to a full arrest and up to 24 hours in jail pending their arraignment. During his final State of the City address in February, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the City will no longer subject most individuals to a night in jail pending their appearance before a Judge for possessing small amounts of marijuana, and reaffirmed the City's support for the Governor's proposed legislation to treat the cases as violations. In response, The Legal Aid Society commented that we welcomed the City's change in policy and the City's continued support for Governor's legislation, which the Society is also supporting. The City's new policy is expected to go into effect at the end of this month.

In June 2012, The Legal Aid Society and the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court to prohibit the New York Police Department 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 given a ticket to appear in court at a later date.



Legal Aid Fights For Staten Island Family Still Suffering From Hurricane Sandy


Amin Alhadad and his wife and four children sought the help of The Legal Aid Society in Staten Island after his landlord, who is still collecting rent from the City's rental assistance program, refused to make repairs to their home that was damaged by Hurricane Sandy. "The landlord should be repairing the house," Teresa DeFonso, Attorney-in-Charge of the Staten Island Neighborhood Office of The Legal Aid Society, told New York 1. "The City's Housing, Preservation and Development agency has placed numerous violations based on the fact that these repairs have not been done and are continuing not to be done."

Mr. Alhadad said that the City's Rapid Repair offered free services, but needed the landlord to sign off on the work. Even though Mr. Alhadad sent the documents to the landlord, the landlord ignored them. When the landlord sued Mr. Alhadad for the $7,000 he claims in back rent, a Judge ruled that the landlord failed to prove he was owed anything. Mr. Alhadad, who is unemployed, says he has tried to find another apartment, but no one will rent to him because he has no income.

The family is staying at a hotel. "We have nowhere to go. I mean, we have nowhere to go," Mr. Alhadad told New York 1.

Since the storm, The Legal Aid Society has provided comprehensive disaster relief legal assistance in more than 5,000 legal matters for New Yorkers who have been affected adversely by Hurricane Sandy in Staten Island, Far Rockaway, Coney Island, Red Hook, and Lower Manhattan.



Legal Aid's Prisoners' Rights Project Wins Two Important Victories in Amador Prison Sexual Abuse Case


The Prisoners' Rights Project has won two important victories on behalf of Lucy Tasama (formerly Amador), a woman who was repeatedly sexually abused while in State prison. This month, Magistrate Judge Feldman of the federal court for the Western District of New York ruled that a correction officer's forcibly kissing her, groping her breast and buttocks, and exposing himself can be serious enough in the coercive environment of a prison to violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. In one of the first decisions of its kind in New York State, Judge Feldman acknowledged that contemporary standards of decency have evolved in recent years and such conduct is no longer permissible. This decision is an important step in vindicating the rights of our clients who are sexually abused while in prison. This decision clears the way for the case to go to trial this summer.

In April, Ms. Tasama was awarded half a million dollars in compensatory and punitive damages following a damages inquest for being forced to perform oral sexual acts on a former Sergeant at Albion Correctional Facility.

Dori Lewis, Senior Supervising Attorney, and Veronica Vela, Staff Attorney, of Legal Aid's Prisoners' Rights Project are handling this litigation along with the law firm of Debovoise & Plimpton LLP.



Legal Aid Chief Attorney Calls For Improved Services For Inmates with Mental Health Needs; Charges That Rikers Is A De Facto Mental Health Facility


Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told The New York Times in May that the City's plan to change the way inmates with mental health needs are disciplined is better than subjecting them to solitary confinement, but stated that more must be done to improve services for persons with mental health needs throughout the City.

"The fact that Rikers Island has essentially become a de facto mental health facility for a third of the jail population speaks volumes about the need for more resources and more attention to the mental health system over all in the City," he said, "instead of simply focusing on counseling versus punishment for those that end up falling through every crack in the social services system."

Chief Attorney Defends Right To Shelter From Attacks; Says Lifting The Court Orders Would Turn Back The Clock 30 Years


In response to comments by the Mayor and others criticizing court orders requiring New York City to provide shelter to homeless children and adults and blaming the "right to shelter" requirement for the problems the City Administration has had dealing with the record-breaking number of homeless New Yorkers, Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told the Wall Street Journal in March that lifting these orders would "turn back the clock 30 years." He added that the petitioners would have to argue "there is no longer a need to keep women and men and children from freezing to death on our streets."

The Legal Aid Society is counsel in the cases in which the City agreed to court orders requiring the provision of shelter to homeless women and men and to homeless families. The Legal Aid Society is also counsel to the Coalition of the Homeless. Last week, the Coalition for the Homeless released City data showing that the average number of people in the City's homeless shelters reached a record of 50,000 in January, a 19 percent increase from the previous year and a 61 percent increase since the beginning of the current City Administration in 2002. There was also a record number of 21,000 children in the City's shelter system, a 22 percent increase from a year ago, and overall family homelessness has increased by 73 percent since 2002.

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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