September 3, 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


NY1 Reports Legal Aid Will Go To Court If Necessary To Stop Draconian Fingerprinting Of NYCHA Applicants And Residents


NY1 reported on a statement by Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, that Legal Aid will go to court if necessary to stop the fingerprinting of NYCHA residents and applicants if the City proceeds with such an initiative based on the Mayor's radio show comment that everyone entering public housing should be fingerprinted.

"As the largest legal defense and legal services program in the United States, we stand ready to protect public housing applicants and residents and their families from a draconian fingerprinting initiative," said Banks. The Legal Aid Society annually provides legal assistance in 300,000 individual legal matters in all five boroughs for low-income New Yorkers with civil, criminal and juvenile rights legal problems, including substantial numbers of New York City Housing Authority tenants.




Legal Aid Chief Attorney and Juvenile Rights Practice Head Speak Out on The Importance Of The City's Close To Home Initiative For Troubled Children


In an essay published in the New York Law Journal, Steven Banks, The Legal Aid Society's Attorney-in-Chief, and Tamara Steckler, Attorney-in-Charge of the Society's Juvenile Rights Practice, supported of the City's "Close to Home" initiative to bring troubled children back to City facilities -- near their families and their supportive communities -- instead of placing them in expensive and failing juvenile detention facilities upstate.

Banks and Steckler noted that "for these young children being close to home means family visits, maintaining school credits and connections, and knowing that we have not thrown them away, we have invested in their futures and we have hopes for their success. For children in trouble, just believing they can succeed can be the difference between a life lost and a life saved. Close to Home was carefully and expertly created to be that lifeline." Prior to the Close to Home Initiative, The Legal Aid Society had commenced federal court litigation to challenge the placement of children in the upstate juvenile detention facilities where they were subjected to the excessive use of force by facility staff and denied necessary mental health services.




The Legal Aid Society Thanks Sustaining Law Firms For Their Support In A New York Law Journal Ad


Special recognition was given to the Sustaining Law Firms that support The Legal Aid Society in an ad that appeared recently in the New York Law Journal on page 2. The ad will appear again in the NY Law Journal on September 9.

The Society is grateful to the law firms that sustain the work of The Legal Aid Society by contributing at a leadership level of $600 per attorney in their New York City offices.

The support of the Sustaining Law Firms enables The Legal Aid Society to provide civil legal assistance to the most vulnerable New Yorkers, including: senior citizens, survivors of domestic violence, persons living with HIV/AIDS, homeless and imminently homeless children and adults, children and adults living with disabilities and chronic illnesses, immigrants, and unemployed and low-wage workers.




The Legal Aid Society, The Association of Legal Aid Attorneys and ll99 SEIU Provide Know Your Rights Information At The West Indian Day Parade

As part of ongoing community outreach, The Legal Aid Society, The Association of Legal Aid Attorneys and ll99 SEIU provided Know Your Rights information for community residents at the West Indian Day Parade. Led by staff and managers at The Legal Aid Society's Brooklyn Office, Society representatives from all three Practices - Civil, Criminal and Juvenile Rights - distributed information about encounters with the police and an upcoming Safe Surrender program on September 6 and 7 at the Church of the Open Door at 201Gold Street in Brooklyn.




Chief Attorney Speaks At City Hall Press Conference With Councilmembers And Community Leaders In Support Of The Veto Override Of Legislation To Address Unlawful Stop and Frisk Practices


At a City Hall press conference organized by Councilmembers and Communities United for Police Reform of which The Legal Aid Society is a member, Steven Banks, the Society's Attorney-in-Chief, spoke in support of overriding the veto of the Independent NYPD Oversight Act and the End NYPD Discriminatory Profiling Act.

Banks said that "every day, in all five boroughs of the City, our front-line Legal Aid staff see the continued harm resulting from improper and unlawful policing. Particularly in light of the recent landmark federal court ruling that the City conducts stops and frisks in violation of the 4th Amendment and in a racially discriminatory manner, this legislation is urgently needed to provide independent oversight of the NYPD just like other City agencies have and expand existing prohibitions on police profiling to protect New Yorkers from profiling based on, for example, gender identity and expression as well as homelessness and housing status." The Legal Aid Society, along with others, is counsel in federal class action litigation to end the City's unlawful stop, question, frisk and arrest policies and practices that affect residents and their guests in New York City Housing Authority developments as well as in State court litigation to stop unlawful marijuana arrests. The Society is the oldest and largest legal services organization in the United States, annually handling more than 300,000 individual legal matters in all five boroughs each year for low-income New Yorkers with civil, criminal and juvenile rights legal problems in addition to law reform litigation benefiting all two million low-income children and adults in the City.




The Legal Aid Society Will Challenge Disposition Of NYCHA Property Intended For Low-Income New Yorkers


Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told the New York Times that the Society is prepared to challenge a plan to lease land in New York City Housing Authority developments for market-rate residential units. Banks said The Legal Aid Society was planning a lawsuit on behalf of public housing residents, arguing that "the housing authority can't dispose of property that's intended to be used for low-income New Yorkers and instead provide luxury housing."




Lawyers For Rikers Inmate Who Was Denied Medical Treatment And Later Beaten To Death Seek Federal Investigation


Lawyers for The Legal Aid Society's Prisoners' Rights Project and Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady are seeking a federal investigation into the death of an inmate who was denied medical treatment and later was beaten to death. Ronald Spear, a prisoner at Rikers Island, sued medical and nursing personnel early in December because he was denied medical care for serious kidney problems. Later that month, he died after suffering "blunt force trauma to the head," in what the New York City medical examiner's office has ruled a homicide. Inmate witnesses provided sworn statements that they witnessed the beating by correction officers.

Jonathan Chasan, a Supervising Attorney in The Legal Aid Society's Prisoners' Rights Project, told The New York Times that Mr. Spear's death is "an example of the frequency with which guards used severe physical force" on City inmates in 2012. The lawyers sent a letter to David J. Kennedy, the chief of the civil rights unit in the United States attorney's office, that said "part of what makes the underlying facts in this case so disturbing was Mr. Spear's obvious vulnerability at the time." They noted that he was being held at the North Infirmary Command, and had been "struggling to get medical care for a serious and chronic kidney disease." The lawyers wrote that it "appears that correction officers had grown impatient with Mr. Spear's persistent requests for medical treatment and that they punished him by beating him to death."

The lawyers who sent the letter to the federal prosecutor's office included Chasan and Mary Lynne Werlwas, a Staff Attorney in Legal Aid's Prisoners' Rights Project, and Jonathan S. Abady and Zoe Salzman of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady.




Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Tells New York Times That Role Of Monitor In "Stop And Frisk" Case Is To Bring About Reform


In a landmark ruling, Federal District Court Judge Shira Sheindlin found that the New York Police Department's "stop and frisk" practices are unconsitutional and racially discriminatory and appointed a monitor to help bring the NYPD's practices into compliance with legal requirements. Based on The Legal Aid Society's expertise and extensive experience in litigating complex cases to enforce basic constitutional and statutory rights that often involve the appointment of monitors, Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told The New York Times in an interview that "In those other cases, monitors are put in place as part of settlement agreements to solve a problem, where here there is great resistance to the notion there is actually a problem."

"When you have a bureaucracy, such as this Police Department, which operates with a we-never-make-mistakes perspective, the role of the monitor is to actively bring about reform and assist the court in creating a framework for bringing the agency into compliance," Mr. Banks added.




Stop And Frisk Ruling Could Address Conditions In Public Housing


Federal District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin's landmark ruling in the stop and frisk case could address problems in public housing developments, Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told the New York Daily News. The Legal Aid Society is co-counsel in another federal lawsuit before Judge Sheindlin challenging unlawful trespass arrests of New York City Housing Authority residents and their guests in NYCHA housing developments. There are particular concerns for NYCHA residents and their visitors, Banks said. "It's outrageous enough to be stopped and frisked," Banks said, but "[i]magine if you or your family members or friends . . . were stopped and actually arrested in your own home."




Legal Aid Chief Attorney Says City Should Focus On Compliance In Stop & Frisk Case


Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told WNYC and NPR that the City should focus on compliance with the ruling in the "stop and frisk" case that prohibits unconstitutional and racially discriminatory practices instead of pursuing an appeal with a claim of bias against Federal District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin. "It's unfortunuate that the City is pursuing an appeal with this extreme claim of bias rather than moving forth with compliance," Banks said.




New York Times Cites Legal Aid's Role In Advocacy To Address "Stop And Frisk" Practices


In an extensive news analysis of the advocacy to address the New York Police Department's "stop and frisk" practices that a federal district court judge has now found to be unconstitutional, The New York Times cites The Legal Aid Society's involvement in this effort to stop unlawful conduct by the NYPD.




Legal Aid Victory For Client In Bronx Foreclosure Case


Bronx State Supreme Court Justice Robert Torres has ordered that a Legal Aid client, who has experienced a two and one-half year ordeal trying to keep her home while 17 settlement conferences designed to help her avoid foreclosure failed to produce more affordable mortgage payment arrangements, be paid all interest costs, late fees and attorneys fees which accrued against her. Oda Friedheim, a Supervising Attorney for The Legal Aid Society's foreclosure defense program who represents Jumoke Shinaba in the case, told the New York Law Journal that the problems Ms. Shinaba encountered during the settlement hearing process "pretty well illustrated" the problems that many home owners experience in trying to get lenders to lower mortgage terms to avoid foreclosure. Ms. Shinaba has been fighting to retain ownership of a two-family home in the Bronx on which she originally took out a $532,000 mortgage loan in March 2007. Once a full-time social worker and part-time car saleswoman, she lost both jobs by May 2009, though she resumed working as a social worker in April 2010.




First Department Overturns Conviction In Legal Aid Criminal Appeals Case, Faulting Police Questioning


In the New York Law Journal and The New York Times, Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, praised the Appellate Division, First Department ruling in People vs. Johnson faulting police questioning and overturning the conviction. Banks told the New York Law Journal that the ruling "stands for the proposition that the Fourth Amendment applies in the New York City Housing Authority, which in light of over-policing in recent years is an important protection" to reinforce. "The mere fact that someone is on Housing Authority grounds doesn't relieve the police of the requirement to have an objective and credible reason to approach somebody," Banks said. Harold Ferguson, a Staff Attorney in The Legal Aid Society's Criminal Appeals Bureau, argued the case.

The appellate panel held that being present in a crime-ridden public housing building did not give the police a right to question the individual. "Presence in a high-crime or drug-prone location, without more, does not furnish an objective credible reason for the police to approach an individual and request information," a 3-2 majority of the Appellate Division, First Department, said in suppressing gun evidence. "Nor does an individual's desire to avoid contact with the police - even in a high-crime neighborhood - constitute an objective credible reason for making [an] inquiry," the appellate majority concluded. Banks told The New York Times that "It is yet another state court ruling that the ends don't justify the means." Media coverage in The New York Times, the New York Law Journal, and the Daily News appears below.




The Legal Aid Society Provides A Second Chance During Safe Surrender Program


Lawyers, paralegals, investigators, social workers, administrative and support staff and technical support staff from The Legal Aid Society's Brooklyn Criminal Defense Office and from the Society's Civil Practice Immigration Law Unit were on hand on Friday and Saturday to provide a second chance to individuals facing outstanding summonses and warrants for minor offenses who were given an opportunity to turn themselves in and have their cases adjudicated during the Safe Surrender program at St. Augustine Church in Flatbush. A courtroom was set up at St. Augustine's and Legal Aid staff interviewed individuals and represented them before a Judge.

Safe Surrender is a community outreach program of the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office in partnership with The Legal Aid Society, the New York State Office of Court Administration, and several churches in Brooklyn. The Legal Aid Mobile Justice Unit was stationed outside the church and Legal Aid immigration lawyers were there to help community residents. There was also a Know Your Rights table with an assortment of brochures on a broad range of topics, including immigration, domestic violence, unemployment insurance, eviction, appearing in court, and encounters with police.

Dawn Ryan, Attorney-in-Charge of the Brooklyn Criminal Office, coordinated the Legal Aid effort. Legal Aid staff participating in Safe Surrender included: Nicole Mull, Noha Arafa, Elena Roberts, Adam Heyman, Ellen Sacks, Amy Swenson, Beth Calcaterra, Emily Poppish, Daniel Ashworth, Ryan Wall, Danielle Feman, Bob Peck, Azalia Torres, Susan Morris, Patricia Lavelle, Jane Fox, Martha Saunders, Nadine Griffin, Asmika Dangol, Margaret McClean, Bridget Holloman, Al Wall, Ron Sanders, Pooja Kothari, Pat Davis, Melodie Donovan, Aurea Gonzalez, Ann Sanders, Elizabeth Loebman, Ron Schneider, Vanita Martin, Sarah O'Leary, Mark Weiner, and Willoughby Jenett. Several members of the staff were interviewed by the media.




The Legal Aid Society 's Civil Practice And Kramer Levin Win Important Victory In Food Stamp Case


In a case brought by The Legal Aid Society and pro bono counsel Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, New York State Supreme Court Justice Lucy Billings issued a decision in Smith v. Berlin, denying motions to dismiss and granting our motion to intervene a plaintiff, amend the complaint, and, most importantly, certify the case as a class action. The class as certified by the court consists of all past, current and future recipients of public assistance or Food Stamps in New York City since July 8, 2007, who have received the City Human Resources Administration's Conciliation Notification or Notice of Decision and whose public assistance or food stamps have been reduced or discontinued for allegedly violating a work requirement. This case was handled by Lester Helfman, a Staff Attorney in the Society's Civil Practice Brooklyn Neighborhood Office. Employable Public Assistance and Food Stamp recipients are required to participate in work-related activities as a condition of receipt of benefits. Failure to comply which is "willful" and "without good cause" results in a pro-rata reduction in benefits for a prescribed minimum period of time which period increases with subsequent violations and until compliance (if the household consists of a single person, pro-rata reduction means a discontinuance of benefits altogether.)




Legal Aid Staff To Participate In The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center's Conference On Child Abuse and Neglect And Sex Trafficking Of Minors


On October 3 and 4, 2013, the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center will host a conference on two critical issues in child and adolescent well-being: Child Abuse and Neglect (October 3) and sex trafficking of minors in the US (October 4). Legal Aid Society staff will be key participants at the conference, including, Tamara Steckler, the Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society's Juvenile Rights Practice; Martin Feinman, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice's Brooklyn Office; Katherine Mullen, a Staff Attorney in the Juvenile Rights Practice; and Kate Mogelescu, the Supervising Attorney of The Legal Aid Society's Criminal Practice Trafficking Victims' Legal Defense and Advocacy Project.

This conference will highlight findings in forthcoming Institute of Medicine reports, Understanding Child Abuse and Neglect and The Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Trafficking of Minors and focus on awareness, identification, education, and practical strategies. The conference will provide opportunities for collaboration with the hopes of sharing and creating fresh resources for those serving children and adolescents. Nationally recognized leaders in research, practice, advocacy, policy, survivors and others will join together to hear the latest findings from experts on the front lines, share current research, learn best practices in treatment, and become more impactful in helping those affected by child abuse and sex trafficking. For more information, visit Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center's Continuing Medical Education conference page. Registration is free and open to all.




Legal Aid Chief Attorney To Speak On Panel On Diversity Within The Legal Services Community


In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington, the Legal Services Diversity Coalition in New York State is sponsoring a forum on Diversity within the legal services community on September 25 from 2 to 5 p.m. at Legal Services of New York City at 40 Worth Street in Manhattan. Steven Banks, The Legal Aid Society's Attorney-in-Chief, will be speaking on the panel. Last year, the New York City Bar honored The Legal Aid Society with the Diversity Champion Award 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.

In addition to Banks, speakers at the September 25 forum include: Jennifer Ching, the Project Director of Queens Legal Services; Virginia Goggin, a Staff Attorney in the LGBT Law Project in the Matrimonial & Family Law Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group; Maribel Martinez-Gunter, a Senior Staff Attorney at Manhattan Legal Services and the Legal Services NYC Latino/Latina Co-Chair; Denise Miranda, a Managing Director at the Urban Justice Center; and Christopher O'Malley, the Executive Director, IOLA Fund. The moderators are: Tanya Douglas, the Director of DAP and the Legal Services NYC Diversity Committee Chair; and Lillian M. Moy, the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York.

Forum attendees can RSVP to diversitycommittee@ls-nyc.org.




Misaskim Cares Features An Article On The Work Of The Society


The summer issue of Misaskim Cares features an article on the work of The Legal Aid Society entitled "Legal Assistance in Times of Need." Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of the Society, and Joel Schmidt, a Staff Attorney in the Queens Criminal Practice Office, were interviewed for the article. Banks praised the Legal Aid staff for "their passion, professionalism and dedication" to the clients. Banks added that Legal Aid staff "is committed to providing representation to families and individuals who have nowhere else to turn. Our lawyers choose to be Legal Aid lawyers in order to provide access to justice." Schmidt discussed his role as a staff attorney and explained why Legal Aid attorneys are so effective. He said that "They are fantastic attorneys who are passionate about the work they do and the help their provide to their clients. They are on the front lines-- in the trenches-- every single day. They know the significance of each case and they can quickly present an appropriate defense strategy."




Legal Aid Criminal Defense Leaders, Staff And Clients Featured At National Community Oriented Defender Conference


The Legal Aid Society led a key panel at the Brennan Center for Justice's recent annual Community Oriented Defender Conference entitled "Client Empowerment: Having Clients Tell Their Own Stories." The panel discussed The Legal Aid Society's comprehensive approach to empowering and supporting clients in presenting their own stories and experiences. Panelists included Bronx Trial Office Staff Attorney Joshua Norkin, Supervising Attorney Kate Mogulescu, and Director of Social Work Juli Kempner as well as Lynnae Brown, Coordinator of Education and Training at the Howie the Harp Advocacy Center, and Noche Diaz of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network and Revolution Club. The panel was moderated by Tina Luongo, the Deputy Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society's Criminal Defense Practice. The panelists focused on ways to enable clients to safely tell their stories to various criminal justice stakeholders.

At this national conference, Seymour James, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Society's Criminal Practice, was a panelist for a presentation entitled "State Strategies for Reform." He discussed The Legal Aid Society's landmark work on criminal defense caseload reform in New York State that has significantly enhanced client services as well as the need for increased resources to support public defense in the federal and State courts. This panel was also sponsored by the American Council of Chief Defenders of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association in which James has been a leader.




Legal Aid Chief Attorney Says Focusing On Conviction Statistics Of District Attorneys Misses Complexity Of What It Takes To Resolve Cases


In a New York Times article about Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes's felony conviction rates, Steven Banks, the Attorney-in- Chief of The Legal Aid Society said that "The Brooklyn programs and the Brooklyn approach to alternatives to incarceration are far ahead of efforts in other boroughs, therefore focusing only on statistics misses the complexity of what it really takes to resolve cases." Banks added "That's not to say that more can't be done."



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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