October 18, 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


Chief Judge Lippman Announces First Statewide System To Deal With Human Trafficking; Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Says New Approach Gives Survivors A Second Chance

At a Citizens Crime Commission forum, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced the creation of the new Human Trafficking Intervention Courts, the first statewide system in the nation to deal with human trafficking, which will handle all prostitution cases and provide services such as drug treatment, shelter, immigration assistance, health care, and job training.

Speaking at the same forum, Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, said, "Our front-line Legal Aid staff in all five boroughs see the painful impact of charging survivors of human trafficking with crimes when they are actually crime victims. Criminal convictions in these cases can indelibly scar those who have been subjected to human trafficking by leaving them with a criminal record that affects employment, housing, financial aid for college, government benefits, and immigration status. Legal Aid staff attorneys, social workers and paralegals see this every day as we represent clients in the model court parts in the Midtown Community Court and in Queens Criminal Court, and as we advocate for survivors of trafficking in civil and immigration matters. By providing supportive services and vacating past criminal convictions, we can literally give human trafficking survivors a second chance in life. We stand ready to do our part to make this ground-breaking initiative a success." The Legal Aid Society handles some 300,000 legal matters each year for low-income New Yorkers with criminal, civil or juvenile rights legal problems in all five boroughs of New York City, and operates a special Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project which will help carry out the Chief Judge's new initiative.




In An Editorial, The New York Times Praised Chief Judge Lippman's Creation of Specialized Criminal Court Parts To Aid Sex-Trafficking Survivors And Cites Legal Aid's Key Role

The New York Times published an editorial praising Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's "important new initiative" to treat people charged with prostitution and related offenses "as exploited and abused victims . . . rather than as criminals." The New York Times editorial notes that the efforts of The Legal Aid Society under the leadership of Attorney-in-Chief Steven Banks "will be needed to make the program effective."




Appointment of New Civil Practice Managers Announced

Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief, and Adriene Holder, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Practice, are announcing the recent appointment of the newest members of the Civil Practice Senior Management Team. They are Aurore DeCarlo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Brooklyn Office for the Aging; Sateesh Nori, Attorney-in-Charge of the Queens Neighborhood Office; Rebecca Antar Novick, Supervising Attorney of the Health Law Unit; and Jean Marie Miranda, Coordinator of the Access to Benefits (A2B) Helpline Project.




Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman Will Present Awards To 50 Law Firms And 332 Lawyers At The Legal Aid Society's Pro Bono Awards Ceremony October 29; Paul Weiss To Receive The Pro Bono Publico And Public Service Law Firm Award

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman will present Pro Bono awards to 50 law firms and 332 lawyers during The Legal Aid Society's 2013 Pro Bono Awards Ceremony on October 29 at the Prince George Ballroom from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP will receive the 2013 Pro Bono Publico and Public Service Law Firm Award for its exceptional pro bono commitment to The Legal Aid Society and our clients. Under the leadership of firm Chair Brad S. Karp, Partner and Legal Aid Society Board Member Michele Hirschman, and Pro Bono Counsel Rebecca Behr, the attorneys, legal assistants and administrative staff of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP have devoted an average of over ten thousand (10,000) hours per year to pro bono work on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for the past three years. The Society is running an ad in the New York Law Journal recognizing the 2013 Pro Bono Honor Roll and the 2013 Honor Roll of Sustaining Law Firms.




Feerick Center For Social Justice Honors Seymour James With The Life Of Commitment Award

Fordham Law School's Feerick Center for Social Justice honored Seymour W. James, Jr., with its Life of Commitment Award during the 2013 Awards & Benefit Reception. James, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice, which is the largest public defender organization in the country and the primary indigent defender in New York City, was honored for devoting his entire legal career to ensuring that low-income New Yorkers charged with criminal offenses receive high quality representation.




The New York City Council and Resident Association Leaders From Impacted Developments File Lawsuit To Halt the Land Rush and Stop NYCHA from Transferring Public Housing Land to Private Developers; Legal Aid and Patterson Belknap Are Representing The Residents

The New York City Council and Resident Association leaders from impacted developments filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court, New York County, to prevent the New York City Housing Authority from transferring public housing land to private developers without statutory authorization and the legally required collaboration of City elected officials and NYCHA residents. The New York City Council, The Legal Aid Society and the law firm of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP are co-counsel on the case.

The lawsuit asks the Court to enjoin NYCHA from proceeding with its Land Lease initiative and to declare that any attempt to proceed is in violation of New York State and federal law. Since NYCHA announced the Land Lease initiative earlier this year to allow private developers to build market-rate residential high rises on several parcels of public housing land, the City Council, community advocates, and the Resident Association leaders have expressed concerns over the manner in which NYCHA intends to raise additional revenues through its disposition of property and have charged that sufficient information has not been given to public housing residents, elected officials or other stakeholders about NYCHA's plan to lease "under-utilized" land at select NYCHA sites.

"NYCHA's sole purpose is to build and maintain affordable housing-not lease public land to make way for luxury apartments," said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. "Any proposal to radically alter the landscape of New York City's public housing must be made in consultation with the very communities who will be impacted by these changes. The City Council is proud to join The Legal Aid Society and NYCHA residents in filing suit against the Bloomberg Administration to stop this misguided decision to move ahead with the land-lease program." Council Member Rosie Mendez. said " As is his practice, Mayor Bloomberg again seeks to disregard formal processes and subvert the will of our residents by releasing a Request For Expressions of Interest (RFEI) that contains language that may allow Infill Development to occur without community review and in direct contravention of the stated will of the majority of residents. ."

"Public housing land is required to be used for low-income housing as it should be given the extreme lack of affordable housing for low-income New Yorkers. It is a shame that we need to go to court to prevent selling public housing land to the highest bidder for market-rate housing. Claims that this needs to be done to raise revenue ignore the fact that the New York City Housing Authority should stop paying and the City should stop collecting over $70 million for police services that private landlords do not pay for, which would then free up those funds for NYCHA's housing needs. Public housing residents need a real process for input to ensure that NYCHA's plans meet residents' needs," said Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society.

"This lawsuit seeks to protect the rights of low income New Yorkers in residential housing impacted by NYCHA's actions," said Lisa E. Cleary, a partner at Patterson Belknap. "It is critical that this process be conducted in accordance with the statutory provisions governing such development efforts. The voices of the residents and community must be heard before NYCHA proceeds."




NYC Councilmembers Demand That The City Stop The Evictions of 300 Sandy Survivors Living In Hotels For Evacuees; Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Says City Must Provide Housing For These Households

Members of the New York Council, led by Councilmembers Donovan Richards, Jr., Brad Lander, and Melissa Mark-Viverito demanded that the City halt the evictions of 300 vulnerable Sandy survivors living in hotels. Calling the City's action "disgraceful", Richards charged that "these families will be forced into homelessness." Legal Aid attorneys were successful in saving 700 families. Right before the scheduled evictions, the Red Cross provided the funding for 300 evacuees to remain in the hotels for two more weeks while housing was found.

Speaking at a press conference on the steps of City Hall, Councilmember Richards said these Sandy survivors "have suffered enough." He also demanded that the City provide permanent housing resources to these households and place other evacuees in shelters. "Though New York City has done much to assist families displaced by Hurricane Sandy, hundreds of New Yorkers still remain sheltered in hotels, awaiting repairs to their homes or seeking affordable apartments with rental vouchers that only recently became available, "Richards said.

"It makes no sense in either fiscal or human terms to end City disaster relief assistance for Sandy evacuees who are about to relocate to permanent housing and are so close to finally regaining stability after the trauma of the last eleven months following the storm. Instead of making these Sandy survivors reapply for City shelter from another Department of Homeless Services program, they should be permitted to stay where they are so they can transition to permanent housing that is available to them. For those families and individuals who do not yet have permanent housing that they are about to move into, the City should not bounce them among an alphabet soup of City programs by putting them out of the evacuation hotels onto the streets and then sending them to apply for shelter in offices of the Department of Homeless Services. These Sandy evacuees have suffered enough since last October and since some families and individuals still need temporary shelter, it is incumbent on the City to relocate them directly from the evacuation hotels to a Department of Homeless Services shelter," said Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society which has been representing the Sandy evacuees along with pro bono counsel at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.

The City's hotel program has served more than 3,000 people displaced by Superstorm Sandy last October. The City tried to discontinue the Hotel Program in late April but was stopped by New York County State Supreme Court Justice Margaret A. Chan, who directed the City not to stop the program after it was sued by The Legal Aid Society and the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, serving as pro bono counsel. Justice Chan subsequently vacated that order and found that the City did not have budgeted funds to continue the program.




City's New Plan To Give Conflict Cases To Legal Aid And Others Began On September 9

The City's plan to allocate criminal defense conflict cases to The Legal Aid Society and smaller borough-based providers will go into effect on September 9. Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told the New York Law Journal that the City's plan is "the right plan." The Law Journal reported that the allocation of cases and funds has not yet been finalized. "As the primary provider in all five boroughs, we expect to receive a substantial number of additional cases," Banks said, though he said it was too early to estimate how many. Various county bar associations had sued to block the plan, but the Court of Appeals ruled against them last year in Matter of the New York County Lawyers' Association v. Bloomberg, 155 (NYLJ, Oct. 31, 2012). The Legal Aid Society intervened in that litigation and supported the City's plan in order to enable the Society to provide comprehensive client services to greater numbers of New Yorkers charged with crimes, often wrongfully.




Staff Attorney Patricia Lavelle Is Part of The Legal Aid Society's New York City Marathon Team Running On November 3 To Raise Funds For Our Civil Practice


Patricia Lavelle, a staff attorney in The Legal Aid Society's Immigration Law Unit, Legal Aid Board Member Aaron H. Marks of Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP, and three Legal Aid supporters are running in the 2013 ING Marathon for Team LAS to help us raise funds for our Civil Practice. Representing the Legal Aid staff on Team LAS, Lavelle was selected through a lottery of Legal Aid staff interested in representing the Society in this fundraising initiative. This is her first New York City marathon. Donations to support Patricia Lavelle and Team LAS in our 2013 ING Marathon effort can be made via Crowdrise.com. Please join us in supporting Legal Aid staff attorney Patricia Lavelle and our entire Team LAS on November 3.




The Legal Aid Society Will Commemorate The 50th Anniversary Of The Society's Juvenile Rights Practice On October 22

On October 22nd, The Legal Aid Society will commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Society's Juvenile Rights Practice, formerly known as the Juvenile Rights Division. The Juvenile Rights Practice was founded by Charles Schinitsky in 1962, as the first law office of its kind dedicated to the legal representation of children. Fifty years later, the Juvenile Rights Practice has grown from 3 lawyers to an interdisciplinary staff of over three hundred. At the October 22nd event, JRP will honor the memory of Charles Schinitsky and celebrate the difference that the Juvenile Rights Practice has made in the lives of hundreds of thousands of New York City children. The invitation-only event will take place at Battery Gardens and is already filled to capacity. The program, which begins at 7:00 PM, will include remarks by New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, a commemorative speech by New York University School of Law Professor Martin Guggenheim, and the presentation of the annual Charles Schinitsky Awards to two Juvenile Rights Practice staff members, Ann Marie Scalia and Sophia Shaw, for their outstanding service on behalf of children.




Legal Aid Chief Condemns Criminalization Of Normal Adolescent Behavior In New York City Schools

At a recent press conference announcing a new effort by the Student Safety Coalition to end aggressive policing in the New York City schools and restore authority over school discipline to professional educators, Steven Banks, The Legal Aid Society's Attorney-in-Chief, said that "over-policing normal child behavior does not create safer schools." Describing arrests of students in an interview in Rolling Stone Magazine, Banks said that "[t]hese arrests are resulting from the same Stop and Frisk approach we see in the streets. The continued criminalization of normal adolescent behavior in schools is literally feeding the school-to-prison pipeline." There were 2,500 arrests and 69,000 suspensions in New York City schools last year, and Banks said that the overwhelming majority were for behavior that, in another era, would have been handled by educators rather than police. The presence of school safety officers (SSOs) - agents within the School Safety division of the NYPD - means that a child's minor misbehavior or perceived disrespect can quickly escalate to lead to an arrest, criminal summons or suspension. Referring to the high rate of suspensions and arrests, Banks told Rolling Stone Magazine that "[t]here are extraordinary collateral consequences for treating children as suspects rather than as adolescents who need to be educated rather than criminalized." In addition to falling behind in school, children who face criminal charges may end up with a record that affects their ability to obtain employment, remain in public housing with their families, receive financial aid for college or even stay in the country, depending on their immigration status, Banks said.

The Legal Aid Society is member of the Student Safety Coalition, which is a diverse group of educators, parents, students, and community advocates.




Disaster Lawyering: Delivering Legal Aid Post Sandy

The Legal Aid Society, The City Bar Justice Center, and probono.net sponsored an important conference "Disaster Lawyering: Delivering Legal Aid Post Sandy" at the City Bar Justice Center, 42 West 44th Street. The conference provided an opportunity to reflect on the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy from the perspective of public interest lawyers and their pro bono partners. The conference included prominent members of the legal services and pro bono communities and featured Loyola University Profession Bill Quigley, author of "Storms Still Raging: Katrina, New Orleans, and Social Justice."




On NPR And WNYC, Legal Aid Chief Attorney Raises Concern About The Pernicious Effect Of The Bail System In New York

In a comprehensive report on WNPR and WNYC, Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, discussed the need to overhaul the bail system in New York. Banks pointed out that "the cost to the taxpayers is far greater than any criminal justice system advantage." As it stands, he said, every day there are more than 9,000 people in city jails accused but not convicted of a crime. Such detention has an impact on cases.

"Experience and data shows that you're more likely to be able to favorably resolve your case if you're not being held on Rikers Island pending your trial or your court proceeding," Banks said. Being behind bars puts a lot of pressure on people who stand to lose their jobs and are away from their families, he added. "People who are in the community are more likely to be able to help their defense lawyer to develop the facts that are needed to contest the case and there's a pernicious effect of holding people on Rikers Island," Banks said. "It wears on you, and your resolve to continue to fight a case that may have little merit is worn down by the fact that you're actually behind bars."



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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