February 25, 2014


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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

Settlement In Legal Aid Class Action Case Hailed As Great Victory For Pizza Delivery Workers; Shearman & Sterling Serves As Co-Counsel

In Cano v. DPNY, et al., The Legal Aid Society's Employment Law Unit, along with pro bono counsel Shearman & Sterling LLP, represented pizza delivery workers in a class action lawsuit in federal district court against a franchise that operates four Domino's Pizza stores, its owners and managers, and the corporate franchisor. A settlement in the case has now been approved by the bankruptcy court. As outlined in the documents submitted to the court, the settlement provides a total of $1.282 million to be paid by defendants, with almost $1.2 million of that amount going to the workers, who will receive compensation in proportion to the number of weeks they worked at the stores.

The allegations in the case against Domino's involved systemic wage theft by forcing workers to work off the clock and removing work hours from their time records. The claims were for unpaid minimum wage and overtime, violations of the tip credit rules, and retaliation against workers who complained about these practices, among others. After conditional certification of a collective action was granted, the claim grew to include more than 60 current and former delivery workers from countries as diverse as Mexico, Bangladesh, and Burkina Faso.

The Domino's workers came to Legal Aid through an organization the Society has worked closely with in several cases: the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, ("NMASS"), a workers' organization that was founded in  New York City   in 1996. Legal Aid and NMASS have worked together to support and represent workers in a wide variety of industries, including garment workers, domestic workers, restaurant workers, and workers who did clean up following the 9/11 disaster.

The Legal Aid Society's staffing for this case consists of: Supervising Attorney Karen Cacace, Staff Attorneys Richard Blum and Hollis Pfitsch, and Paralegals Jean Marie Miranda and Russell Greene. From Shearman & Sterling, the staffing includes: Partners Douglas Bartner, Adam Hakki, and John Nathanson; Counsel Susan Fennessey and Jill Frizzley; Associates Darren Ishmael, Randall Martin, Mojoyin Onijala, James Park, and Doreen Xia; and Technology Support Staff Carine Rubinetti and Marek Januszewski.

Chief Legal Aid Attorney Tells New York Times That Brooklyn Wrongful Convictions Problem Was Years In The Making

The most recent New York Times report on the continuing problem of wrongful convictions in Brooklyn featured The Legal Aid Society's representation to overturn such convictions. "The term 'tip of the iceberg' is cliched, but if ever it was applicable, it's applicable to this situation," Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief lawyer of The Legal Aid Society, told the Times. "There's no question that this is going to be painstaking work to undo a problem that was years in the making."

Pressure to solve cases during the violent years of the crack epidemic, along with a lack of oversight, bred a "round up the usual suspects, the ends justify the means" attitude that left a legacy of wrongful convictions, Mr. Banks said.

The New York Times reported that The Legal Aid Society represents 20 clients in whose cases retired Detective Louis Scarcella was involved, 15 of whom remain in prison. The Society sent the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office a list of more than 900 clients the Society represented on appeal in cases involving murders in Brooklyn during the years when Mr. Scarcella was active. The Times has reported extensively on conduct by Mr. Scarcella in a number of wrongful conviction cases.

Legal Aid Society Provides Training For New York City Council Staff

The Legal Aid Society conducted a series of training sessions for New York City Council staff to provide information about the Society's comprehensive civil, criminal and juvenile rights legal services for constituents in all five boroughs.

The training sessions were led by Adriene Holder, the Society's Civil Practice Attorney-in-Charge; the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys President Deborah Wright; and Legal Aid Staff Attorneys and ALAA members Debbora Gerressu, Jack Newton, Bharati Narumanchi, Melinda Andra, and Ellen Davidson. Other Society representatives who participated in the sessions were Steven Banks, the Society's Attorney-in-Chief; Justine Luongo, the Deputy Attorney-in-Charge of the Society's Criminal Practice; Tamara Steckler, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Society's Juvenile Rights Practice; and Ann Maria Scalia, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Society's Manhattan Juvenile Rights Practice Office.

Jim Dwyer's New York Times Column Features Life-Changing Advocacy By Legal Aid Criminal Defense Staff Attorney

In his New York Times column, Jim Dwyer presented the case of Jessica Williams, a 20-year-old client of The Legal Aid Society's Criminal Defense Practice, who is graduating from Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School, works at CVS, and will be starting a training program with U.P.S. The Legal Aid Society began representing Ms. Williams when she was 17, charged with possession of a pistol that turned out to be inoperable, and not in school. In the column, Mr. Dwyer quoted Eliza Orlins, the Legal Aid staff attorney who represented Ms. Williams and helped to change her life. "She hadn't been through the system," said Ms. Orlins. "I felt that if she could escape from that, she could transform her life. She has a wonderful aunt and grandmother and girlfriend who wanted to see her succeed."

Mr. Dwyer said that Ms. Orlins "is dedicated to her work, but that is not a rarity in The Legal Aid Society." Ms. Orlins told Ms. Williams to get back into school if she wanted to have any hope of avoiding jail. After getting advice from others at Legal Aid, Ms. Orlins approached Judge Lynn Kotler, who was hearing the case, and asked that Ms. Williams be given a chance to work with Bronx Connect, a mentoring program to help young people stay out of prison. Judge Kotler agreed, the case was resolved, and the Judge and Ms. Orlins are speaking at Ms. Williams' graduation.

Honors In The Family

Legal Aid Staff Attorneys Diego Freire And Edwin Novillo from the Queens Criminal Practice Office were honored by the Ecuadorian Consulate with distinguished citizen awards for their contributions to the community and to the legal profession.

Jessica Goldthwaite, a Staff Attorney in The Legal Aid Society's Criminal Practice DNA Unit received the Michele S. Maxian Outstanding Public Defense Practitioner Award from the New York State Bar Association's Criminal Justice Section. The Outstanding Criminal Defense Practitioner Award is named for long-time Legal Aid Society Criminal Defense Attorney Michele S. Maxian, who led the Society's litigation that established the 24-hour arrest-to-arraignment standard and many other successful law reform efforts before her death from cancer.

Justine Luongo, the Deputy Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice, was honored by the Brooklyn Law School's Criminal Law Society at the Annual Alumni Dinner.

New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS), a faith-based relief organization, honored The Legal Aid Society's Civil Practice and its partner Project Hospitality for the work the Society did with those two organizations to assist homeless survivors of Superstorm Sandy. The NYDIS award for the Society was accepted by Adriene Holder, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Society's Civil Practice; Judith Goldiner, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Society's Civil Practice Law Reform Unit; and Joshua Goldfein, a Staff Attorney in the Society's Civil Practice Homeless Rights Project.

Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP was recognized by the National Law Journal for its outstanding pro bono efforts on behalf of 1,000 children and adults left homeless after Hurricane Sandy. Weil served as pro bono co-counsel with the Society in a class action to prevent these Sandy evacuees from being homeless when the City decided to sumarily terminate a program to house them in hotels. Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, described Weil's work as "truly heroic " in a National Law Journal article.

Legal Aid Op-Ed In The New York Times Focuses On The Danger Of Super Bowl Week Prostitution Arrests

In a New York Times op-ed, Kate Mogulescu, the Supervising Attorney of The Legal Aid Society's Criminal Practice Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project, focused on the danger of arresting increasing numbers of Legal Aid clients and others on prostitution charges during Super Bowl week. The op-ed notes that "[h]uman trafficking cannot be addressed by prosecuting victims in a criminal court. If, indeed, the goal is to address human trafficking, why is law enforcement targeting those believed to be victims?" Mogulescu added that "[w]hen the discussion is dominated by fear-mongering, we fail to meaningfully address the actual causes of human trafficking. The annual oversimplification of the issue, in which we conflate all prostitution with trafficking, and then imply that arrest equals solution, does a disservice to year-round efforts to genuinely assist survivors of trafficking -- with emergency housing, medical care and other crucial services."

The Legal Aid Society has been in the forefront of addressing human trafficking, including sex and labor trafficking, through the Society's nationally recognized Criminal Practice Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project, the groundbreaking advocacy for the Safe Harbor Act in New York State and the day-to-day representation of adolescent survivors of trafficking by the Society's Juvenile Rights Practice, and the comprehensive services for survivors provided by the Society's Civil Practice Domestic Violence/Family Law and Employment Law Units.

Governor Signs New Legislation To Address 16- and 17-Year-Olds Charged With Prostitution; Chief Attorney Says Legal Aid Supported Effort

Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told the New York Law Journal that the new law treating 16- and 17-year-olds charged with prostitution as Persons In Need of Supervision (PINS) and diverting them into programs is in keeping with a trend in criminal justice to treat these young people differently than adults. Banks noted that both Governor Cuomo and Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman have endorsed the idea of raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York from 16 to 18 (NYLJ, Jan. 9). Banks said the law, which the Society urged the Governor to support, puts the onus on the courts, prosecutors and defense counsel to make sure the PINS option is used as often as possible for the several thousands of 16- and 17-year-olds he estimated are arrested on prostitution-related charges in New York each year.

"Now it will be a challenge for the courts, the prosecution and the defense to work together to make sure that it is properly implemented," Banks said in a Law Journal interview. "Criminal court judges have been deprived of appropriate remedies when dealing with adolescents. The legislation is the first step in giving them those remedies. The devil will be in the details of how it is implemented."

Legal Aid Chief Attorney Supports Governor's Call To Raise Age Of Criminal Responsibility

Governor Andrew Cuomo's endorsement of raising the age of criminal responsibility and his creation of a commission to accomplish this change was praised by Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society. "This is an important step forward for New York to have the governor endorse raising the age of criminal responsibility and the commission that he has proposed has a very specific charge and a very specific deadline for achieving that," Banks told the New York Law Journal.

"The governor gave the commission a specific charge--namely how to raise the age of criminal responsibility, not whether to raise the age," Banks said. "When the U.S. Supreme Court has said the adolescent brain is not developed at age 16 to the point where it recognizes criminal responsibility, New York should not continue to be on the other side of this important issue." Three rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court since 2005, including Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S.-- (2012), have suggested that the brains of teenagers do not develop sufficiently by age 16 or 17 to adequately comprehend responsibility for criminal behavior. New York and North Carolina are the only states that prosecute 16 and 17-year-olds as adults in Criminal Court. In December, Banks had testified before the New York State Legislature in support of raising the age of criminal responsibility.

Unanimous Appellate Division Decision In A Legal Aid Case Allows Parolees To Petition For Drug Law Reform Resentencing

A panel in the Appellate Division, Second Department ruled in a Legal Aid Society case that parolees may petition for resentencing under the Drug Law Reform Act of 2009. The unanimous decision could resolve an inconsistency in the New York City trial courts, according to David Crow, a Staff Attorney in the Society's Criminal Appeals Bureau who handled the appeal.

Crow told the New York Law Journal that Judges in Brooklyn have generally held that parolees are not eligible for resentencing, while judges in Queens and the Bronx have differed on the issue. Manhattan courts have usually sided with the parolee because the District Attorney has not objected to the resentencings. Writing for the Second Department, Justice Jeffrey Cohen said one aim of the Drug Law Reform measure was plainly to permit individuals sentenced under the harsh Rockefeller Drug Laws to seek resentencing under new, less onerous statutes. He said that allowing paroled offenders to request resentencing is consistent with the legislative objective underpinning the 2009 reform.

Legal Aid's MICA Project For Mentally Ill And Chemically Addicted New Yorkers Cited As A Success By State Division of Criminal Justice Services

The Legal Aid Society's MICA program for mentally ill and chemically addicted New Yorkers accused of crimes has been selected by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services' Office of Program Development & Funding to be featured as a success in the agency's annual report. The Legal Aid Society's Enhanced Defense MICA (Mentally Ill, Chemically Addicted) Program aims to break the cycle of arrest for New Yorkers in Bronx, Kings, New York and Queens counties who have been dually-diagnosed with serious mental illness and substance abuse/dependence issues and are involved in the criminal justice system. The Project's attorneys and social workers divert clients from jail and prison into community treatment and supportive housing, thereby contributing to reduced recidivism. The Society's Enhanced Defense-MICA Project has provided legal and community support services to some of the most vulnerable defendants in New York City's criminal justice system. These individuals, struggling to live with co-occurring serious mental illness and addiction problems, are often underserved and victimized while incarcerated in jails and prisons.

Studies show that those with mental illness are more likely to be arrested, detained longer in jail and sentenced more severely than those with similar charges without a mental illness. Correctional facilities are often ill-equipped to properly treat persons with mentally illness and prepare for their re-entry into the community. The MICA Project's comprehensive model partners' mental health attorneys with licensed clinical social workers and a Rikers Island community liaison to provide expert legal representation and social services. A main focus is to secure alternatives to incarceration for clients who can be legally diverted from jail and prison into community-based treatment. In addition to providing direct client services, the Project is committed to addressing the systemic issues facing the MICA population; through extensive consultative services, advocacy efforts, and training.

New York Court of Appeals Rules That The Department of Homeless Services Violated The City Administrative Procedure Act When It Tried To Implement A Shelter Denial Rule For Homeless Women And Men Without Any Public Review

The New York Court of Appeals has affirmed appellate and trial court rulings barring the New York City Department of Homeless from implementing a controversial new policy that would have permitted the denial of shelter from the elements for homeless single women and men. The ruling came in litigation brought by the New York City Council as a related case to The Legal Aid Society's litigation on behalf of homeless women and homeless men.

The Society and the Council had prevailed in the Appellate Division, First Department and in the trial court, but the Department of Homeless Services decided to only appeal the rulings in the Council's case and not the rulings in the litigation brought by the Society. On behalf of homeless women and men and the Coalition for the Homeless, The Legal Aid Society and pro bono counsel Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP had argued that the Department of Homeless Services failed to comply with the City Administrative Procedure Act because the Department did not provide public notice and an opportunity for public comment on this sea change in City policy.

Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told the Wall Street Journal that "[i]t's important that the highest court in the State has said that the current administration can't do an end-run around the requirements of publishing rules for public comment, particularly here where the policy is so misguided that it would result in more homeless women and homeless men on the streets." If the Department of Homeless Services still plans to move forward with the shelter denial rule, Banks told the New York Law Journal that the Society would return to court to challenge the rule because it "would violate the 1981 consent decree that the City signed guaranteeing access to homeless services."

Children Aging Out Of Foster Care Need Services, Legal Aid Chief Says

New York 1 reported on the challenges facing children aging out of foster care. Steven Banks, The Legal Society's Attorney-in-Chief, told New York 1 that the Society's Juvenile Rights Practice and its pro bono partner Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP as well as Lawyers for Children brought litigation to challenge the Bloomberg Administration's failure to provide legally required services to enable children aging out of foster care to live independently, which resulted in a court-approved settlement in 2012. Banks told New York 1 that "[d]espite the settlement, there have been problems in terms of providing the necessary services and supervision, and particularly, the housing," Banks also said that the Society is hopeful that the new de Blasio Administration will be able to address these problems.

Legal Aid staff who worked on the case include Juvenile Rights Practice Attorney-in-Charge Tamara Steckler, Lisa Freeman, Karen Fisher Guthiel, and Kim Forte. Davis Polk's litigation team consisted of James W.B. Benkard, Sharon Katz, Scott B. Luftglass, and David C. Pitluck. Attorneys at Lawyers for Children - Karen J. Freedman, Betsy Kramer, and Priti Kataria - also worked on the case.

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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