May 8, 2014

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 and its 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. 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.


Legal Aid in the News


Lawsuit Filed To Prevent Closing Of Brooklyn Assisted-Living Home Leaving 120 Seniors At Risk Of Homelessness

A lawsuit was filed in State Supreme Court in Kings County to prevent the closing of the Prospect Park Residence, an assisted-living facility in Brooklyn which is home to 120 Seniors. Lawyers from The Legal Aid Society, MFY Legal Services, Inc.; and the law firm of Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto are representing seven of the residents. Plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order.

Council Member Brad Lander, who has been leading the fight for the seniors at Prospect Park Residence, said:

"Today's lawsuit is a vital step in protecting 120 of our elderly neighbors from cruel and heartless evictions, announced with just 90 days notice from the NYS Department of Health. We stand with these residents and their families against this immoral act. An enormous human toll has already been taken as a result of the pending closure. I am proud to be part of the legal action to reverse the closure decision, and to ensure that the owner and NYS Department of Health live up to their obligations to the full measure of the law. Thanks to Legal Aid and the rest of the legal team for bringing this pro-bono lawsuit in support of our neighbors."

Defendants in the lawsuit are Haysha Deitsch, the landlord, and the State Health Department, which accepted the landlord's proposal to close the facility after he submitted a closing plan relinquishing a conditional assisted-living facility license.

United States Senator Charles Schumer has sent a letter to the State Health Department requesting that the decision to close PPR be reconsidered and that levels of service be monitored. The letter says in part: "The Prospect Park Residence announced closure on March 5, 2014, giving 122 elderly residents just 90 days-notice to find a new home. Residents and their families and loved ones are very concerned about maintaining an adequate level of services within the building, starting now, but especially after the 90-day period ends. A thorough examination of the impacts and soundness of this proposal strongly argues that the DOH reconsider the closure decision and strongly monitor levels of service are maintained far beyond the 90-day period. DOH must also enforce requirements of the plan for Prospect Park Residence to assist residents individually in the relocation process and provide packing and inventory services."

"The plan is completely pro forma, and what the Department of Health did was basically rubber-stamp it, "Judith Goldiner, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Reform Unit, told the New York Times. Affidavits from the relatives and families of residents point out that Prospect Park Residence is considered "home" to the elderly residents. The daughter of an 89-year-old resident said that "any move will be extremely traumatic for my mother and will sever her ties to important services and support groups." The daughter of a 96-year-old Holocaust survivor wrote that "my father loves living at Prospect Park Residence because of the activities and the neighborhood."

Aurore DeCarlo, Attorney in Charge, Brooklyn Office for the Aging, said that " The Department of Health is aware that there are almost no available places for the elderly and disabled residents of the Prospect Park Residence. Yet in violation of its own rules and state law, DOH summarily approved an improper closure plan and has failed provide any meaningful oversight to ensure compliance with minimal requirements of the closure process. Meanwhile, the landlord is forcing the elderly and disabled residents to move to alternative residences which don't meet their needs, and is causing the departure of essential health aides and the reduction of necessary services. All in pursuit of an opportunity to convert the building into luxury housing. Our lawsuit seeks to remedy the landlord and DOH's illegal actions and to preserve the health, well-being, safety, and dignity of these vulnerable residents."

Lawyers handling the case include: (The Legal Aid Society) Aurore DeCarlo, Susan Edelstein, Judith Goldiner, Adriene Holder, Justin Lim, Rebecca Novick, Kimberly Skadden, and Liliana Vaamonde; (MFY LEGAL SERVICES, INC.) Jeanette Zelhof, Lisa Collins and Kevin M. Cremin ; and (Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto) Donald J. Curry, Jason E. Johnso, Laura A. Bayne, and Dominick P. DiSabatino.




Legal Aid and Davis Polk Help Free Robert Hill After 28 Years In Prison For A Crime He Did Not Commit; First Scarcella Victim To Be Freed

After a year-long investigation by The Legal Aid Society and the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell, Robert Hill had his conviction for second-degree murder vacated and he was freed after 28 years of incarceration.

The Brooklyn District Attorney agreed with the defense that the conviction, for which Mr. Hill had originally been sentenced to life imprisonment, lacked integrity, because it depended on the testimony of an unreliable witness, Theresa Gomez.

Ms. Gomez, now deceased, claimed to have witnessed at least six homicides in Brooklyn in the course of a short period of time. She worked with now-discredited retired detective Louis Scarcella. After questions about Detective Scarcella and Ms. Gomez were raised by The New York Times in May 2013, the District Attorney's Integrity Review Unit agreed to review the work of the retired detective. As a result of its reinvestigation, the District Attorney also dismissed all charges against two of Mr. Hill's brothers, one of whom died in prison, who were also convicted based on Ms. Gomez's testimony, in an unrelated homicide.

While lawyers for the defendants knew that the Conviction Review Unit was examining their cases, they were surprised by how quickly the decision to exonerate their clients had come, said Harold Ferguson, a Legal Aid lawyer who was on Mr. Hill's legal team. The lawyers received a phone call on Sunday from an assistant district attorney in the review unit, and they called Mr. Hill on Monday to give him the news.




Legal Aid Lawyers Provide Know Your Rights Sessions Throughout The City For Law Day

Legal Aid Lawyers provided Know Your Rights sessions in all five boroughs to celebrate Law Day. They answered questions from New Yorkers and distributed Know Your Rights brochures.

In 2013, more than 155,000 Know Your Rights brochures were distributed to residents throughout the City.




Shooting Victims Handcuffed And Shackled For Minor Warrants; NYPD To Review Procedure; Seymour James Calls Procedure Egregious

The New York Times ran a story today interview gunshot victims who were handcuffed and shackled for as long as two weeks for outstanding minor warrants.

"It's particularly egregious where they have minor offenses," said Seymour W. James Jr., Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice of The Legal Aid Society which represents many of the hospitalized prisoners. "They consider everybody who has a warrant a fugitive." The Society's Anti Gun Violence Unit represents two of the victims in the story.




Susan Gibson O'Gara Retired After 31 Years Of Service

Susan Gibson O'Gara, Supervising Attorney in the Queens Neighborhood Office, retired in March after 31 years of service to The Legal Aid Society and its clients. A retirement party was held in the Queens Borough Hall with Legal Aid staff, elected officials, and members of the community.



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