July 14, 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


Seymour W. James, Jr., Named Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, The World's Largest and Oldest Legal Services Organization

Seymour W. James, Jr., an internationally recognized expert in criminal justice who has served as the Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice for the last nine years,has been appointed the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society in New York City by a unanimous vote of the Board of Directors.

Mr. James, who has devoted his entire legal career of 40 years to ensuring that poor New Yorkers receive high quality representation, will head the nation's oldest and largest not-for-profit legal services organization with a staff of 1,100 lawyers and more than 700 social workers, investigators, paralegals and support and administrative staff. Annually, the Society handles more than 300,000 cases and legal matters for clients with civil, criminal, and juvenile rights problems. Its law reform work benefits an additional two million low-income New Yorkers.

News of the appointment was carried in a front-page story in the New York Law Journal, and the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal and numerous other publications and digital media. Media reports carried comments about Mr. James from the Honorable Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of New York; leaders of the Bar; Richard J. Davis, Chairman of the Society; Blaine V. (Fin) Fogg, Society President; and Deborah L. Wright, President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW Local 2325.




Low-Income Tenants Face Problem Of Paying Rent With Declining Resources

Judith Goldiner, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit of The Legal Aid Society, disagreed with data collected by the Rent Guidelines Board that conflicts between landlords and tenants are decreasing. "Tenants are often afraid to file complaints with the state," she told the Wall Street Journal adding that she didn't see any decline in friction between landlords and tenants. "We don't see that," she said. "What we see are desperate issues for our clients trying to pay an affordable rent with incomes that if anything are decreasing." Goldiner also appeared on Marketplace on WNYC-NPR to discuss the lack of affordable housing for low income New Yorkers."We see all the time people having to make really terrible choices between-do they feed their kids? Do they buy medicine for their kids? Do they buy clothes, or do they pay the rent?" said Ms Goldiner. "The rents just keep on creeping higher and higher."Goldiner said that "sometimes we see landlords cut off services, take people to housing court even if they don't owe any money, telling people that they don't have the right immigration status and so they have to leave or they'll call INS. You know, all kinds of bullying."




Legal Aid's Kathryn Kliff, an Equal Justice Works Fellow, Helps Homeless Families

Read the blog from 2012 Equal Justice Works Fellow Kathryn Kliff, a Staff Attorney in the Bronx Neighorhood Office who defends the rights of homeless families and helps them find shelter.





Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Seymour James Quoted In NYT About Study Showing Racial Disparity In Criminal Prosecutions

Seymour W. James, Jr., the Attorney-in-Chief, told the New York Times that a study showing that race was a major factor in criminal prosecutions in Manhattan "really confirms what we have been seeing for years" in bail hearings and sentencing. He said prosecutors should receive extensive training on how to counteract what he perceived might be their own unconscious prejudices. The two-year study was conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice.




Transgender Advocates File Lawsuit Demading New York Medicaid Cover Transgender Healthcare

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), The Legal Aid Society, and Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP filed a federal class action lawsuit against New York State Department of Health on behalf of two transgender women who have been denied medically necessary healthcare coverage by New York State's public health insurance because of a discriminatory Medicaid regulation.The lawsuit argues that New York's current regulation banning transgender healthcare coverage by Medicaid is unconstitutional.

The Medicaid regulation, which was enacted in 1998 and never revisited since, prohibits all forms of gender reassignment treatment as well treatments intended to "promote" such treatment. The regulation provides: "Payment is not available for care, services, drugs, or supplies rendered for the purpose of gender reassignment (also known as transsexual surgery) or any care, services, drugs, or supplies intended to promote such treatment." 18 NYCRR 505.2(l). New York State denies medically necessary healthcare to transgender and gender non-conforming people based on information that has been widely discredited by medical authorities and disavowed by the federal government. The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association have all issued statements affirming the safety, effectiveness, and medical necessity of transgender health treatments, and urged the removal of any barriers to providing this care.

"The Department of Health denies this medically necessary care because it claims that it is not safe and effective. This position is in conflict with overwhelming medical evidence and the federal government which recently decided that this care is safe and effective and should be provided under Medicare" said Kimberly Forte, Supervising Attorney of The Legal Aid Society's LGBT Law and Policy Initiative.





Seymour James Speaks About Effective Legal Aid Delivery Systems At International Conference In South Africa

Seymour James spoke about the "Key Principles and Models of Effective Legal Aid Delivery Systems" at an international conference in Johannesburg, South Africa and the benefit of not for profit organizations providing indigent defense. He was asked to participate in the conference by the Republic of South Africa, the International Legal Foundation, the United Nations Development Programme and the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, in collarobration with the Open Society Justice Initiative, the University of Pretoria and the University of Witwatersrand.





Legal Aid Staff Testifies Before Government Bodies On Issues Affecting Clients; Participates in Bar Panels

Ellen Davidson, a Staff Attorney in the Civil Law Reform Unit of The Legal Aid Society, testified before the Rent Guidelines Board asking that rents be frozen for one and two year renewal leases. Ms. Davidson testified that the freeze would "help to address New York City's growing problems of homelessness and poverty due to unaffordable rent burdens by maintaining rents at their current level. The mistakes of the past must be remedied. This Board should freeze rents for one and two year renewal leases."

Lucy Newman, Staff Attorney in the Civil Law Reform Unit, appeared at a New York City Council press conference, calling on NYCHA to allocate apartments to homeless families living in shelters.

Richard Blum, Staff Attorney in the Employment Law Unit, participated in two conferences on low-income workers and the rights of LGBT individuals in Shanghai, China, with Chinese and U.S. labor and employment lawyers, organized by the U.S. Asia Law Institute at NYU.

Tina Luongo, Acting Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice, participated in a New York City Bar Panel on "Fixing Broken Public Defense Systems in NY And Beyond."

Abigail Swenstein, Staff Attorney in the Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project, testified at a hearing of the New York City Council's Committee on Public Safety in favor of statewide legislation that would prohibit the fact of possession of a condom from being used in prostitution and prostitution related trials.

William Gibney, Director of the Criminal Practice's Special Litigation Unit, testified before the New York City Council Committee on Oversight and Investigations in support of a proposed law that would require the Inspector General of the NYPD to submit quarterly reports about the number and disposition of civil actions filed against the NYPD.

Sarah Kerr, Staff Attorney in the Prisoners' Rights Project, called for more mental health services at Rikers Island during testimony before the New York City Council.







Mark Son Featured In Korea Times - Next Generation Of Leaders In The Korean-American Community

Mark Son, a Staff Attorney in the Queens Office of the Criminal Practice was featured in an article in Korea Times about the "Next Generation of leaders in the Korean-American Community. Mark talked about his work as a public defender and how having a Korean public defender can help the Korean community.







Community Outreach

Legal Aid Staff Participates In Community Activities

The Legal Aid Society marched in the 4th Annual Anti Violence March organized by East Flatbush Village Inc and in partnership with Council Member Jumaane D. Williams and participated in the Resource Fair as well . . . Read more.





Save Our Streets Day Of Remembrance

Legal Aid attorneys met with community members at the SOS South Bronx Day of Rembrance to discuss their legal issues. Staff members were on hand at the Mobile Justice Unit to discuss a variety of topics including criminal matters such as arrests and warrants, housing, government benefits and family law . . . Read more.



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