SEYMOUR W. JAMES, JR. TAKES OFFICE AS
NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT
ALBANY – Seymour W. James, Jr. of Brooklyn, a 38-year veteran of
The Legal Aid Society of New York, assumes office on June 1 as the 115th
president of the New York State Bar Association.
James succeeds Vincent E. Doyle III of Buffalo (Connors &
Vilardo) as head of the 77,000-member association. James becomes its
third African-American president and first president to come from the
nonprofit legal community since 1994.
James is the attorney-in-charge of the criminal practice for The
Legal Aid Society, which provides criminal and civil legal services for
low-income individuals in New York City.
The theme for his presidency is “making a difference”
with an emphasis on access to justice.
“Too often, justice is denied those least able to fight for
themselves, such as the 16-year-old runaway forced into prostitution or
the father of three who is denied a job or decent place to live because
of a criminal conviction. We as lawyers must give a voice to the
voiceless whether in the courtroom or the halls of Congress and state
Legislature,” James said.
Among his top priorities will be reforming New York's criminal
discovery laws, helping former prisoners re-enter society, combating
human trafficking and increasing public participation in elections.
Criminal Discovery Reform: James plans to create a
Task Force on Criminal Discovery Reform, which will examine reforms
undertaken in other states and recommend changes to New York law. Among
the issues to be studied will be requiring prosecutors to provide early,
broad and automatic discovery of material.
“New York’s antiquated criminal discovery laws are among
the most restrictive in the nation. Criminal discovery reform is long
overdue. There must be an even playing field in the courtroom—for
prosecution and defense—if justice is to be achieved,” James
Prisoner Re-entry: A new special committee will
study the problems encountered by people released from prison, including
illegal job discrimination and access to housing, education, health care
and drug treatment programs.
“If previously incarcerated individuals have the tools they
need to become contributing members of society, multiple studies have
shown they are less likely to return to prison,” James said.
Human Trafficking: To address an alarming increase
in human trafficking, often referred to as “modern-day
slavery,” James is appointing a special committee to explore how
to assist adults and children forced into hard labor or
“Most New Yorkers are unaware of the magnitude of the human
trafficking problem right here at home,” said James. From 2000 to
2007, about 20 percent of the cases prosecuted in the U.S. under the
Trafficking Victims Protection Act were in New York, according to a 2008
report prepared for the National Institute of Justice.
Increasing Voter Participation: Another new
committee will study ways to increase New York’s voter
participation rate, often ranked among the lowest in the nation.
The committee will examine possible reforms, such as automatic voter
registration, streamlining the registration process, extending cut-off
dates for advance registration, early voting, no-fault absentee
balloting and increasing penalties for illegal election practices.
Other priorities: Among James’ other
priorities are continuing the Association’s ongoing efforts to
reduce wrongful convictions, increase funding for civil legal services
and indigent defense representation, and enhance diversity in the Bar
Personal and Professional
Active in the State Bar since 1978, James for the past year served as
president-elect, chairing the House of Delegates and co-chairing the
President’s Committee on Access to Justice. He previously served
three terms as treasurer and as the vice president for the 11th
In addition to his Bar Association activities, James is a member of
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s Justice Task Force, the state
Permanent Sentencing Commission, the Departmental Disciplinary Committee
for the First Judicial Department, the Committee on Character and
Fitness for the Second Judicial Department and the Independent Judicial
Election Qualification Commission for the 11th Judicial District.
James is a past president of the Queens County Bar Association and a
former board member of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association. He also
is former secretary and current board member of the Correctional
Association of New York, a member of the American Council of Chief
Defenders of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association and a board
member of the New York State Defenders Association.
James earned his undergraduate degree from Brown University and his
law degree from Boston University School of Law. He is married to Cheryl
E. Chambers, associate justice of the Appellate Division, Second
Department. They live in Brooklyn and have three adult children:
Christopher, Cheryl Allison and Carole.
James will serve a one-year term as president. He will be succeeded in
June 2013 by David M. Schraver, a partner at the Rochester office of
Nixon Peabody. Schraver will become president-elect June 1.
The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest
voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in
NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION, ONE ELK STREET, ALBANY, NY 12207 PH: (518) 463-3200 SECURE FX: (518) 463-5993