STATE BAR ASSOCIATION SUPPORTS JUDICIARY BUDGET
AND ACCESS TO COURTS FOR ALL NEW YORKERS
New York State Bar Association President Seymour W. James, Jr. today
urged state lawmakers to adequately fund the state Judiciary and provide
that “all people, including the weak, poor and unpopular as well
as those who rely on the courts to resolve their business and commercial
disputes,” have access to the courts.
“The effective operation of the court system is crucial to
maintaining an orderly society,” James said in testimony submitted
to the fiscal committees of the state Legislature.
James (The Legal Aid Society in New York City) endorsed Chief Judge
Jonathan Lippman’s no-growth budget plan for the Unified Court
System, which he described as “one of the largest and busiest
court systems, not only in the United States, but in the
• Court Operations:
“The Judiciary’s budget request reflects a balancing act
between the constitutional duty to ensure access to justice for all New
Yorkers and the obligation to reduce costs wherever possible,”
He noted the proposed Judiciary budget request (excluding General
State Charges) for the coming fiscal year totals $1.76 billion, a
decrease of $212,013, or 0.012 percent. This restraint, James added, led
Governor Andrew Cuomo to comment, “I commend the Judiciary for
their continuing efforts to meet the state’s fiscal goals by
rethinking how the courts do business, and for their continuing
partnership with the Executive Branch.”
• Civil Legal Services
Each year, more than 2.3 million New Yorkers attempt to navigate the
complex civil justice system without a lawyer, James said. Many are
low-income individuals who face potentially life-altering events dealing
with child custody, domestic violence, health care, eviction,
foreclosure and consumer debt.
“Unfortunately, the need for civil legal services continues to
outpace the available resources,” James said. He praised Judge
Lippman for proposing a $40 million appropriation for civil legal
services, a $15 million increase over the current fiscal year.
• Interest on Lawyer Account Fund
The economic downturn has eroded the Interest on Lawyer Account Fund
(the IOLA Fund), a source of grants for organizations that provide civil
legal services to the poor.
The fund is financed with the interest on monies that attorneys hold
for clients in interest-bearing accounts. Low interest rates and
sluggish real estate sales have shrunk the fund’s revenues. James
asked legislators, as they have done for the past three years, to
approve $15 million for the IOLA Fund to offset declining revenue.
“We thank you and your colleagues in the Legislature for your
recognition of the importance of this funding,” he said.
• Long-term Funding for Legal Civil
James called for the creation of a permanent Access to Justice Fund,
reiterating the State Bar Association’s position that “it is
the obligation of the state to provide a stable funding mechanism for
civil legal services.”
Indigent Criminal Defense
Under the state and federal constitutions, an indigent person accused
of a crime has a right to effective legal counsel.
“It is our belief that, in order to fulfill the
responsibilities of the [Office of Indigent Legal Services], the
Executive Budget should appropriate $3 million for the operation of the
office and $91 million for distribution via the aid-to-localities
budget,” James said, adding the State Bar looks forward to working
with the Governor and Legislature “to further the cause of making
the constitutional guarantee of effective assistance of counsel a
reality for all.”
Prisoners’ Legal Services
In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states are obliged to
provide convicted felons with adequate, effective and meaningful access
to the courts.
Founded in 1976 after the Attica prison riot, “Prisoners’
Legal Services is—and should remain—a vital, integral part
of the state’s criminal justice system and critical component of
public safety,” said James, who called for adequate funding.
In concluding his remarks, James told legislators, “We urge you
to remain committed to protecting access to justice and to ensuring the
public’s trust and confidence in our justice system.” A copy
of his testimony is available at http://www.nysba.org/SWJTestimony2-6-13.
The 76,000-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