The New York State Bar Association has announced its legislative priorities for 2013. Specific initiatives include adequately funding the state and federal courts and legal services for the poor; enacting laws to guard against wrongful convictions; repealing the Defense of Marriage Act; and strengthening the juvenile justice system.
"The State Bar's 2013 legislative priorities seek to strengthen public trust and confidence in the justice system," said State Bar President Seymour W. James, Jr. (The Legal Aid Society in New York City). "With a focus on providing adequate funding for the courts and legal services for the poor, ensuring fairness in the criminal and juvenile justice systems, and calling for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, the State Bar continues to fight for a more just society. We urge the Governor, the state Legislature and the New York Congressional delegation to act on these measures."
Noting developments this week in Washington, D.C., James said, "Congress has delayed automatic 8.2 percent cuts in funding for the federal court system and the Legal Services Corporation. Those devastating cuts, however, will take effect in two months unless Congress acts." He added, "We are concerned that the threatened cuts would severely limit access to justice for individuals and businesses."
State Legislative Priorities for 2013
Ensuring the integrity of New York's justice system: Providing adequate funding for our state courts in order to maintain public trust and confidence in our justice system is essential and remains a top priority. Any cuts would inevitably result in further limitations on the courts' ability to function effectively.
Increasing state funding for civil legal services for the poor: Low-income New Yorkers facing life-altering civil legal problems-including veterans' issues, child custody matters, eviction, foreclosure or denial of government benefits-must have access to lawyers who will advocate for them regardless of their ability to pay. New York must enhance the funding of these currently underfunded programs.
Preventing wrongful convictions: Wrongful convictions erode public confidence in our criminal justice system. The State Bar has drafted a comprehensive package of reform bills that would protect the innocent and help bring the guilty to justice. The Association has long sought enactment of legislation requiring the video recording of custodial interrogations. Other important bills in the State Bar's package would establish procedures for police officers to follow when conducting line-ups and better enforce the obligation of prosecutors to disclose exculpatory material.
Strengthening the integrity of New York's juvenile justice system: Protecting the rights of children involved in the justice system remains a top priority. Children are often too young to comprehend the serious consequences of statements made during questioning. Therefore, the Association has proposed a bill to specifically require the recording of custodial interrogations of children.
The State Bar also supports increasing the age of criminal responsibility to 18 to allow adolescents to benefit from programs and services available for children whose cases are heard in Family Court. A criminal conviction of a non-violent crime-at any age-can affect an individual's future education or employment. The stakes are even higher in New York, where children as young as 16-years-old can be prosecuted as adults for criminal offenses. Research shows 16- and 17-year-olds have significantly diminished judgmental capabilities, compared with those of adults.
Sealing certain criminal records: A criminal conviction can follow a person for the rest of his or her life and often serves as an obstacle to productive reintegration into the community- even after that person has fully reformed and committed no further crimes. While New York law provides for sealing records of conviction for a limited number of crimes, there are many misdemeanor and non-violent crimes for which the sealing provisions do not apply. The State Bar supports legislation that would allow those convicted of certain offenses to apply to the court to have their records sealed.
Revising the Not-For-Profit Corporation Law: New York has thousands of not-for-profit organizations, including foundations, charities, hospitals, social service agencies, colleges, museums and religious organizations. They are vital to the well-being of our people and the state's economy. The Not-For-Profit Corporation Law should be modernized to encourage organizations to incorporate and maintain their investment assets in New York; to reduce unnecessary burdens; and to streamline nonprofit governance in a manner consistent with meaningful oversight. The Association's proposal also would make the statutory framework for not-for-profit corporations and business corporations more consistent.
Federal Legislative Priorities 2013
Ensuring the integrity of the federal justice system: The State Bar calls on Congress to adequately fund the federal courts and the Legal Services Corporation. Both need protection from potentially devastating cuts. The State Bar also supports protecting the attorney-client relationship and the rule-making process according to the Rules Enabling Act, as well as maintaining the current version of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Providing equal rights for same-sex couples: The repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is, once again, a top federal priority. The State Bar supports equal rights for same-sex couples and objects to discrimination against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation.
Supporting federal legislation to strengthen protection under Brady v. Maryland: According to the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Brady v. Maryland, prosecutors must provide the defense, before trial, with any information that may show the accused is not guilty. Failure to turn over the required material is a continuing problem and a denial of due process. The State Bar supports federal legislation to strengthen the law and require attorneys for the government to disclose favorable information to defendants in criminal cases brought by the United States. The concept supported by the Association also would a help establish uniform standards for disclosure by prosecutors and create possible statutory remedies for violations of the law.
Supporting states' authority to regulate the tort system: Laws covering civil justice are the province of the states. The federal government should continue to allow the states to determine how best to provide access to the courts for the injured who seek compensation for their injuries.
Supporting legislation and funding to enhance civic education programs: The State Bar supports federal programs to promote civic competence and responsibility among the nation's elementary and secondary students. Such programs augment the mission of the Association's Law, Youth and Citizenship program, which was established in 1974 to promote law-related education in New York's public and private schools.
For a complete list of the State Bar Association's state and federal legislative priorities go to: www.nysba.org/2013-Legislative-Priorities.
Contact: Lise Bang-Jensen
Director of Media Services and Public Affairs