With the federal government facing the fiscal cliff, the president of the New York State Bar Association today joined with top leaders in business, the legal community and advocates for the indigent in warning of the severe impact of sequestration on the federal courts and programs providing legal services to those in need.
Seymour W. James, Jr., president of the New York State Bar Association, said it is urgent that the public's access to justice, recognized as a fundamental democratic principle, remain available.
"Chief Justice Warren Burger said, 'A sense of confidence in the courts is essential to maintain the fabric of ordered liberty.' Sequestration's draconian cuts would undermine this confidence, disrupting our communities, by depriving individuals and businesses of the right to redress their grievances in a timely manner," said James (The Legal Aid Society in New York City).
"In addition, sequestration's cuts to the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) would affect our most vulnerable New Yorkers- the poor, war veterans, domestic violence victims and broken families- by severely limiting their ability to have their disputes resolved through the legal system" he said.
Under across-the-board cuts scheduled to take effect on January 2, the court system's budget would be slashed by 8.2 percent, or more than $500 million. LSC, which provides funding for civil legal assistance for the indigent, would see its budget drop $29 million beyond the significant cuts it has already suffered in recent years.
Impact of Sequestration
• Sequestration will not impose its 8.2 percent cuts evenly across the judicial budget. While it varies from court to court, between 40 and 60 percent of judicial spending is nondiscretionary, as judges cannot be laid off or furloughed and rents must be paid. As a result, the remaining discretionary portion of the courts' budget must absorb the entire $500 million in reductions. Furthermore, since criminal defendants have a constitutional guarantee to a speedy trial, civil litigants would bear a disproportionate burden at every stage of their proceedings, resulting in delays in all aspects of their cases, including trials.
• Since New York's four federal district courts are all considered congested because their caseloads exceed the national average, they will suffer a more severe impact
from the overall cuts. These cuts would exacerbate the current congestion and could result in civil cases, many of which are critical to businesses, being delayed for weeks or months, with the possible suspension of trials. With these delays, parties involved in commerce would be deprived of timely resolution of their disputes, thereby risking New York's leading role in international commerce.
• The proposed cuts to New York's federal courts could result in a 20 percent workforce reduction or staff furloughs of 25 days per person.
• Cuts to security would require cutbacks in court hours. Cuts to information technology could result in a drastic reduction in access to electronic records filing systems. Interpreters, naturalization ceremonies, supervision of individuals on probation and the ability of court employees to assist those seeking justice all would be limited.
• LSC funding in New York was cut 17 percent, or $4 million, in 2012. At a time when 80 percent or more of the civil legal needs of the poor are going unmet, sequestration would further limit access to justice for these vulnerable New Yorkers. Additional cuts, possibly as much as 20 percent, would have a drastic impact on New York's legal service providers.
President James is joined by other top leaders representing constituencies that will be severely damaged by the results of sequestration on the courts and LSC.
Kathryn S. Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City:
"Going over the fiscal cliff would result in a significant and immediate loss of resources for our already overworked federal court system. For the business community, this means expensive delays in adjudication of important cases. It would make New York City, and the country, a more difficult and less competitive place to locate business operations, ultimately resulting in lost jobs and contraction in our economy."
Tracee Davis (Zeichner Ellman & Krause), chair, Commercial and Federal Litigation Section, State Bar Association:
"The business community has good reason to be concerned about the federal judiciary falling off the fiscal cliff. Spending cuts and reduction in services will lead to delays in the timely resolution of business disputes. Delays in resolving high-stakes and other commercial matters mean businesses must hold funds in reserve longer, spend more in litigation, and contend with fewer resources to engage in revenue-generating pursuits, which ultimately will impact their bottom-line.
"Cuts to the federal judiciary may particularly impact New York, which is still struggling to recover from Superstorm Sandy. New York is viewed, by many, as the financial capital of the world, which depends on attracting foreign litigants who look to New York's "gold standard of justice" for swift and well-reasoned resolution of business disputes. Fiscal cuts to an already overburdened federal judiciary may jeopardize New York's standing and ability to compete, in what is a fiercely competitive international legal services market, foreign litigants may turn to other jurisdictions, thus leading to loss of revenue and suppression of New York's economic recovery."
Andrew Scherer, consultant, professor and former executive director, Legal Services NYC: "Any further reduction in LSC funding will be devastating for New York's low-income households. Cuts to the LSC budget will lead to more evictions and homelessness and more children and elderly people going hungry because they can't get the legal help they need. The lingering economic crisis and Superstorm Sandy have only compounded the enormous unmet need for legal assistance."
Earlier this month, State Bar President James was joined by the leaders of 15 local bar associations in a letter to New York's congressional delegation about the devastating impacts of sequestration.
The local bar presidents signing the letter were:
Robert T. Schofield, IV (Albany County Bar Association)
Michael A. Marinaccio (Bronx County Bar Association)
Domenick Napoletano (Brooklyn Bar Association)
Carman M. Garufi (Broome County Bar Association)
Kathleen Marie Sweet (Bar Association of Erie County)
Connie O. Walker (Monroe County Bar Association)
Marian C. Rice (Nassau County Bar Association)
Carey R. Dunne (New York City Bar Association)
Stewart D. Aaron (New York County Lawyers' Association)
Elizabeth Snyder Fortino (Oneida County Bar Association)
Mary C. John (Onondaga County Bar Association)
Joseph J. Risi (Queens County Bar Association)
Thomas A. Sipp (Richmond County Bar Association)
Arthur E. Shulman (Suffolk County Bar Association)
Jerold R. Ruderman (Westchester County Bar Association)
Carey R. Dunne, president of the New York City Bar Association:
"The cuts to legal services funding that would result from sequestration would make life even more difficult for those who cannot obtain legal assistance to meet basic human needs, a number which is growing and which now includes many who were affected by Superstorm Sandy. The result will be more harm to families and children and more, not less, reliance on the government-funded safety net."
Stewart D. Aaron, president of the New York County Lawyers' Association:
"NYCLA last year issued a report concerning the effects of judicial budget cuts on the U.S. District Courts for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York in terms of court security and operations. Sequestration undoubtedly will result in an unacceptable decrease in court security and operations and will compromise access to justice in the federal courts."
The New York State Bar Association stands firm with these leaders in ensuring that sequestration does not subvert the efficient and fair operation of our federal court system.
The 77,000-member State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876.
Contact: Mark Mahoney