The New York State Bar Association and 15 local bar associations are urging the state's congressional delegation to protect the public's access to justice as the federal government faces the threat of sequestration.
In a joint letter, State Bar President Seymour W. James, Jr. (The Legal Aid Society in New York City) and the 15 local bar presidents noted their concern that automatic budget cuts scheduled to take effect January 2 would be devastating to New Yorkers who rely on the federal courts to resolve disputes and to low-income New Yorkers who need civil legal assistance.
"New York's federal courts and those using the courts-both businesses and individuals-would be subject to delays, inconvenience, scheduling difficulties and, in some cases, the inability to obtain basic justice," wrote James and other bar leaders. "Access to justice is fundamental to our society, and we are eager to work with you to protect one of our country's fundamental principles."
The letter, dated November 20, was sent to the state's two U.S. senators, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and its 29 members of the House of Representatives. It was signed by the presidents of the New York City Bar Association and the New York County Lawyers Association,
as well as bar presidents from Albany, Bronx, Broome, Erie, Kings, Monroe, Nassau, Oneida, Onondaga, Queens, Richmond, Suffolk and Westchester counties.
The letter specifically highlights the impact of sequestration on the federal Judiciary and the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).
Sequestration would slash 8.2 percent from the 2013 federal Judiciary budget, a reduction of more than $500 million from 2012. "Quite simply, a reduction of this magnitude would cripple the operation of the federal Judiciary and our constitutional mission would be compromised due to these sudden, arbitrary budget cuts," according to the Hon. Julia Gibbons, chair of the Committee on the Budget of the Judicial Conference of the United States.
"Disruption to New York's federal courts is likely to involve delays in issuing opinions, delays in issuing checks for jurors' service and for restitution to successful litigants, the possible complete closure of some courts for periods of time, and restrictions in the use of PACER (the Public Access to Court Electronic Records)," wrote James and the other bar leaders. "In addition, the disruption of probation services would result in those released to probation being unsupervised for periods of time."
The Legal Services Corporation is the largest single source of funding for the nation's providers of civil legal assistance for the poor. It is slated to lose $29 million from its current budget of $348 million, significantly below its peak funding of $420 million in 2010. Cuts to the LSC would have a ripple effect on legal services providers and their low-income clients.
The clients "are among the most vulnerable people in our society, including veterans returning from combat, domestic violence victims, those coping with the after-effects of natural disasters, families involved in child custody disputes, people with disabilities, and individuals undergoing foreclosures or other housing issues," the letter noted.
The entire letter is available at www.nysba.org/sequestrationletter.
On Wednesday, President James and other State Bar leaders plan to meet with members of the congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. to discuss the impact of sequestration in New York.
The New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the country, with 77,000 members. It was founded in 1876.
Contact: Mark Mahoney
Associate Director, Media Services and Public Affairs