Contact: Andrew Rush
Director, Media Services & Public Affairs

May 2, 2008


Association Calls for the Rule of Law to be Extended to All

New York State Bar Association President Kathryn Grant Madigan (Levene Gouldin & Thompson LLP) today urged the legal community to reevaluate its role in ensuring that the state's most vulnerable citizens - the poor, the frail elderly, and children - have equal access to justice. Speaking at the 50th Law Day ceremony on the steps of the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany, Madigan joined Chief Judge of the State of New York Judith S. Kayein calling for the rule of law to be extended to all.

Madigan noted that currently more than 80 percent of the civil legal needs of the poor go unmet. Facing loss of their homes, domestic abuse, or the denial of government benefits, people who cannot afford lawyers in these situations are forced to suffer a further loss of liberty.

"Forty-five years ago, in Gideon v. Wainwright, the US Supreme Court, held that it was 'shocking' to our sense of justice that we would incarcerate a criminal defendant who was tried and convicted without an attorney," Madigan said. "Isn't it just as shocking that we leave our poor and most vulnerable to represent themselves in the battle for basic human needs - shelter, sustenance, safety and health care? Surely, this is not the heritage that President Eisenhower envisioned when he created Law Day 50 years ago."

Madigan called for New Yorkto take measures that would guarantee the right to counsel in civil cases - known as Civil Gideon. She noted that New York is only one of seven states in the country without stable funding for civil legal services for the poor, and that 33 states - New Yorknot among them -- have a civil right to counsel to some degree.

Madigan also stated that Law Day is a time to reevaluate the legal community's role in ensuring that young people have the opportunity and the means to understand and actively participate in government. Noting that a recent study by the Annenberg Public Policy Institute found that less than one in 10 Americans can identify the Chief Justice of the United States-- but that two-thirds of Americans can name one of the judges on American Idol - Madigan urged that more programs be developed to teach children about the law.

She pointed to the State Bar Association's Youth Service Advocate Program as one such model program. Created last year, it recognizes and honors young people ages 10 to 18 who have provided law-related volunteer service to their communities. Two students from Queens, Massawar Ahmed (Howard Beach) and Michael Ibragimchayev (Rego Park) are the very first winners and were honored at the Law Day ceremony for their efforts.

The 74,000-member New York State Bar Association is the official statewide organization of lawyers in New Yorkand the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Founded in 1876, NYSBA programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years.