June 17, 2009
STATE BAR PRESIDENT MICHAEL E. GETNICK CALLS FOR ACTION ON CRITICAL ISSUES BEFORE THE END OF THE LEGISLATIVE SESSION
Letter Urges Lawmakers to Work Together to Reform Our Justice System, Provide Quality Civil Legal Services, and Ensure Access to Justice for all Citizens
In a letter sent today to members of the state legislature and to the Governor, New York State Bar Association President Michael E. Getnick of Utica (Getnick Livingston Atkinson & Priore, LLP and of counsel to Getnick & Getnick of New York City) called on state lawmakers to act on several important issues before the close of this year's legislative session, including allocating critical funding to civil legal service providers, reducing the number of wrongful convictions, establishing an indigent defense commission for the provision of quality public defense services, and enacting legal equality for same-sex couples.
"These unprecedented economic times have taken a devastating toll on our most vulnerable citizens," said Getnick. "Whether it is saving a homeowner from the threat of foreclosure, helping someone to obtain quality legal counsel to prepare for a court proceeding or exonerating someone falsely accused of a crime, everyone deserves equal access to our justice system. Despite the extraordinary challenges that you and other lawmakers may face, I urge you to take steps to address these important public policy issues that remain unresolved this session."
Getnick called on the state legislature to take action on the following issues:
Provide Adequate Funding for Civil Legal Services - Even in the best of economic times, the needs of low-income New Yorkers for civil legal services far outpaced available resources. State funding for providers of civil legal services is critical if we are to address those unmet needs. In the letter, Getnick calls on the Senate to take the necessary steps to disburse $4.4 million in funds to various civil legal service providers across the state that were appropriated in the 2009-10 state budget.
Establish an Independent Indigent Defense Commission -- In too many areas of the state, the current system of appointive counsel has not served the criminal justice system well. For this reason, the Association recommends the establishment of an independent, statewide oversight body for defense providers. Among the responsibilities of such a Commission would be the adoption and enforcement of statewide standards for public defense services.
Take Appropriate Steps to Reduce Wrongful Convictions - After reviewing 53 court cases, the State Bar's Task Force on Wrongful Convictions recommended a series of proposals - legislative and procedural -- relating to government practices, identification procedures, handling forensic evidence, use of false confessions, jailhouse informants, and defense practices that could drastically reduce the number of wrongful convictions in New York. In his letter, Getnick noted that legislative action will go a long way to ensuring that innocent citizens do not get punished for crimes they did not commit.
Pass Legislation to Provide Legal Equity for Same-Sex Couples -- It is important to afford same-sex couples the ability to obtain the comprehensive set of rights and responsibilities available to opposite-sex couples. The Assembly has passed the Governor's Program Bill and Getnick called upon the Senate to take action on this matter.
"The time for action is now," continued Getnick. "These issues dramatically affect the quality of life of all New Yorkers and, with tough fiscal times still ahead of us, we cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and let these important priorities languish," he concluded.
In addition, the State Bar reiterated its strong opposition to a number of current legislative proposals that would increase court filing fees and increase any other associated fees that inhibit citizens' access to the state's court system.
"Increases in court fees add an unnecessary financial hardship to those who need our courts to resolve their disputes," said Getnick. "With so many families struggling to make ends meet, continuously raising the cost of commencing a court action amounts to an extra burden on the due administration of justice."
To view President Getnick's entire letter to state lawmakers, please visit http://www.nysba.org/EndofSessionLetter.
The 76,000-member New York State Bar Association is the official statewide organization of lawyers in New York and the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Founded in 1876, State Bar programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years.