June 12, 2009


Biennial awards recognize commitment to quality legal representation

(Albany, N.Y. - 06/12/09) - Lawyers for Children, Inc., the Family Court Project of Southern Tier Legal Services, and Joseph S. Damelio of Rochester have been awarded the Outstanding Achievements in Promoting Standards of Excellence in Mandated Representation. The honors were presented yesterday at the State Bar Center in Albany by the New York State Bar Association's Committee to Ensure Quality of Mandated Representation. The award is presented biennially to recognize the efforts of attorneys working to ensure the quality of legal representation for indigent persons who are entitled to counsel in criminal or Family Court proceedings.

"With the demand for indigent legal services rapidly increasing during these difficult economic times, the need to ensure that vulnerable children and families are well-represented becomes all the more important," said State Bar President Michael E. Getnick of Utica (Getnick Livingston Atkinson & Priore, LLP and of counsel to Getnick & Getnick of New York City). "The State Bar has a proud tradition of working to improve the quality of mandated representation, and I congratulate this year's award recipients for their dedication in maintaining our longstanding commitment to ensuring access to justice for all."

"From representing vulnerable children in Family Court to indigent defendants in criminal cases, this year's winners have distinguished themselves by improving the quality of mandated representation with their inspiring commitment and tireless advocacy," said Committee Chair Norman P. Effman of Warsaw (Wyoming County Public Defender). "We are pleased to recognize their hard work at a time when their services are needed most."

One of New York's premier child advocacy organizations, Lawyers for Children ("LFC") is regarded for being a highly effective provider of mandated representation for children who are the subject of traumatic Family Court proceedings, and for contributing in a significant way to the human dignity and quality of life for vulnerable young people unable to afford legal representation.

The organization was founded in 1984 to address the lack of legal representation for children voluntarily placed in foster care. Since 1990, LFC has contracted with the New York State Unified Court System to provide mandated legal representation to children in foster care, abuse, neglect, termination of parental rights, adoption, custody and visitation proceedings. In 2009, LFC projects that it will represent approximately 4,500 children in more than 6,000 proceedings. The vast majority of LFC's clients are children of color living in low-income households.

Since 2003, Southern Tier Legal Services, a division of Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc., has had a contract with Cattaraugus County to provide representation to indigent Family Court litigants in cases where there is a right to assigned counsel, but the Public Defender has a conflict of interest. Under the contract, the Olean office agrees to accept 400-500 Family Court cases per year. From 2003-2008, the Family Court Project of Southern Tier Legal Services, consisting of five attorneys and a paralegal, have represented more than 1,700 clients in custody, family offense, abuse and neglect, parental termination and violation of support cases. Managing Attorney Jeffrey M. Reed organized a training program to provide staff with the information and resources needed to handle challenging Family Court cases.

Joseph S. Damelio, a solo practitioner in Rochester, focuses his practice in criminal defense litigation where he has distinguished himself as a fearless and assertive proponent of the principle that the poor and disadvantaged are entitled to equal treatment under the law. Damelio is a member of the federal Criminal Justice Act Panel, which permits the District Court to assign him to represent indigent defendants charged with federal crimes.  He also accepts assignments through the assigned counsel program in state court. He is renowned for his willingness to accept tough assignments in criminal matters while representing his clients with unparalleled professionalism and the utmost compassion. Damelio's goal to provide quality representation for every defendant has earned him a stellar reputation in the legal community. He received his undergraduate degree from the University at Buffalo and earned his law degree from Capital University Law School.

A proposal to improve the quality of public defense services was introduced in the State Legislature this week (A.8793), sponsored by Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D- North Brooklyn), that called for an evaluation of existing public defense systems and service providers in the state based on the standards for providing mandated representation as adopted by the New York State Bar Association's House of Delegates in June 2007.

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.