January 27, 2009

STATE BAR ASSOCIATION URGES LEGISLATURE TO INCREASE CIVIL LEGAL SERVICES FUNDING AND REFORM ROCKEFELLER DRUG LAWS

In testimony before the Assembly Waysand Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, New York State Bar Association President Bernice K. Leber (Arent Fox LLP) today called for an increase in civil legal services funding and reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws as she outlined the organization's legislative priorities.

Leber advocated for the creation of a dedicated and ongoing source of funding for civil legal services in the New York Statebudget as a top priority for the State Bar Association. "Closing the gap in funding for civil legal services is an essential component in meeting the growing legal assistance needs of low-income New Yorkers," she continued. "A permanent and reliable source of financial support for these vital services will offer much needed help and protection to those who will suffer from the loss of a job or loss of their home in these tough economic times."

Leber also emphasized the need to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws. "Intended to reduce illegal drug use and force dealers from the streets, these laws have handcuffed judges, increased New York's prison population, and denied critical drug treatment alternatives for many non-violent offenders. We urge the Governor and Legislature to forge a solution that will allow for judicial discretion with regard to sentencing guidelines, an initiative that could create significant annual cost savings to the State of up to $280 million."

"While we cannot ignore the reality of the economically perilous times in which we live, we also must recognize the importance of reforming judicial salaries," Leber explained. "Judicial salaries reflect the value society places on the important work our judges perform, and it is of paramount importance to compensate judges fairly and without further delay."

We remain committed to working with the Governor, the Senate and Assembly on protecting access to justice and ensuring the public's trust and confidence in our justice system," Leber concluded.

A copy of President Leber's submitted testimony is available at www.nysba.org/lebertestimony.

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The 76,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Founded in 1876, the State Bar's programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years.