The state Judiciary must be adequately funded to ensure courthouse doors are open to all New Yorkers, including "the poor, the weak and the vulnerable," New York State Bar Association President Stephen P. Younger testified today.
Appearing at a budget hearing in Albany, Younger told state legislators, "The ability of an impoverished or unpopular individual to invoke the power of the world's most prestigious legal system to protect his or her rights is, and should continue to be, a source of great pride and great strength for all New Yorkers."
In calling for funding for civil legal services, Younger praised Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman for proposing a $15 million appropriation to offset declining revenues from the Interest on Lawyer Account (IOLA) Fund, which provides grants to legal service providers representing the poor. IOLA is funded with interest on client escrow accounts held by lawyers. Declining interest rates and real estate transactions have severely undercut its revenues.
The State Bar Association supports the Judiciary's request for $25 million to fund lawyers to represent low-income New Yorkers fight apartment evictions or home foreclosures, secure child support or health insurance as well to provide other "essentials of life".
"At a time when some members of Congress are calling for the elimination of the Legal Services Corporation, the need for responsible action in New York State is all the more critical," Younger said.
Last year, the Legislature approved creation of an Office of Indigent Legal Services to oversee county-based criminal defense services for low-income defendants. The State Bar Association commends Governor Andrew Cuomo for maintaining the $3 million annual appropriation.
However, it is concerned that the governor seeks to eliminate state funding for Prisoners Legal Services (PLS) .
"One of the greatest values of PLS is that it works to avoid conditions of confinement that resulted in the devastating Attica riot," Younger said.
The New York State Bar Association with 77,000 members is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Its programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for 135 years.
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