January 10, 2011
NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION UNVEILS 2011 STATE LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES
Preserving the Integrity of the Justice System, Securing Marriage Equality for Same-Sex Couples, and Reforming Government Ethics Highlight State Bar's Advocacy Efforts on Behalf of the Public and the Legal Profession
As the State Legislature begins its 2011 session, the New York State Bar Association today called on lawmakers to provide greater access to the justice system for the indigent, to ensure that marriage equality is afforded to same-sex couples, and to reform government ethics.
"A core mission of the State Bar Association is to provide a voice for members of the legal profession and for the public," said President Stephen P. Younger of New York (Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP). "Whether it is advocating for effective counsel for indigent New Yorkers or seeking equal legal rights for all citizens, we are committed to enhancing citizens' trust and confidence in our justice system and government institutions. We look forward to working with Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature to ensure that every New Yorker has full and equal access to the justice system."
The State Bar's legislative priorities include:
1. Integrity of New York's Justice System. An independent, well-functioning judicial system, accessible to all, is a bedrock principle of our democracy. As New York faces the challenges and limitations presented by a down economy, the Governor and the Legislature must ensure that adequate resources are provided so that the courts can meet their essential role.
- Funding For Civil Legal Services. For the courts to meet their essential role properly, all segments of society must have access to the courts. An independent judiciary is meaningless if the aggrieved cannot come before it. An independent judiciary also relies on the availability of effective counsel. Despite the many pro bono hours attorneys provide to the indigent each year, adequate government funding is necessary to ensure that access to the justice system is provided to the poor and most vulnerable. State supported funding for civil legal services for the poor remains inadequate. Adequate funding provided by a dedicated revenue stream is both necessary and prudent. The Judiciary's proposed 2011-12 budget recognizes the substantial unmet need for civil legal services throughout the state and includes $25 million to begin implementing recommendations to address that need. The investment of resources to promptly protect individual rights will save countless dollars that government would otherwise spend for social services, housing and other programs. For more information on this issue, please click here.
- Independent Indigent Defense Commission. Further, in too many regions of the state, the public defense system is not serving the criminal justice system well. The right to the effective assistance of counsel is guaranteed by both the federal and state constitutions. Because of concerns that constitutional standards are not being met in all circumstances, the recently created Office of Indigent Legal Services should be well funded in order to carry out its mission. Areas to be addressed include the adoption of standards, and evaluation of existing programs and service providers to ensure the fair and efficient operation of New York's public defense system. For more information on this issue, please click here.
- Wrongful convictions. Wrongful convictions cast serious doubt on a fundamental assumption of our criminal justice system - i.e., that the innocent are protected. With each report of the release of someone who has been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a crime that he or she did not commit, it becomes more urgent to take steps to lessen the likelihood of wrongful convictions and ensure that the innocent remain free and that the truly guilty are not free to commit more crimes. Moreover, the eradication of wrongful convictions is essential to maintain the public's trust and confidence in our criminal justice system.
To this end, the Association has drafted a package of legislation that, if enacted, would eliminate some of the common causes of wrongful convictions. This legislation addresses the following areas: establishing a procedure for law enforcement to follow when conducting eyewitness identifications; requiring corroboration of informant testimony; mandating the electronic recording of custodial interrogations; assuring that prosecutors meet their obligation to disclose exculpatory material; allowing defendants access to DNA testing after a conviction; and improving the compensation of those who have been wrongfully convicted. To read the report of the State Bar's Task Force on Wrongful Convictions, please click here.
2. Marriage Equality for Same-Sex Couples. Under current state law, there are significant differences in the legal treatment of marital relationships and committed same-sex relationships in a wide range of matters such as property rights, financial support, responsibilities to children, health care, social security, long-term care, domestic violence, access to the court system, and other issues. The Association continues to support marriage equality for same-sex couples. To read the report of the State Bar's Special Committee on LGBT People and the Law, please click here.
3. Ethics and New York State Government. All those who serve in or seek to serve in public office should promote and enhance the public's trust and confidence in government by adhering to the highest ethical standards. In June 2010, the Association created a Task Force on Government Ethics focused on four major subject areas: disclosure, honest services, due process and enforcement, and municipal ethics. The task force will report its recommendations on these issues at the Association's Annual Meeting in late January of this year. For more information on this issue, please click here.
4. Support for the Legal Profession. The Association will work to protect the independence of the judiciary, enhance access to the courts, promote affirmative legislative proposals that benefit the profession, and oppose those proposals that would burden it. The Association will work to ensure that attorneys are able to protect their clients' interests and effectively engage in the practice of law.
Founded in 1876, the 77,000-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. The State Bar's programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for 135 years. For more information, please visit us at our website at www.nysba.org.