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NYSBA Annual Meeting notes for 1.25.13

News from the New York State Bar Association’s 136th annual meeting in New York City

House of Delegates

NYSBA tackles many important issues

The state bar is recommending more judges, additional funding and improved representation for Family Court; restrictions on long-term use of solitary confinement and modernization of the state’s election system to boost voter turnout.

Among the reports approved Friday by the New York State Bar Association’s House of Delegates is a major study urging greater support for Family Courts, calling for more judges and resources to handle cases of child support, neglect and abuse, foster care and other family issues.

The study found that it can take months and even years to resolve some cases involving children. It points to an inadequate number of Family Court judges and staff to handle a burgeoning caseload that has led to overcrowded dockets, confusion and frustration for litigants, delays and multiple adjournments.

Many families appear in Family Court without attorneys and must negotiate a complex court system without adequate help. A survey of 95 litigants about their experiences in Family Court in four counties (Queens, Wayne, Monroe and Saratoga) found that more than three-quarters were not represented by attorneys. Mediation programs that could resolve many matters without courtroom intervention are not being used to the fullest extent possible.

The report’s 26 recommendations include authorizing more judges, expanding the use of mediation, along with the expanded use of video technology and e-filing to improve efficiency, and increased funding for longer court hours, training, security and facility upgrades.

“The shortage of judges can no longer be ignored,” said state bar President Seymour W. James Jr. (The Legal Aid Society in New York City). “We recognize the economic challenges facing the state. We also recognize the irreparable harm to children and families when the Family Court system is crippled by insufficient staff and funding.”

According to the state Office of Court Administration, Family Court caseloads have increased as more families have sought legal resolution and as courts have taken on increased responsibilities. Yet the number of judges and staff to handle the growing workload has not kept pace.

Individual judges currently handle an average of 4,600 case filings a year, a caseload many times greater than judges in other New York courts.

Solitary confinement

Another report, prepared by the Committee on Civil Rights, calls for significant cutbacks in the use of long-term inmate isolation and new protocols for separating violent and nonviolent prisoners.

Of the approximately 56,000 inmates held in New York’s 60 state prisons, about 4,500 — or 8 percent — are in solitary confinement at any time, according to the report. Nearly 2,800 inmates are serving more than a year in solitary confinement. A disproportionate number of inmates in isolation are African-Americans and Latinos.

“Inmates in long-term solitary confinement often suffer serious psychological problems, including depression, hallucinations, emotional breakdowns and suicidal behavior,” James said. “New York needs to adopt other means of separating prisoners who violate institutional rules from the general prison population without resorting to such harmful and outdated measures.”

In support of its recommendations, the committee cited a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union issued in October 2012 that found that New York’s use of solitary confinement is “arbitrary and unjustified, harms prison and corrections staff, and negatively impacts prison and community safety.”

Recommendations include profoundly restricting the use of solitary confinement, adopting stringent criteria for separating violent and nonviolent prisoners, set standards for ensuring separation under the “least restrictive conditions practicable,” limiting solitary confinement to no more than 15 days and pressing the state Legislature to enact reforms.

Voting rights

The House of Delegates also approved a report of the Special Committee on Voter Participation that calls for modernizing the election process in New York, including allowing early voting, online voter registration and Election Day registration. The goal is to boost the state’s abysmal

“New York, once a leader in civic participation and voting, has fallen behind other states, in large part because its registration and voting procedures have failed to keep up with innovative practices and modern technology,” said James. “It is important to the democratic process that barriers which inhibit or discourage voter participation be removed.”

In the last three elections, New York ranked 47th in average voter turnout nationwide, and New York’s participation numbers have plummeted since 2000, the report states. In 2010, New York had the 16th worst voter registration rate nationwide, with less than 64 percent of eligible New Yorkers registered to vote. During the 2008 presidential election, only 59 percent of New York’s eligible voters cast a ballot, according to the report.

The committee also made several recommendations which may be found in the report at:

The other reports are available at:

Election of officers

The New York State Bar Association has also announced the election of new 2013-14 officers.

Glenn Lau-Kee of Manhattan (Kee & Lau-Kee) was named president-elect designee. He will begin a one-year term as president-elect on June 1 and a one-year term as president on June 1, 2014.

Current President-elect David M. Schraver of Rochester (Nixon Peabody LLP) will assume the presidency on June 1, succeeding Seymour W. James Jr. (The Legal Aid Society in New York City).

Sharon Stern Gerstman

Secretary David P. Miranda of Albany (Heslin Rothenberg Farley and Mesiti) was elected to a fourth one-year term and Sharon Stern Gerstman of Buffalo (Magavern Magavern Grimm LLP) was elected to a one-year term as treasurer.

Gerstman, a 32-year member of the state bar, concentrates her practice in the areas of mediation and arbitration, and appellate practice. She serves on the Executive Committee as an Eighth Judicial District vice-president; is a member of the House of Delegates, Finance Committee, Dispute Resolution Section, and Torts, Insurance and Compensation Law Section’s Executive Committee.

She was chair of the Committee on Civil Practice Law and Rules and the Special Committee on Lawyer Advertising and Lawyer Referral Services. She previously co-chaired the Task Force on E-Filing and the Special Committees on Lawyer Advertising and Strategic Planning. She also served on the American Bar Association’s Board of Governors for three years and is a member of the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates.

David M. Schraver

A resident of Amherst, Erie County, Gerstman graduated from Brown University and earned her law degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. She received a master’s degree from Yale Law School.

Lau-Kee, a 13-year member of the association, concentrates his practice in real estate and business law. He is a member-at-large of the Executive Committee and co-chair of the Membership Committee. He is a member of the Business Law, Health Law and Real Property Law sections.

Miranda is a trial attorney whose intellectual property law practice includes trademark, copyright, trade secret, false advertising, patent infringement and Internet-related issues.

A 23-year member of the association, Miranda chairs the Committee on Resolutions; is a member of the Commercial and Federal Litigation Section, Committee on Annual Award, Committee on Continuing Legal Education and Membership Committee.

A resident of Voorheesville, Miranda graduated from the State University at Buffalo and Albany Law School.

More awards

Programs that assist hurricane victims, first-year law students of color and clergy leaders have been recognized for their community impact by the New York State Conference of Bar Leaders.

The conference, sponsored by the State Bar Association, has honored five bar associations with its 2012 Bar Leaders Innovation Awards, recognizing exemplary and creative programs sponsored during the past year by local, ethnic, specialty, minority and women’s bar associations.

“Bar associations are uniquely qualified to meet the needs of their communities,” said Karla Wilsey of Rochester (Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman, Eisman, Formato, Ferrara & Einiger LLP), chair of the conference’s Executive Council. “Their timely programs do make a difference and can help people.”

The Monroe County Bar Association won in the large bar category of more than 2,000 members. Co-sponsored by the Rochester Black Bar Association and the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys, the Rochester Legal Diversity Clerkship Program provides historically underrepresented students with internships as summer associates in law firms, law departments and legal services offices.

Albany County Bar Association (medium bar category, 500 to 2,000 members) won for its Hurricane Heroes program which has assisted more than 100 victims of flooding from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in Albany, Greene, Schenectady, Schoharie and Ulster counties.

The Metropolitan Black Bar Association (small bar category, fewer than 500 members) sponsored a four-panel seminar, “How to Protect Your House of Worship from Liability,” on issues affecting the clergy and the attorneys who represent them.

The New York State Conference of Bar Leaders is a semi-independent organization sponsored by the State Bar Association. It provides leadership and management programs and guidance, and serves as an information conduit to unite the more than 150 bar associations statewide.