New York State Bar Association President Glenn Lau-Kee commended Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman for the “thoughtful proposals” offered Tuesday in his annual State of the Judiciary address.
“Chief Judge Lippman has outlined a number of promising innovations to expand access to justice for all New Yorkers,” said Lau-Kee, of New York City (Kee & Lau-Kee), who addressed a few items individually:
• Indigent criminal defense: Last fall, the state government settled a lawsuit, Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York (Index No. 8866-07) (www.ag.ny.gov/pdfs/DOC153.PDF), acknowledging its constitutional responsibility to ensure low-income individuals accused of crimes have competent legal representation at the state’s expense. In his speech, Judge Lippman noted the settlement applies only to five of the state’s 62 counties, excluding somewhere attorneys shoulder caseloads that exceed 700 a year. He said the Office of Indigent Legal Services is seeking a $28 million appropriation from the Legislature to address the problem over a five-year period. Lau-Kee said NYSBA supports a state-funded, state-run criminal defense program for low-income people. “Quality legal representation should not only be an obligation and a priority, but it should apply in all the state’s counties,” Lau-Kee said.
• Civil legal services: The state bar also supports state and federal funding for civil legal services for the poor, especially in areas involving “necessities of life”— such as child custody, eviction and foreclosure. While legal service organizations and pro bono attorneys address some of those needs, many individuals still go to court without any outside assistance. In his speech, the chief judge proposed creating a court advocates program to assist low-income litigants in housing court and in consumer-debt cases. The court advocates would be nonlawyers — supervised by attorneys — who help guide litigants through the court system, helping them, for example, in completing do-it-yourself court forms and appearing with them in court. Lau-Kee said the concept of helping low-income litigants who cannot otherwise afford attorneys has merit. “It will be presented to the association for further review,” he added.
• Wrongful convictions: Judge Lippman reiterated his support for addressing wrongful convictions by mandating videotaping interrogations and changing police lineup procedures — proposals recommended by the state bar association in 2009 — and reforming criminal discovery rules. In January, the association’s House of Delegates approved a report calling for significant modifications in the state’s criminal discovery rules. The report is available at http://bit.ly/1DlzNhe.
• E-filing: The Legislature also would need to approve Judge Lippman’s proposal to require mandatory e-filing in the state Supreme Court, something NYSBA has long supported. E-filing is required in the federal court system.