NY Bar Association president marks Law Day with plea for better court funding

This just in from the New York State Bar Association:

In the historic chambers of the state’s highest court, State Bar Association President Vincent E. Doyle III today stressed the vital importance of a fully funded and operational court system.

“In matters large and small, the Judiciary is the foundation of our freedom,” he said. “The courts defend our fundamental rights, protect public safety and facilitate the peaceful resolution of disputes,” he said. “When the courts suffer, the pain is felt throughout society.”

Doyle delivered his remarks at Law Day ceremonies at the state Court of Appeals where Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman opened the session attended by members of the Court of Appeals, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and other elected officials.

Doyle’s speech reflected a central theme of Law Day being echoed in the legal community across the nation: “No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom.”

Doyle cited a Bar Association report in January that revealed the impact of 2011 budget cuts on the state court. Among the report’s findings: reduced courthouse hours were limiting citizen access to courts and resulting in delays in resolving cases; the jury selection process potentially was being compromised by the prospect of lengthier trials; delays were resulting in criminal suspects spending more time in jail before trial; staff reductions were affecting the ability of the courts to efficiently and effectively dispense with cases; and less assistance was available to litigants who represent themselves in family court and other civil cases.

The report is available at www.nysba.org/CourtFundingReport.

Doyle said the State Bar Association understands that “government resources are not unlimited,” but when setting spending priorities, elected officials must recognize the fundamental role of the Judiciary in establishing the rule of law.

The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association, founded in 1876,  is the largest voluntary state bar association in the country.

Schneiderman to create bureau to review wrongful convictions

This just in from New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman:

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES LANDMARK INITIATIVE TO ADDRESS WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS IN NEW YORK

Conviction Review Bureau Will Promote Partnerships With District Attorneys To Address Claims Of Innocence

A.G. Will Also Conduct Top-To-Bottom Review Of His Office’s Investigatory & Prosecutorial Procedures For Reliability, And Make Improvements As Needed

Sweeping Initiative Also Includes Committee To Efficiently Resolve Claims Against The State For Unjust Conviction

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the establishment of a Conviction Review Bureau in the New York Office of Attorney General (OAG), a first-of-its-kind statewide initiative to address issues related to wrongful convictions across New York State. Partnering with law enforcement across the state, Schneiderman said the bureau will work to ensure that New York’s justice system maximizes its ability to convict the real perpetrators of crimes, while preventing innocent people from being penalized for crimes they did not commit.

“There is only one person who wins when the wrong person is convicted of a crime: the real perpetrator, who remains free to commit more crimes. For victims, their families, and any of us who could suffer the nightmare of being wrongly accused, it is imperative that we do everything possible to maximize accuracy, justice, and reliability in our justice system,” Schneiderman said. “As a result, my office will be working with District Attorneys across the state to address compelling claims of innocence, and I will conduct a top-to-bottom review of my office’s investigatory and prosecutorial procedures, and adapt them as needed to ensure reliability.”

Schneiderman emphasized that there are numerous examples of District Attorneys successfully reviewing and re-investigating cases, perhaps most famously the Central Park jogger case in New York County. However, there may be instances in which it is helpful for an independent and specialized entity to enter the process. To address this criminal justice imperative, the Conviction Review Bureau will:

1)  Review Potential Wrongful Conviction Cases. The Conviction Review Bureau will work with D.A.’s offices to identify cases where the involvement of the Conviction Review Bureau may be of use. The OAG will be available for referrals from District Attorneys as resources allow, and on referral will investigate in anticipation of potential litigation. These might include cases where a D.A.’s office lacks the additional staff required to conduct a review, or a conflict might exist. It is anticipated that these cases will be serious felonies and ones in which the claimant’s other options are exhausted (eg, an Article 440 motion has not succeeded). In addition, the OAG will continue to address claims of actual innocence in its own cases.

2) Conduct Top-to-Bottom Review of OAG’s Investigatory and Prosecutorial Procedures. The Bureau will conduct an internal review of the OAG’s investigative procedures (e.g., identification procedures, the recording of confessions). After intensive study, the Bureau will adopt best practices for the office’s investigative division with the goal of maximizing reliability. In addition to addressing the efficacy of investigations, the Bureau will also devise guidelines for best prosecutorial practices to be applied by OAG attorneys, to help ensure the fair administration of justice .

3) Efficiently Resolve Unjust Conviction Torts. A subcommittee of the Bureau will meet to resolve unjust conviction torts filed against the state. This will enable those found by the courts to have been unjustly convicted, and meeting the requirements for compensation under state law, to receive it in an efficient, streamlined manner.

In making his announcement, Attorney General Schneiderman expressed gratitude to the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York (DAASNY) led by Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore, as well as to the New York State Justice Task Force, commissioned by Chief Judge of the State of New York Jonathan Lippman, both of which have been exploring improvements to law enforcement procedures to make them as fair and reliable as possible.

The new bureau will be led by Chief Thomas Schellhammer, an Assistant Attorney General and former homicide prosecutor in the New York County District Attorney Office, and Director Blake Zeff, who serves as senior advisor to the Attorney General.
“I look forward to continuing to partner with leaders in law enforcement in New York State, so that together we will lead the way for the nation, when it comes to criminal justice reforms,” Attorney General Schneiderman said.

Schneiderman’s announcement today was hailed by bipartisan leaders in the criminal justice and law enforcement communities

Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of New York, said, “Attorney General Schneiderman is to be commended for his landmark effort to curb the nightmare of wrongful convictions. One wrongfully convicted person is one too many, and I believe the reforms announced today will help pave the way toward reducing such injustices.”

Janet DiFiore, Westchester County District Attorney and President of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, said, “The integrity of the criminal justice system in New York State hinges on ensuring that the guilty are held accountable and the innocent are protected. The District Attorneys Association continues in its efforts in this regard and appreciates Attorney General Schneiderman’s leadership in seeking to partner with us in this effort, by allocating resources and the expertise of his office.”

Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, said, “We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for taking on the problem of wrongful convictions in New York. As we’ve learned through DNA exonerations, wrongful convictions give you an opportunity to see where the system failed and how it can be made more just. We hope that district attorneys throughout the state will take advantage of this initiative, because all New Yorkers are hurt when the wrong person is convicted of a crime and the real perpetrator is free to commit more crimes.”

Kathleen B. Hogan, Warren County District Attorney, said, “District Attorneys have always appreciated the seriousness of post-conviction review. Many offices have limited resources, with 40 D.A. offices in the state having ten or fewer attorneys to handle their entire caseload. That’s why I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman and welcome his assistance in providing experienced attorneys who will work collaboratively with D.A. offices to review cases in the post-conviction context.”

Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, President of the New York State NAACP, said, “The NAACP New York State Conference believes this is a step in the right direction because we need more effective measures to prevent ‘wrongful convictions.’ The NAACP NYS Conference commends the AG’s office for the creation of the CRB and we look forward to following its progress and results.”

Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., Manhattan District Attorney, said, “I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for his innovative initiative to curb wrongful convictions. My office has instituted a program to ensure the integrity of our convictions, and I am delighted to partner with the Attorney General in achieving justice for New Yorkers and preserving the public’s confidence in law enforcement.”

 

Vincent E. Doyle III, President of the New York State Bar Association, said, “Attorney General Schneiderman has long demonstrated a commitment to addressing the serious issue of wrongful convictions. The Association was proud to work with then-state Senator Schneiderman on legislation addressing the root causes of wrongful convictions, which we hope will be enacted in the near future. We commend the Attorney General for making the resources of his office available to help address this ongoing problem.”

William J. Fitzpatrick, Onondaga County District Attorney, said, “As prosecutors, we should always be vigilant of preventing wrongful convictions. That starts with establishing and implementing practices and procedures to ensure the right person is arrested and tried. It also requires careful examination of legitimate claims of innocence that warrant review after conviction. In recent years, the District Attorney’s Association of the State of New York has established standing committees to address these issues, such as the Committee on the Fair and Ethical Administration of Justice, the Best Practices Committee and the Ethics Committee. To have Attorney General Schneiderman, offer assistance to district attorneys’ offices and partner with state prosecutors to ensure that the guilty are convicted and that the innocent are exonerated is a testament to his leadership, vision and cooperation. As one of the 62 elected district attorneys in the state, I along with my fellow prosecutors, applaud his efforts.”

Glenn Garber, Founder and Director of the Exoneration Initiative, said, “The Attorney General’s Conviction Review Bureau is a significant step toward justice for the wrongfully convicted in New York, especially for those who lack DNA to prove their innocence. By reexamining investigative and prosecutorial practices in certain cases, the Attorney General is providing an important and needed opportunity within the system in New York to exonerate the innocent.”

Lonnie Soury, President of Falseconfessions.org, said, “Eric Schneiderman kept his word by fulfilling his commitment to address this urgent criminal justice imperative. He fought to pass legislation to limit wrongful convictions while a State Senator and now, in his role of Attorney General, he is instituting a program that will hopefully be a model for developing best practices on those factors that lead to wrongful convictions such as false confessions and witness misidentification. This program will help prevent innocent people from going to prison, contribute to apprehending the guilty, and give hope to those currently wrongfully imprisoned”

Irvington woman joins state task force on poverty law

We’re back after a brief break with more news from local courts and the legal community in the Lower Hudson Valley ….

Barbara Finkelstein, head of the White Plains-based group Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, will join a statewide task force to expand legal services to low-income New Yorkers in civil cases such as foreclosures, food stamps, unemployment benefits, orders of protection, child support and other civil cases. Finkelstein, an Irvington resident, has been spearheading such efforts for the past 15 years in Westchester and six other counties north of New York City.

According to a news release, Finkelstein will work with judges, law firm partners, union officials, heads of legal services groups and managers of corporate legal departments to raise money for struggling New Yorkers so they can get legal assistance at a time when the demand for such help is on the rise and government funding is dropping.

For more information, go to www.lshv.org.

“This will not be a typical State of the Judiciary message”

That’s how New York’s top judge, Jonathan Lippman of Rye Brook, opened his first State of the Judiciary speech.

Why atypical? First, the speech was posted on the Internet rather than given live at the Court of Appeals hall in Albany. Second, it didn’t propose broad reforms and strategic planning, but instead focused on judges’ increased caseloads and the pressures that come from it. Third, it’s coming out nearly three months later than usual.

Click here to read Lippman’s written speech in full.

Lippman on Top of the Roc

tjndc5-5nzg18v3eqffndcf3wu_layoutChief Judge Jonathan Lippman, the head of the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, will be the guest speaker at a New Rochelle Bar Association dinner on Monday, April 12.

The dinner will be at 6 p.m. at the Top of the Roc on Memorial Highway in New Rochelle. New York State Court of Appeals Judges Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick and Theodore T. Jones also will be guests at the dinner.

If you want to go, pay $45 to the New Ro Bar by April 7.

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman in the news

tjndc5-5nwywkgizms1465wj607_thumbnailWhile the jury in the Werner Lippe murder trial continues deliberations, The New York Times has written an interesting story about the state’s highest-ranking judge, Jonathan Lippman, who lives right here in Westchester County (Rye Brook to be exact).

Now that he’s been in office more than a year, the differences between him and his predecessor, former Chief Judge Judith Kaye, are beginning to show.

Click here to read the story

Rate your judge on “Robe Probe”

There’s a website called Robeprobe.com, and if enough attorneys and their clients in the Lower Hudson Valley find out about this, things could get very interesting.

Basically, it’s a rating system for judges at all levels, from U.S. Supreme down to municipal judges. Even judges from other countries are listed.  Billing itself as “the world’s most trusted judge rating site” (like there are so many others), the site’s search engine asks you to choose the jurisdiction (state, county, municipal, appellate, etc.) then type in the name of the judge and give them one to 5 stars. If your judge isn’t listed, you can add him/her to the list.

I typed in a few names of judges from Westchester County. The only ones who were listed were State Supreme Court Justices Lester Adler and Richard Molea, and county Judge Barbara Zambelli. Judge Francis Nicolai, the court administrator for the 9th Judicial District, was listed, as was Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman – the top judge in New York state.

No one has rated them yet, so if you’re so inclined, you know where to find them.

Logo courtesy of RobeProbe.com

Alessandros in trouble

We’re talking BIG trouble here for the Alessandro brothers, Judge Joseph of Orange County and Judge Francis of the Bronx. The state Commission on Judicial Conduct wants both Alessandros to be kicked off the bench and has recommended as much to the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, which will have the final say on the matter.

Click here for a summary of the Alessandros’ problems.

The commission’s beef with the brothers involves a $250,000 loan to Joseph Alessandro’s cash-strapped 2003 campaign for Westchester County Court. It also involves the brothers not being completely forthright with their financial disclosures to the court’s ethics board. Click here to read more about the commission’s ruling.

So why do we care? The $250,000 helped Joe Alessandro, a Republican, win the county court seat in Westchester, which led him to run for state Supreme Court two years later. He won that seat as well, thanks to a 2005 cross-endorsement deal that tied his candidacy to — wait for it — Judge Jonathan Lippman, who was running for a state court seat as a Democrat.

Lippman, as you may know, continued to rise and this month became Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. That means Lippman, who lives in Rye Brook, now heads the same court that must decide if Alessandro gets to keep his job. No word yet as to whether Lippman will recuse himself from the matter.