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.

NY high court rules on 2 local cases

The Court of Appeals, New York state’s highest court, has issued rulings on a pair of cases based in the Lower Hudson Valley.

The first is the case of Somers dentist Robert and his wife, Emilia Alonso, who were accused in 2006 of scamming Medicaid out of more than $2 million. They were later accused of trying to hide more than $800,000 from investigators by putting the money into an overseas bank account and claiming they had given it to charity.

Several months into the criminal trial, a judge threw out the case, saying prosecutors failed to disclose exculpatory evidence that pointed to the Alonsos’ innocence. The court found that the prosecutorial violation was so severe that the only remedy was to dismiss the indictments against the couple.

The Westchester County District Attorney’s office appealed, but the Appellate Division denied their request. In its decision this week, the Court of Appeals overturned that ruling and will allow the DA’s office to appeal the dismissal of the indictments.

The other case came from Southeast,where a driver named Peter Rivera was convicted in November 2007 of driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor, following a state police arrest on Route 6.  Rivera had his license revoked for six months, but s a first-time offender, he could join a DMV rehabilitation programs and drive with a conditional license.

In February 2008, he was arrested again for drunken driving. He was charged with first-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, which a judge threw out before his trial. The Appellate Division upheld the judge’s ruling, and the Court of Appeals affirmed it, ruling that a driver whose license was revoked, and who violated the terms of a conditional driver’s license, could be prosecuted only for the infraction of driving for a use not authorized by his license.

“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.

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.