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”

White Plains lawyer to testify at hearing on Family Court challenges

Mary Grace Ferone, a managing attorney at the Legal Services of the Hudson Valley in White Plains, will be among the speakers this Thursday at a New York State Bar Association hearing about how New York’s Family Court system impacts children and families.

The hearings, held around the state, were convened to address the rising workloads in the family courts during the past decade, particularly child custody, visitation and child support cases.

“The growing burden placed on our Family Court system is having a direct impact on our most vulnerable population — our children,” said State Bar President Vincent E. Doyle III. “With these hearings, we are collecting information from a variety of experts that we hope will lead to improved conditions for children and the courts.”

The latest hearing will take place at the Nassau County Bar Association in Mineola. The task force previously held hearings in Albany and New York City. The final hearing is scheduled for March 29 in Buffalo.

Among those expected to testify on Thursday are family court judges and others affiliated with the courts, local bar associations, legal service groups and organizations that serve children, families and battered women.

The 35-member Task Force on Family Court, created in 2010, will issue a preliminary report in June and a final report in November. That report will be presented to the state chief administrative judge and others for consideration.

According to the state Office of Court Administration, family courts handled 720,850 court filings in 2010, compared to 683,390 in 2001. In New York City, the caseload was 246,266 in 2010, up from 226,544 in 2001. Despite rising caseloads — including a record 742,365 statewide in 2009 — only four new Family Court judgeships have been created statewide since 1999 and none in New York City since 1991.

NY State Bar President: court funding cuts are bad for business

The New York State Bar Association’s report about the failing conditions of state courts in the wake of budget cuts is meant to be a wake-up call for state lawmakers who may be considering slashing the Office of Court Administration’s budget even further, Bar President Vincent E. Doyle III (right) told Completely Legal.

“Courts are doing more work with less resources,” he said, noting not only the 12 percent increase in overall caseloads from 2001 but also that foreclosure filings have nearly doubled. “There were years of budget constraints and years of stagnation before the funding cut.”

Doyle said he wants state lawmakers to realize that businesses look at the efficiency of a state’s court system when deciding if it will move to New York or expand its existing operations. If the court system appear overwrought and chaotic, he argued, businesses will leave New York.

“The legal climate in this state is just as important as the economic climate,” he said. “(State lawmakers) need to look at courts as something more than a line item on a budget sheet.”

Want legal ethics advice? There’s an app for that

The New York State Bar Association has introduced a mobile app that gives judges, lawyers, law students and the public at large instant answers to legal ethics questions on their smartphones.

The app contains more than 900 searchable ethics opinions, dating back to 1964, on legal issues in categories from acceptance of employment to zoning board issues. Decisions can be searched by keyword, category or opinion number.

“Ethics questions can arise in many different contexts. The NYSBA Mobile Ethics App will allow judges, lawyers and others to access the opinions of the Association’s Professional Ethics Committee on the spot from the convenience of their mobile devices,” Bar President Vincent E. Doyle III said in a statement. “The State Bar is pleased to provide this service to its members and the legal community.”

This is the Bar’s latest foray into making the law accessible online. Last year, it launched the eLAP website, a secure portal for accessing lawyer assistance information and services. The Bar also improved its website’s search engine and offered its members discount subscriptions to Clio, a cloud-based practice management system designed for solo practitioners and small law firms.

The Ethics app is available on Apple’s App Store, the Android Market, BlackBerry’s App World and on the state bar website at www.nysba.org/ethicsapp.

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

“Charity Corps” to offer free legal advice to nonprofits

The New York State Bar Association and state Attorney General’s office announced today that they are teaming up to link volunteer attorneys with nonprofit organizations that need legal advice but can’t afford to hire lawyers.

Called the “Charity Corps,” the program will launch in 2012 and serve as many as 50 nonprofits in its first year, with organizations serving the needs of indigent people receiving top priority. Corps lawyers will offer nonprofits advice on issues such as board governance, fiduciary responsibilities, and nonprofit law compliance.

“New York’s attorneys stand ready to serve our important charitable sector – housing, shelter and youth programs, mental health and crisis intervention clinics, high school dropout prevention programs, relief and development assistance, civil rights organizations, veterans’ assistance groups and others – by helping them with their governance and legal compliance needs,” Bar Association president Vincent E. Doyle III said in a news release.

The pro bono lawyers who sign up for what has been named the “Charity Corps” will be trained by the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau, which supervises charitable organizations to protect donors and ensure donations are used properly. The Bar Association will administer the program and a committee chaired by Lesley Rosenthal, the VP general counsel and secretary of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, will oversee it.

“Nonprofits are vital to our local communities and state, and we are committed to ensuring that they continue their important work – especially at a time when their services are most in need,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in the same news release.

Nonprofits who want to be part of the program must apply by Dec. 31 at http://www.nysba.org/CharityCorps.