To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:
NYCLA has never been afraid to speak out on significant issues affecting access to justice — including funding for the courts, indigent criminal defense and civil legal services.
In 2011 and 2012, NYCLA’s Task Force on Judicial Budget Cuts examined the impact of $170 million in cuts on the New York judiciary, as well as deep cuts to the federal judicial budget. We issued a series of reports detailing the real-world impact of those cuts on both the courts and the public. This year, New York’s already overloaded state court system continues to struggle with a bare-bones budget, which has led to shorter courthouse hours, longer waits for trial dates, and backups in clerk’s offices across the state.
The federal courts, meanwhile, are reeling from the effects of sequestration, including reduced staffing for Pretrial Services, which supervises defendants awaiting trial, and the Probation Department, which supervises individuals sentenced to probation or on supervised release. These reductions present both a public safety issue and a false economy. In the words of Chief Judge Carol Bagley Amon of the Eastern District of New York, “If the [Pretrial Services] agency cannot do its job, the costs are externalized on our community.” Funding for indigent criminal defense has also been slashed. The Federal Defenders of New York – charged with the representation of criminal defendants who cannot afford private counsel in the Southern and Eastern Districts – have been forced to furlough attorneys and put off trial dates.
Through our Task Force on Judicial Budget Cuts, NYCLA is once again examining the ability of our state and federal courts to carry out their constitutionally mandated functions in light of continuing budget challenges. Through our recent forum commemorating the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, NYCLA took a probing look at our nation’s still-unfulfilled promise of justice for all, regardless of wealth. And through our pro bono programs and committee work, NYCLA is deeply involved in helping poor and near-poor New Yorkers obtain the essential legal services they need when faced with consumer debt problems, housing emergencies, and other legal crises. In the months to come, NYCLA’s new Task Force on Meeting the Challenge will examine New York’s most recent experiment in closing the justice gap: the 50-hour rule, which will require bar applicants to certify that they have performed 50 hours of pro bono legal services before they can be admitted. At the same time, the task force, working together with staff and volunteer leaders, will develop new pro bono opportunities for NYCLA’s law student and law graduate members.
The continuing struggle to improve access to justice is difficult and sometimes discouraging, but it is also central to NYCLA’s mission. I encourage you to share with me how NYCLA can continue to address access to justice - Tweet me @NYCLAPres.