Letter From The President Of The New York County Lawyers' Association

2013-12-13 13:44

To The Readers of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:

A bar association plays many roles in the legal community – and in the larger community. One of the most important roles for a bar association is to serve as an agent of change:  to focus the community on the critical issues of the day; to illuminate a problem; to articulate a solution; and to press for action where needed.  

NYCLA has been and will continued to be an agent of change on a wide variety of justice-related issues. On December 2, 2013, NYCLA continued in that proud tradition when our Task Force on Judicial Budget Cuts held a day-long public hearing to draw public and press attention to the looming crisis in the courts resulting from the recent budget cuts, including sequestration, that have long ago stripped away any fat from the judicial system and are now cutting into muscle and bone. “Courts in Crisis” included first-hand testimony from judges, administrators, prosecutors, public defenders, and bar leaders, all speaking about the continuing impact of judicial budget cuts on the administration of justice. This hearing followed NYCLA’s Task Force report on the effects of the budget cuts on the federal courts in the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York, which found that those cuts—including sequestration—have reduced access to justice, decreased public safety, and jeopardized the rule of law.

Presenters at the December 2 hearing included Hon. Robert A. Katzmann, Chief Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; Hon. Carol Amon, Chief Judge for the US Court for the Eastern District of New York; Hon. Loretta A. Preska, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court for the Southern District of New York; Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York; Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; David Patton, Executive Director and Attorney-in Chief, Federal Defenders of New York; Hon. Lawrence Marks, First Deputy Chief Administrative Judge, New York State Office of Court Administration; and James R. Silkenat, President of the American Bar Association.

These and other leaders testified about the impact of the budget cuts to their courts or programs, and described the domino effect caused by the cuts, with the impact becoming increasingly perilous. U.S. Attorney Bharara, for example, told NYCLA that his office already has a 13 percent vacancy rate for prosecutors, and 26 percent for staff — figures that will only worsen if sequestration is extended. Noting that “justice cannot be done on the cheap, and public safety does not come free,” Bharara wondered aloud which cases his office would have to forgo for lack of resources. Terrorism prosecutions? Drug smuggling investigations? Gang violence cases? “In a sane world, we should have to do none of these things,” Bharara said, noting that his office actually generates money for the federal government — far more than it spends — through plea deals and asset forfeitures.  

Media coverage of NYCLA’s hearing was intense, including not only legal publications and websites but major daily newspapers and a variety of community-based publications whose readers are already feeling the lack of services described in the testimony. From the New York Times to the Jewish Voice, from Law 360 to Reuters, and from the New York Daily News to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the NYCLA Courts in Crisis public hearing caught the attention of both the legal community and the larger community. You can download all the presentations from this hearing, and catch up on the press coverage, at www.nycla.org.

NYCLA will continue to address the current crisis facing the courts until budgets are restored and operations resume effectively. I encourage you to share examples of how you are seeing the impact of the cuts — tweet me at @nyclapres, or email me at bmoses@maglaw.com.

You can be a part of this and other effective initiatives — and an agent of change — with your NYCLA membership. If you’re not already a NYCLA member, visit nycla.org/joinus to learn more or call 212-267-6646 x208. If you are already a member, I encourage you to get involved in Association initiatives and activities that make an impact on the New York legal community, and on the larger community of which we are a part.


Barbara Moses