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

2004-08-01 01:00

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:

In September 2003, the New York County Lawyers' Association (NYCLA) Board of Directors established a Justice Center modeled after an ABA initiative. The Center resulted from a committee chaired by Dean John D. Feerick, who consulted with judges, practicing lawyers, law professors and community representatives about its mission and possible projects. I am proud to report to the readers of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel on the Justice Center's remarkable record of achievements in its first year and to provide a preview of its ambitious agenda for the future.

The Justice Center's mission is to combine the resources of NYCLA with those of academia and the bench and bar, as well as non-lawyer community leaders, to identify critical legal and social justice issues so that the Center can promote access to justice and act as a catalyst for meaningful improvement in the administration of justice in New York State. To translate this broad mission into action requires an energetic Advisory Board, and the Justice Center has just that: John Feerick, former Dean of Fordham Law School, chairs the Board, whose other members include leaders of the profession, NYCLA committee and section chairs, and non-lawyers active in civic affairs.

The Justice Center's first major program was a one-day conference held in October 2003 entitled "New York City Criminal Courts: Are We Achieving Justice?" The conference was co-sponsored with Fordham Law School's Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics and had the endorsement of the other area law schools. By invitation, 100 people involved with the Criminal Courts, including judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, victim/witness advocates and academics, heard from speakers such as Hon. Juanita Bing Newton, Administrative Judge, New York City Criminal Courts, Dr. Freda Solomon of the New York City Criminal Justice Agency and myself. Participants spent most of the day in five working groups focused on the following topics: arraignment norms, practices and culture; resolution of misdemeanor cases, including non-jail sanctions, collateral consequences and specialized courts; the impact of the Criminal Court on the marginalized persons using the system; post-arraignment adjudication; and standards, evaluation and monitoring.

The groups identified areas of strength and weakness in the criminal justice system, formulating numerous recommendations for change and suggestions for their implementation. The proceedings will be published shortly in the Fordham University Urban Law Journal. To provide a sustained focus on the recommendations andmaintain a dialogue with the judiciary, I established a Task Force on the Criminal Justice System, chaired by Susan J. Walsh, Board Member and former co-chair of the NYCLA Criminal Justice Section. The commitment to improve our Criminal Courts is heartening, with representatives of the judiciary, prosecutors, defense attorneys and court personnel volunteering enthusiastically to serve on the Task Force. I look forward to reporting to you in the future on Task Force activities.

In March 2004, the Justice Center co-sponsored with the NYCLA Criminal Justice Section, the New York Criminal Bar Association and the New York Women's Bar Association a forum, "Beware of False Confessions! Should All Custodial Interrogations of Crime Suspects be Videotaped?" This forum discussed the NYCLA report, unanimously endorsed last summer by the American Bar Association House of Delegates, advocating the electronic recording of all custodial interrogations. Subsequent to the forum, the New York State Bar Association House of Delegates adopted, at its June meeting, a joint report and resolution co-sponsored by NYCLA and State Bar's Criminal Justice Section, calling for the videotaping of custodial interrogations in the most serious cases.

The Justice Center also prepared a Report and Resolution on Homelessness, which was adopted by the NYCLA Board in April. Calling for elected officials and bar associations to oppose anticipated federal and state budget cuts of $352 million for programs that provide services to homeless families and seek to prevent homelessness, this Report was widely distributed to local, state and federal officials, as well as bar associations throughout New York State. Several bars have endorsed the report and local, state and federal elected official have agreed to keep this funding issue in the forefront of budgetary discussions.

Using the Criminal Court Conference as a model, the Justice Center and Cardozo Law School are planning a conference this October on the Housing Court on its 30th anniversary. The conference, "The Housing Court in the 21st Century: Can It Better Address the Problems That Will Come Before It?," will bring together the bench, both the landlord and the tenant bar, advocates and academics. Using the working-group format, participants will focus on critical issues: the pre-adjudication process; the adjudication process, especially as it affects unrepresented parties; the right to counsel; social services and volunteer programs in the Court; how the Court deals with parties with diminished capacity; and how the court handles its mandate to preserve the housing stock. The recommendations for action will be published, along with papers commissioned for the conference, in the Cardozo Law School Journal of Public Policy, Law and Ethics. NYCLA is committed to following up on the conference, perhaps by establishing a body like that for the Criminal Courts, to work in partnership with the stakeholders in Housing Court.

The NYCLA Justice Center is just one of our innovative approaches to improving access to justice and the quality of justice provided to our citizens. NYCLA committees and sections also do a terrific job of providing a sustained focus on the functioning of the court components of our justice system. I urge you to join one of these court committees or sections and contribute your insights and experience to our programs.


Norman L. Reimer