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1st Dept Hearings on Civil Legal Services for Poor

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1st Dept Hearings on Civil Legal Services for Poor

Postby TenantNet » Wed Sep 29, 2010 12:42 am

First Department Kicks Off Hearings on Civil Legal Services for Poor
Joel Stashenko
New York Law Journal
September 29, 2010

Judges told a hearing on improving funding for civil legal services yesterday that self-represented parties­now numbering more than 2 million a year­are bogging down the state court system and putting judges in an uncomfortable position as they strive to remain neutral while insuring that litigants get their day in court.

"It is very difficult from a judge's point of view," said Judge Jeffrey K. Oing, supervising judge for Manhattan Civil Court (See Profile). "We straddle the fence. We're under an ethical obligation in terms of what advice we can give to the self-represented because virtually all of the plaintiffs, the debt collector or the bank…have an attorney and we sit there and hear what the plaintiff is telling us, yet at the same time we're really hamstrung in terms of what we can tell or offer to the self-represented defendant."

Watch a video of yesterday's hearing.
http://media.courts.state.ny.us/video/h ... g_384K.wmv

Judge Oing was one of the witnesses at the first of four hearings organized by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman as part of an effort to build his case for additional funding for civil legal services for the poor. The Office of Court Administration estimates that only one in five people who need legal assistance get it. Officials speculate that the problem has gotten worse during the recession.

Ruben A. Martino (See Profile), a judge at the Harlem Justice Center, said courts "bend over backwards" to try to "compensate" when people appear in court without counsel.

Presiding Justice Luis A. Gonzalez of the Appellate Division, First Department ( See Profile), said the shortage of civil legal services lawyers creates an "uneven" situation in which litigants who can afford counsel have the advantage over their adversaries.

"Sometimes in order to balance the scales of justice, the judge gets involved, sometimes improperly," said Justice Gonzalez, who conducted the hearing with Judge Lippman, Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau and Stephen P. Younger, president of the New York State Bar Association.

With too few attorneys available to provide low-cost representation, the poor often must navigate complicated rules in litigation over housing, foreclosures, consumer credit, child custody disputes and other civil matters.

But the chief judge also said he takes a dim view of judges who help unrepresented litigants by, for instance, prompting them to get evidence into the record when they would not otherwise know how to do so.

"I respect judges who are sometimes drawn into that, but it's not a healthy thing for the system," Judge Lippman said in an interview after the hearing. "We are not advocates for either side; we're judges. I think that it has become almost a necessity, but it is a very counterproductive thing in delivering justice. We're human beings and we don't take off our hats as human beings when we go on the bench, but our role is to be the arbiter."

Judge Lippman said he hopes to use information gathered at the hearings and through a questionnaire to legal services groups to make the case with the Legislature and the next governor for a more reliable source of funding for civil legal services, mainly from state tax dollars.

'Hit and Miss' Funding

Current funding is provided through what Judge Lippman called a "hodgepodge" of mechanisms, including aid from the general fund, member item appropriations by individual lawmakers, local aid, foundation grants and grants from the Interest on Lawyers Accounts (IOLA). Due to plunging interest rates because of the poor economy, IOLA revenues have dropped to $7 million this year from $32 million in 2008, and the other sources of aid have not made up the difference.

IOLA chairman Benito Romano estimated yesterday that the fund will probably take in about $7 million in 2011 as well.

"Right now [legal services funding] is hit and miss," Judge Lippman told about 100 people gathered yesterday for the hearing in the First Department courtroom. "It's just catch as catch can. What the IOLA crash has shown us is we can't continue."

Service providers say a last-minute infusion of $15 million in state funding made up some of the short-fall in funding. The governor and Legislature funneled the money into the system from additional revenues generated by an increase in the cost of taking the bar examination, for filing a foreclosure action, for running a background criminal check and other fee increases.

The increased revenues were a one-time addition into the system, however, and those funds were not dedicated for civil legal services in future budgets.

The president of the Rent Stabilization Association, Joseph Strasburg, one of several business representatives, told the hearing that representation by counsel for tenants benefits landlords as well because lawyers can work out late rent payment schedules and also arrange for low-income dwellers to receive federal housing aid.

Citigroup general counsel Michael S. Helfer spoke of how mandatory mediation conferences in foreclosure proceedings often have to be postponed three or four times because unrepresented homeowners do not bring the proper paperwork.

Samuel W. Seymour, president of the New York City Bar, said one project by his group involves giving legal aid to immigrants seeking asylum. Applicants represented by counsel won asylum 39 percent of the time while petitioners who did not have counsel were granted asylum 14 percent of the time.

"It is demonstrable that the assistance of counsel makes a difference," Mr. Seymour said.

The hearing also heard from six clients of legal services providers. They included Yulia Abayeva, a native of Uzbekistan, who broke away from an abusive husband and began to receive child support with the help of the New York Legal Assistance Group, and Lars Anderson, a Nebraska transplant to New York City, who avoided eviction thanks in part to MFY Legal Services.

"To navigate the legal system is not so easy," Judge Lippman said.

Participation in the hearing yesterday was by invitation only. The chief judge said the same format will be followed at the other hearings: today at the Fourth Department in Rochester, Oct. 5 at the Court of Appeals in Albany and Oct. 7 at the Second Department in Brooklyn.

"Every aspect of our society gains from having civil legal services funded," the chief judge said after yesterday's hearing. "The business community, the health community, the real estate industry­every possible component of our society benefits by having people have lawyers when dealing with the fundamentals of life… That's what this is about, a parallel to Gideon that says that it is equally obvious when you're dealing with life's essential that people must have a lawyer or our whole system breaks down."

Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, D-Brooklyn, chairwoman of the Assembly's judiciary committee, attended yesterday's hearing. She said she hopes the data generated by the hearings and a task force appointed by the courts will give lawmakers an idea of how much adequate legal services would cost.

"The benefit of this, the court holding the hearing, is that it is a neutral party that sees people represented and unrepresented and can evaluate the arguments and present a case without it being biased," she said.
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Postby ronin » Thu Sep 30, 2010 12:29 am

What a load of crap. They call in all the LL and creditor big names and then have some "invitation only" self-represented present.

The real deal is that the New York judges take pleasure in cheating people out of their hard earned money and civil rights. Even the most basic rules of procedure and burden are routinely ignored. From rotten judges to rotten clerks the whole system is geared towards cheating pro se litigants.

Only oddballs like Judge Dear and that crop really started enforcing the rules against the big guys.

The judges, including Chief Judge Lippman, are completely without ethics. According to the article he takes a dim view of judges helping a pro se get something into evidence but doesn't give a damn about judges openly taking bribes in court! What BS!

He was solely responsible for appointing and disciplining Housing Court judges as the Administrative Judge. When Judge Jiminez was campaigning for Civil Court she took campaign contributions from Niles Welikson while basically fixing cases brought by him and his firm. The issue was reported by me and picked up by Courier Life's Erik Enquist(sp?) prompting her to back out of the race.

What pray tell was the penalty that Judge Lippman, solely responsible for her discipline and appointment, imposed on her for violating the ethics rules (and arguably the bribery statute)? He reappointed her.

Moreover, Welikson was the chair of the committee under Lippman reviewing her reappointment. He was appointed by Lippman as well. What was the punishment for such blatantly improper dealings between the two (money transfers between people being reviewed and their reviewers)? Nothing. Not so much as a sternly worded memo.

Lippman is bothered by a judge helping a pro se navigate the hypertechnical maze of the Rules of Evidence to keep the record fair, but doesn't give a crap about judges and judicial review committee members (both appointed by him) taking pay-offs and fixing cases. I find him insincere to the max.

He even led the Court of Appeals to rubber stamp Columbia University's blatant fraud involving the Eminent Domain process (so impressively detailed by the 1st Appellate Division). But for the smoke and mirrors of judicial immunity he and his colleagues would be considered part of Columbia University's RICO (racketeering) conspiracy (fraud in each of the properties it let deteriorate to game the ED process).

To put it mildly, I for one do not trust this Chief Judge to really care about pro se litigants when he has a long record of not caring about ethics. This is not really about getting people help. What this initiative is really about is getting some bucks from the tax payers for greedy lawyers to line their pockets to make up for the business lost during the recession.

Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein should be listening to people other than judges and lawyers and their hand-picked happy clients. She needs to hear from the vast majority of litigants who are abused even by their so called legal representatives. Or even the fact that some of these so-called poverty lawyers go around undermining other forms of effective advocacy and protest so they can line their pockets.
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