Chief judge to solicit testimony on unmet legal needs in Letro Courtroom Oct. 3


Dean Makau Mutua (left) and New York State's chief judge, Hon. Jonathan Lippman.

Published September 23, 2013

New York State’s chief judge, Hon. Jonathan Lippman, will be at SUNY Buffalo Law School on Oct. 3 to hear testimony about the unmet needs for civil legal services in the state, and what it will take to meet those needs.

Oral testimony at the hearing, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Francis M. Letro Courtroom, is by invitation only, although the public is invited to attend. Among those testifying are Law School Dean Makau W. Mutua and two law students, Emily Dinsmore '14 and Kerisha Hawthorne '14.

This is the fourth year that Lippman has conducted a series of public hearings on the issue. He has made access to justice a priority of his judgeship, most notably by imposing a requirement that aspiring attorneys perform 50 hours of pro bono legal services before they can sit for the state bar exam.

Lippman will be joined at the hearing by Hon. Henry J. Scudder, presiding justice of the Fourth Department; Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti; and David M. Schraver, president of the New York State Bar Association.

Individuals and organizations are invited to express their views on:

  • The impact of Judiciary Civil Legal Services funding, which is set at $40 million for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
  • How well civil legal services are being provided to low-income New Yorkers confronting legal problems involving the “essentials of life,” including housing, family stability and personal safety in domestic relations, access to health care or education, and subsistence income and benefits.
  • The impact of natural disasters on the legal services that low-income New Yorkers need, and the experience of legal services providers in responding to those needs.
  • The economic and social consequences of the lack of sufficient civil legal services in communities and for the courts.
  • The costs and benefits, to the courts and to communities, of providing civil legal services in matters involving the “essentials of life.”
  • The particular problems affecting the availability of legal services in rural communities.
  • The potential to meet more legal needs through preventive and early intervention services; enhanced use of technology; expanding the availability of pro bono legal services by private attorneys; greater law school and law student involvement through clinical, experiential and fellowship options for students; and programs being developed to help law students to complete their 50 required hours of pro bono service.

Later that day in a program to be broadcast statewide from the NY State Bar Center in Albany, Judge Lippman and NYS Bar President Schraver will offer pre-taped remarks introducing a web-streamed panel discussion detailing the critical need for legal services among indigent New Yorkers.

The program, from 5 p.m. to 7 pm called “Why We Need a Right to Counsel in Civil Matters Where Basic Human Needs Are at Stake,” will be shown in the Cellino & Barnes Conference Center, on the fifth floor of O’Brian Hall. The public is invited.

Broadcast from Albany, the live panel discussion will include these participants:

  • Fern Fisher, deputy chief administrative judge for the New York City courts and director of the New York State Courts Access to Justice Program.
  • Bryan Hetherington, chief counsel for the Empire Justice Center.
  • Martha Davis, a professor at Northeastern University Law School.
  • John Pollock, coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel.
  • Andrew Scherer, senior fellow at the Furman Center of New York University Law School, who will moderate the discussion.

Following the broadcast, a panel of local experts will continue the discussion at SUNY Buffalo Law. Participants in that program will include:

  • Melinda Saran ’86, the Law School’s vice dean for student affairs.
  • Keisha Williams of the Western New York Law Center, who will serve as moderator.
  • Lauren Breen ’89, an associate clinical professor at the Law School.
  • Daniel Webster ’08 of Legal Services for the Elderly, Disabled or Disadvantaged of Western New York.
  • David Schopp ’82, chief executive officer of the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo.
  • Joy McDuffie, a housing counselor at the Western New York Law Center.