February 2010 Column By: Elena DeFio Kean Being part of a large family was a constant reminder that you were a part of something bigger. However, my father always made sure that it was never lost upon us that it was our job to protect one another and look out for those who needed help. We were taught that there was “always room for one more at the table” and “no one should ever be left out in the cold”. And while these mantras applied growing up with our extended family and friends—they continue to served me well in life and apply to us all. Never turn your back or shut out those in need: Words to live by but not always easy to follow. This is particularly true in these tough economic times, when our State is presently forced to make difficult choices to meet the financial shortfalls it now faces. Unfortunately, the Governor’s budget proposes cuts in its services to the indigent and increased costs and fees for services. This one-two punch will have a devastating effect on those individuals in need and surely close the gates of justice for the very individuals who need it most, from the inner City of Albany to the Hilltowns to the west and everywhere in between. Due to the reduction of interest rates, IOLA funds have been severely reduced from approximately $25 Million annually to an estimated $6 Million. These critical dollars help fund programs throughout New York State that provide essential free legal assistance to low income residents. Many of these programs pay the filing fees and costs for those unable to do so. Thus, a reduction in IOLA funding combined with the proposed increases in fees will have a crippling effect on the poor. Chief Judge Lippman has attempted to address this shortfall by including $15 Million in the Judiciary’s 2010 budget to provide civil legal services. This step has been met by critical response from the Governor who stated “the Judiciary has no direct responsibility” for these services. The Governor seeks the removal of this item from the Judiciary’s budget and promises to address the issue with the increase of civil court filing fees. One such increase is the proposal to raise the fee for filing a motion in a civil matter from $45.00 to $120.00. This increase, coupled with the depreciation of IOLA funds, will only further burden the ability of the poor and lower middle classes to receive adequate civil legal services. We must work together as a profession with dedicated persistence to ensure that “Access to Justice” programs and civil legal services are appropriately funded for all citizens to exercise their right to be heard. The New York State Bar Association and the Legal Aid Society have provided both testimony and information to our state legislators underscoring the importance of continued funding of IOLA and these civil legal services. Now it is our turn to call the Governor at (518) 474-8390 and tell him to fund civil legal services. I am sure that many of you had fathers like mine. They would tell us that at this moment we need to “make room at the table”. Pick up the phone before you forget.
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