Legal Aid Society and New York City and Budget Cuts by wvw68654

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									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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