ALBANY, N.Y., Feb 6 (Reuters) - The New York City Bar Association will focus in 2012 on increasing access to the legal
system for the poor, adding judges to family and civil courts
and consolidating state trial courts, the group said in a
wide-ranging report released Monday.
The 53-page report is a compilation of the association's
views on a host of issues currently before the state
legislature, some of which impact attorneys and the court system
directly, and others that do not.
Like its statewide counterpart, the New York State Bar
Association, the NYCBA is calling on the legislature to pass the
Office of Court Administration's proposed $2.5 billion budget in
full. The proposal cuts spending slightly from last year, while
including $28 million for raises for the state's 1,300 trial
court judges and an additional $12.5 million in funding for
legal services for the poor. Last year, the legislature cut
OCA's spending by $170 million, leading to shorter court hours,
hundreds of layoffs and other cuts that have caused backlogs and
other issues in the court system.
"The budget as proposed is fiscally prudent, ameliorates the
harshest consequences of last year's budget cuts, and helps
address vital unmet legal needs of the state's most vulnerable
individuals," the report reads.
The bar association also wants to see a "simplification" of
the state's court system through the creation of either a
single-tiered or two-tiered system, which would include the
Supreme and District courts, to replace the current maze of
courts. That would likely require a constitutional amendment,
which would take several years to pass.
"Citizens not only find our current court system
frustrating, inconvenient and difficult to understand, but they
are often forced to pursue relief before multiple judges in
different courts," the report says.
Despite the recent lack of funding statewide, the report
also calls for more judges in the city's family courts in order
to expedite permanency proceedings, in which permanent homes are
found for foster children. A 2005 law mandates the proceedings
to be completed within six months, but family courts have had
trouble keeping up with the requirement due to strained
resources, according to the report.
The state should also complete what it started in 1993, the
report says, by deciding how to spread out 11 new judgeships in
New York City Civil Court, where filings have tripled over the
last decade. The legislature created the positions almost 19
years ago, but never passed legislation apportioning those seats
among the five boroughs.
The report also calls for the creation of a fifth judicial
district in order to ease the burden on the Second Department,
where caseloads are currently higher than the Third and Fourth
Departments combined, a commission-based judicial appointment
system to replace the current convention process controlled by
political parties, and the creation of a private right of action
for improper debt collection.
NYCBA is also backing a number of proposals with annual
constituencies in Albany. Among them are the Gender Expression
Non-Discrimination Act, which would add "gender identity and
expression" to the list of categories protected from
discrimination under a number of state laws, the Reproductive
Health Act, which would codify the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe
v. Wade, and a bid by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to require anyone
convicted of a crime to submit a DNA sample to the state's
criminal database. The state Senate passed the DNA bill last
week, but a number of Assembly members said they want the
proposal to include greater access to the database for
(Reporting by Dan Wiessner)
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