By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Increasing low-income
individuals' access to civil courts can help prosecutors prevent
public safety crises down the road, Nassau County District
Attorney Kathleen Rice said at a public hearing on Thursday.
Rice was the lead witness in the final of four statewide
hearings on access to civil legal services for New Yorkers,
which has been a top priority of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman
since he took office in 2009.
"Access and quality of representation for all is the heart
of a preventative front-end public safety strategy," Rice said
during the hearing at Nassau County Supreme Court on Long
Rice is the president-elect of the District Attorneys
Association of New York.
Many times, Rice said, prosecutors are ethically barred from
giving legal help to crime victims or defendants in related
civil actions -- for instance, in family court proceedings for
domestic violence victims or in home foreclosures. A lack of
available civil legal services could make it more difficult to
address the "root problems" underlying the criminal activity,
Other witnesses at the hearing discussed the need to
increase language translation services in courts, the access to
representation for mental health patients and the dire need to
fund court-appointed lawyers in Article 81 guardianship
Several witnesses spoke about foreclosures, including
Suffolk County District Administrative Judge Randall Hinrichs.
Long Island continues to be hard-hit by foreclosures, and
the need for homeowners and tenants to have legal representation
is as great as when the housing crisis first hit, he said.
"The potential solution is so much better when there's an
The New York courts have secured $40 million in funding this
year for civil legal services for low-income individuals.
Lippman, who has said that amount is not enough, said Thursday
that the court system expects to release the latest report on
civil legal services and its new funding request around Dec. 1.
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