By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Despite increased funding from
the legislature, the need for civil legal services for
disadvantaged New Yorkers remains stark, officials and experts
told Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman at a public hearing Monday.
The hearing, the second of four scheduled around the state,
included testimony from Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, New
York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Fern Fisher, the
deputy administrative judge for New York City courts and the
director of the court system's access to justice programs.
"As a pastor, the refrain I so often hear from our poor
folks is, 'I don't know where to turn,'" said Dolan during the
Lippman has frequently referred in speeches to the "justice
gap," the distance between the need for legal services among
impoverished New Yorkers and the available resources,
particularly since the financial crisis has hit the courts in
The hearings are intended to elicit testimony that can
demonstrate to the legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo that
more money is needed to narrow that gap. Lawmakers agreed to
double funding for legal services grants this year to $25
million, but Lippman and others say more help is necessary.
"We might as well close the doors of the courthouses if
equal justice for all is not what we find inside," Lippman said
during his introductory remarks.
Quinn, who is widely expected to run for New York City mayor
next year, made three policy suggestions during her testimony.
She recommended that the court system impose a fee for pro
hac vice attorneys and use the revenues to fund legal services
for low-income clients. According to Quinn, more than 40 states
already collect such a fee.
In addition, she proposed using community-mapping software
-- the same type used to keep track of crime patterns -- to
analyze the precise legal needs of various city neighborhoods.
She also said a detailed cost-benefit analysis would help show
city legislators that money spent on legal service programs more
than pays for itself in the long run by forestalling expensive
But money alone will not solve the problem, according to
testimony submitted by Gillian Hadfield, a professor of law and
economics at the University of Southern California.
With approximately one million low-income households facing
legal problems, according to a court system survey, it's simply
impossible for the state's 150,000 licensed attorneys to provide
enough pro bono hours to help all of those people, the testimony
Hadfield suggested the state "allow people and organizations
other than lawyers and law firms to provide some forms of legal
assistance," much like the medical profession, where a host of
non-doctor personnel handle many healthcare problems.
Lippman will host two more panels this week, in Syracuse and
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