Cindy Rodriguez is the Urban Policy reporter for New York Public Radio.
Judge Proposes Increase in Civil Legal Aid
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
New York's chief judge is asking the state legislature for a $100 million increase in civil legal services for the poor. It would go towards defending clients in evictions, foreclosures and other debt-related cases.
Chief judge Jonathan Lippman says while it may be counterintuitive to ask for more money during tough economic times, it actually makes perfect sense.
"Because the ones hit hardest by this economic collapse in the state is the poor and the most vulnerable among us and if you let these people fall off the cliff, the consequences in every way are damaging", Lippman said.
The money would get phased in over four years, bringing spending on this type of legal services up by 50 percent in 2015. The judicial system's total proposed budget is $2.7 billion, slightly less than the current years budget. Lippman says he's made cuts in other areas such as operations.
The budget has to be approved by the state legislature. A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's office says it's too early to speculate on next year's budget. It's still unclear whether the state senate will be controlled by Democrats or Republicans.
The proposed increase is being praised by organizations that provide civil legal services to the poor and often complain they turn away large numbers of people in crisis and in need of help due to a lack of funding.
Doug Lasdon from the Urban Justice Center, an organization that runs legal clinics for the mentally ill and low income street vendors, said it's the first time in his 25 year career he has seen anyone propose an increase in this type of funding.
While criminal defense representation is supposed to be guaranteed, the same doesn't hold true for people involved in civil litigation.
Lippman says a task force he appointed recently found that in civil cases the representation rate was about 20 percent.