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A long-awaited “action plan” to deal with chemical dependency problems endemic to attorneys, judges and law students was presented Monday by the Commission on Alcohol and Substance Abuse in the Legal Profession. The 19-member advisory group, formed in 1999 by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, proposed a new entity — the “Lawyer Assistance Trust” — to administer an initial $1 million annual budget to help finance existing treatment under local Lawyer Assistance Programs, and to create new ones. “I will make this work,” said Chief Judge Kaye in accepting the recommendations during a meeting held at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Joseph W. Bellacosa, former senior associate judge of the New York Court of Appeals and chair of the committee, was likewise enthusiastic. “This is not for dust bins or lonely library shelves,” said Judge Bellacosa, now dean of St. John’s University School of Law in New York. In addition to “invigorated” educational initiatives and intervention, the commission recommended that the Appellate Division disciplinary committees offer a diversion option for lawyers charged with minor misconduct resulting from their alcohol or drug abuse: a court-monitored dependency treatment program in lieu of disciplinary hearings or investigations. “It’s a breath of fresh air to say we’re going to deal with this, and that we’re not going to condemn these people,” said Joseph Califano, the main speaker. Califano, a former partner with Dewey Ballantine, now heads the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Califano, who served as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, said America was “overwhelmed” by a culture of chemical dependency. “If this were a traditional disease,” he said, “we’d have a Marshall Plan.” The so-called war on drugs, Califano said, was “quixotic” at best, leaving in place an undefeated enemy that threatens to “destroy our democratic institutions, [including] court systems near collapse.” Ray M. Lopez, director of the Lawyer Assistance Program for the New York State Bar Association and a commission member, said lawyers and judges are especially susceptible to alcoholism and drug addiction because “it’s a stressful, stressful business.” With a statewide approach in place, subject to the final say of the Court of Appeals bench, Judge Bellacosa said New York lawyers at risk would now know that “help is on the way,” in the form of the Lawyers Assistance Trust. Funding for the trust would be drawn from a small portion of the $300 attorney registration fee required of the state’s approximately 169,000 lawyers. No increase in registration was foreseen by the commission “at this time,” according to its report.

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