Chief Judge Janet DiFiore Chief Judge Janet DiFiore

A state judiciary panel is scheduled to hold the first of four hearings on Thursday about access to legal representation in family court matters for indigent parents in New York.

The hearings will be the first opportunity for the Commission on Parental Legal Representation, established earlier this year by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, to hear from stakeholders on how to improve the state court system to ensure legal representation in family court.

The commission is led by former Judge Karen Peters, who retired last year after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70. She most recently served as presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Third Department.

The panel is made up of several judges, legal service providers, local government officials, and other experts.

The first hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday in Rochester at the Appellate Division, Fourth Department. It’s expected to last three hours.

Three other hearings will be held in New York City, Albany, and Nassau County.

  • The New York City hearing is set to be held at the Appellate Division, First Department from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 27.
  • The Albany hearing is set to be held at the Third Department from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Oct. 10.
  • The hearing on Long Island is set to be held at Nassau County Supreme Court in Mineola from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 23.

The commission is expected to hear testimony from local government officials, institutional providers, assigned counsel programs and attorneys, their clients, and other stakeholders. The testimony will be used to prepare a report from the commission on how family law matters can be improved in New York.

“The information and suggestions for reform to be elicited from these public hearings will prove vital in moving the commission forward as it strives to build upon the groundwork being done across the state to improve the quality of mandated parental legal representation,” DiFiore said in a statement announcing the hearings.

The commission is expected to examine, in part, whether counsel assigned in family law matters are paid enough and whether the balance of funding between the state and municipalities should be adjusted to better serve indigent family members. It will also consider whether current funding levels are enough to assign appropriate caseloads to attorneys assigned as counsel.

They will also consider whether the right to counsel for indigent family members should attach earlier and how that would benefit individuals. That will also include a discussion about the criteria in determining who is eligible for assigned counsel.

There’s also a unique set of issues that individuals in family court face in counties outside New York City. There is often fewer options for public transportation in rural counties, for example, which may limit the ability for some parents to make it to court. The committee is expected to look at possible solutions to those issues and others.

Any increase in funding for assigned counsel and other family court matters would have to be recommended by the judiciary to be included in next year’s state budget, which state lawmakers typically resolve at the end of March.


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