ALBANY – Adequate funding for state and federal courts tops the list of legislative priorities released last week by the New York State Bar Association.
The organization also called for additional funding for civil legal services for indigent New Yorkers.
The proposed budget for the Judiciary would increase such funding to $40 million from $25 million in the fiscal year beginning April 1. Overall, the Judiciary’s spending plan of just under $2 billion would increase spending on the courts by about 3.9 percent, an increase court administrators attributed mainly to inflation and higher salaries and benefits (NYLJ, Dec. 3, 2012).
The state bar’s program does not refer specifically to the proposal but says that “providing adequate funding for our state courts in order to maintain public trust and confidence in our justice system is essential and remains a top priority. Any cuts would inevitably result in further limitations on the courts’ ability to function effectively.”
On the federal level, the organization reiterated its opposition to proposals to “sequester” 8.2 percent in court funds and slash federal support of the Legal Services Corporation.
A recent budget compromise suspended the court cuts but only for two months.
“Those devastating cuts…will take effect in two months unless Congress acts,” state bar president Seymour James, attorney-in-charge of criminal practice for the New York City Legal Aid Society, said in a statement. “We are concerned that the threatened cuts would severely limit access to justice for individuals and businesses.”
The state bar said it would again lobby Albany for a package of measures designed to reduce the chance that innocent people are tried and convicted of crimes.
Those recommendations include the videotaping of all custodial interrogations of juvenile and adult suspects, the adoption of “double-blind” lineup procedures and better enforcement of prosecutors’ obligation to disclose exculpatory information to defense attorneys.
In addition to extending videotaping to interrogations to juvenile and well as adult suspects, the state bar urged the Legislature to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 from 16, saying that “research shows 16- and 17-year-olds have significantly diminished judgmental capabilities, compared with those of adults.”
The state bar’s recommended initiatives to reduce wrongful convictions were outlined almost four years ago in a 2009 report by the association’s Task Force on Wrongful Convictions, but its program has gained little traction in Albany.
The bar group urged the support of equal rights for same-sex couples. In 2011, it strongly supported the recognition of same-sex marriage in New York. Among the state bar’s other priorities are a revision of the state’s Not-for-Profit Incorporation Law; opposition to federal tort reform, leaving the area to the states; and federal assistance for civic education in elementary and high schools.
@|Joel Stashenko can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.