Advocates Outline Benefits of Access to Civil Legal Services for the Poor
Expanding civil legal services for the indigent in New York will have far-reaching benefits for education, health care, criminal justice and the economy, according to witnesses at a hearing convened Thursday by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, including Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch.
The hearing, held in the courthouse the Appellate Division, First Department, was the second such forum Lippman held as part of his push to gain funding from the state Legislature for civil legal services (NYLJ, Sept. 18).
Tisch, the first to testify, said that as an educator she strove to make the schools accessible to more people, and that goal went hand in hand with Lippman's goal of making the civil justice system more accessible.
"Our fundamental goal is the same," she said.
Tisch said that New York students are often held back by family problems that could be solved if they had access to legal counsel for issues like domestic violence, foreclosure, immigration or loss of government benefits.
"We know that these problems impact their ability to learn and in some cases their ability or desire to attend school," she said.
If poor families have access to counsel, she said, they can have the "stability" that allows them to "focus on education."
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, second from right, heard testimony on the need for civil legal services at the Appellate Division, First Department, yesterday. On the panel are, left to right: Glenn Lau-Kee, president-elect of the New York State Bar Association; Luis Gonzalez, presiding justice of the First Department; Lippman; and A. Gail Prudenti, the state's chief administrative judge. Testifying before the panel is Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. NYLJ/Rick Kopstein
Tisch was followed by David Reich, president of Mount Sinai Hospital, and Wendy Goldstein, president of Lutheran HealthCare.