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Legal Service Providers Laud Expansion of Housing Court Representation

Submitted by Amaris Elliott-Engel on Fri, 02/17/2017 - 19:29

Here's a freelance piece I did today for the New York Law Journal about New York City's ground-breaking plan to use city funds to ensure that tenants earning less than 200 percent of the poverty level will have lawyers when facing eviction:

New York City's plan to offer free counsel to low-income Housing Court tenants facing eviction doesn't mean tenants who fail to meet income requirements won't receive any help.

City leaders this month agreed to allocate an extra $93 million to expand representation for tenant with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level, or $50,000 for a family of four. According to City Councilman Mark Levine, two-thirds of tenants in Housing Court fall into that category.

However, city residents who make more than the income threshold will still be entitled to legal guidance if they need it—although how exactly they would receive that guidance remains unclear..

Beth Goldman, president and attorney-in-charge of New York Legal Assistance Group, said that the opportunity to help higher-income tenants with advice—even though they won't get a lawyer to represent them in court—is extremely meaningful. That will mean no one is "going to be completely left on their own" in Housing Court, she said.

Goldman said she hopes the increase in legal services will cause judges to start asking tenants if they have consulted with legal counsel before they proceed with eviction cases.

The proposal expands on the city's previous investment in providing representation for lower-income tenants facing evictions. The city's funding already had increased more than tenfold, from $6 million to $62 million, in the past two years. With the new allocation, the total city spending for Housing Court representation will be $155 million.

According to city officials, the expansion of tenant legal aid since 2014 has led to 27 percent of tenants being represented in court—compared to just 1 percent before—and evictions dropping by 24 percent.

Raun Rasmussen, executive director of Legal Services NYC, said that the city's commitment to funding tenant legal aid already has allowed his organization to hire 120 additional lawyers and paralegals. The "creation of an effective right to counsel is just a stunning development in the justice system," he said.

Rasmussen said Housing Court will have to change how it operates as a result of the $93 million agreement. With more lawyers involved in defending tenants, there will be an increase in motion practice and trials, he said.

The increased spending will be rolled out over five years, in part to give the city's legal aid organizations time to ramp up recruitment and training for a large number of new attorneys, Levine said.

"It was not long ago that barely 1 percent of tenants facing eviction in the city were represented by counsel," Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said in a statement on the additional spending for representation. "Building on funding that the state court system has provided for civil legal services, this landmark agreement will ensure that tenants at risk of losing the roof over their heads receive invaluable legal assistance when they appear in court."

Cuomo's Proposed FOIL Changes Criticized

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed several changes to that state's Freedom of Information Law in the state budget. Open access advocates are criticizing the changes, saying that one would make it "harder for litigants to win court awards of attorney's fees in cases where agencies disregard valid FOIL requests or had no valid reason for delaying compliance with the law" and the other would reject FOIL requests regarding "critical infrastructures", The New York Law Journal's Joel Stashenko reports.

Cuomo also has proposed extended FOIL to the New York Legislature.

NY Governor Vetoes FOIL Reform

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have required government agencies to obey a 90-day limit to appeal court decisions in favor of people requesting information under New York's Freedom of Information Law, The New York Times' Jesse McKinley reports. However, the governor issued an executive order that essentially reversed his veto of the bill, setting a 60-day window for a legal response by government agencies except for "'extremely complex matters or extraordinary circumstances outside agency control.'"

Cuomo also vetoed a bill that would have allowed courts to order legal fees in favor of people who request information

New Case Management Order Being Negotiated for NYC Asbestos Cases

Manhattan Justice Peter Moulton, who is presiding over New York City's asbestos cases, has refused to halt all asbestos litigation while a new case management order is negotiated, The New York Law Journal's Ben Bedell reports. Moulton has called for a reexamination of the case management for asbestos cases, and he appointed a committee of plaintiffs and defense lawyers to negotiate the new order.

The defense bar argues that the current case management order is unfair for allowing cases to be joined for trial and for allowing "cases with little connection to New York City to be tried there."

Foreclosure Filings Staying Strong in New York

The number of foreclosure cases in New York State are not letting up, The New York Law Journal's Joel Stashenko reports. Stashenko was reporting on Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's report that the number of new foreclosure filings in the state is only down by 6 percent between 2013 and 2014. DiNapoli attributed the fall in the number of cases to court rules designed to end problematic foreclosure practices by lenders.

New York Looks to Expand Cameras in the Courtroom

New York court officials are looking to expand the rules governing the use of cameras in the courtroom so they can be used to "'to the fullest extent permissible by the law,'" New York Law Journal's Andrew Keshner reports. The rules for the use of cameras in the courtroom haven't been updated since the 1990s.

The proposed new roles would insert new language saying "'in order to maintain the broadest scope of public access to the courts,' and promote confidence and understanding of the judicial system, 'it is the policy of the Unified Court System to facilitate the audio-visual coverage of court proceedings to the fullest extent permitted by the New York Civil Rights Law and other statutes."'

Public comment must be received by August 10.

Contempt Ordered for Parole Board for Failure to Explain Denial

The New York Board of Parole has been held in contempt for failing to give an explanation as to why it denied parole for a convicted murderer, The New York Law Journal's Ben Bedell reports. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Sciortino had already vacated the 2013 denial of parole to convicted murderer Michael Cassidy. When the parole board denied Cassidy release a second time, Sciortino said their explanation of why restated "'the usual and predictable language with no specificity or other explanation to justify parole denial."'

NY Legislation Would Criminalize Filming Patients Without Prior Consent

A New York Assemblyman has proposed legislation that would make it a felony to film patients receiving medical treatment without prior consent and give patients and their families a private cause of action to sue for damages, ProPublica's Charles Ornstein reports. The bill was filed after a TV show aired the final moments of a patient's life while he was being treated at NewYork-Presybterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and his wife recognized his voice when she saw the episode. New York does not recognize a common law right to privacy.

New York, Colorado and Maine Consider Drone Legislation

The New York legislature is considering bills to restrict the use of drones by law enforcement, the Tenth Amendment Center reports: "Introduced on Jan. 7, Senate Bill 411 (SB411) by Sen. Gordon Denlinger (R-Syosset) and Assembly Bill 1247 (A01247) would ban law enforcement from using a drone in a criminal investigation with a few exceptions, and would prohibit any 'person, entity, or state agency' from using a drone for surveillance anyplace a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy unless they meet specific requirements."

The Colorado Senate is also considering limits for drones, the Associated Press' Kristen Wyatt reports. The bill also would require law enforcement to have warrants before using drones.

Maine is considering a bill that would go even farther, the Tenth Amendment Center also reports. The bill would place a moratorium on all drone use until July 1, 2017, except for emergency situations. After that, law enforcement agencies would need a court order or a warrant to be able to use drones. The law also would create a private right of action for violations of the law.

NY and NJ Governors Support FOIA Reform for Port Authority

The governors of New York and New Jersey are both going to veto a bill that aimed to clean up political patronage at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the New York Times' Jesse McKinley reports. The bill was passed with broad support from legislators in both states. But the governors do support applying Freedom of Information Law to the port authority.


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