Defenders Association Salutes Founder of Center for Family Representation

Susan Jacobs Receives Jonathan E. Gradess Service of Justice Award

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY (07/24/2018) (readMedia)-- In the presence of public defense lawyers from across New York State, Susan Jacobs was honored on Monday night for her work to transform family defense. The founding Executive Director and current Special Counsel of the Center for Family Representation (CFR) in New York City, Jacobs received recognition for advancing the principle that "Every Family Matters," far beyond the organization she created in 2002.

The New York State Defenders Association (NYSDA) presented Jacobs with its Jonathan E. Gradess Service of Justice Award. "NYSDA honors Susan Jacobs for implementing her vision of legal representation that truly serves clients, and therefore families, experiencing challenges that bring them into the family law arena," said NYSDA Acting Director Susan C. Bryant, who presented the award. "We particularly honor her willingness to share both her vision and her knowledge with the defender community," Bryant added.

Professor Martin Guggenheim of the New York University School of Law Family Defense Clinic, a founding CFR board member who has coauthored publications and worked with Jacobs on many projects, said this upon hearing about Jacobs' award: "Sue didn't just create CFR; she designed, and implemented a new kind of legal representation for parents in Family Court child welfare cases." He went on, "Sue has also tirelessly led a national movement to advance family defense throughout the United States ...."

A past blog post in the website of the Office of Indigent Legal Services (ILS) highlighted Jacobs' (and Guggenheim's) use of research in advocating for high quality representation of parents in family court matters. The post referred to a 2014 article that "highlights several programs providing high quality representation to parents in family court matters, and cites research and statistics showing the considerable benefits to families, improvements to court efficiency, and overall cost savings that can result from effective legal representation for parents."

The award Jacobs received commends individuals or organizations that have provided outstanding support to public defense and to NYSDA. In fulfilling its mission to improve the quality and scope of representation mandated by law for individuals who cannot afford counsel in criminal and family matters, NYSDA provides training for lawyers. That training includes substantive law and legal skills, but also strives to instill in public defense lawyers a commitment to client-centered representation. Illustrating why NYSDA honored Jacobs is Guggenheim's observation that Jacobs insists "that excellent legal representation also means paying attention to clients outside of court."

NYSDA Family Court Staff Attorney Lucy McCarthy noted that Jacobs contributed significantly to the planning of the first statewide conference of family defenders, Families Matter, in 2015, cosponsored by NYSDA, ILS, and the Child Welfare Court Improvement Project. Jacobs continues to be a resource for this recurring event. McCarthy added that Jacobs "is always a gracious commentator, always a voice of wisdom, and always generous with her time," and "is unfailingly generous in sharing information and strategy, and suggesting expert speakers, to help NYSDA create engaging and useful Family Court training events."

The Jonathan E. Gradess Service of Justice Award is named for NYSDA's former Executive Director, who retired in 2017.