ALBANY, NY (01/30/2012)(readMedia)-- New York State Bar Association President Vincent E. Doyle III today urged state lawmakers to approve the Unified Court System's proposed budget and to monitor the long-term impact of past budget cuts on one of the world's busiest court systems.
"We support approval of the Judiciary's budget request as submitted," said Doyle of Buffalo (Connors & Vilardo) in testimony submitted to the Legislature. "However, we ask that you continue to monitor the effects of last year's cuts, that you be sensitive to any further erosion of services due to the cuts, and that you take appropriate steps to help to assure public trust and confidence in our system of justice."
Doyle commended Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, former Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau and newly-designated Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti for "overseeing a system of justice responsive to the needs of the people of this state during the current economic crisis."
Earlier this month, the Executive Committee of the State Bar Association released a report documenting how New York State's court system has struggled with recent cuts – including $170 million in budget cutbacks during the current fiscal year.
"Limited courthouse hours delay the resolution of cases, increase backlogs and increase costs to litigants," Doyle said, highlighting some of the findings of the report. "Many emergency matters, including domestic violence and family court cases, cannot be heard on the same day that the underlying petition is filed. In criminal cases, delays are leading to longer periods of pre-trial incarcerations."
The State Bar report on court budget cuts is available at www.nysba.org/CourtFundingReport.
Doyle's testimony is available at www.nysba.org/VEDTestimony1-30-12.
One of the State Bar's highest priorities is providing civil legal services for low-income New Yorkers. "Unfortunately, the need for civil legal services has far outpaced the available resources," Doyle said. He praised Chief Judge Lippman for proposing $25 million in funding, an increase of $12.5 million.
He urged the Legislature to again appropriate $15 million to bolster the Interest on Lawyer Account (IOLA) Fund, which uses interest collected on escrow accounts to finance grants to legal service providers. IOLA's revenues have plummeted because of low interest rates and a decline in real estate sales.
Doyle commended Governor Andrew Cuomo for maintaining funding for the Office of Indigent Legal Services and noted that the office is a step in the right direction toward making the constitutional guarantee of effective assistance of counsel a reality for all. The Association will work with the Governor, the Assembly and the Senate to enhance the important function of the office – to provide support and relief to localities in fulfilling the mandate of the U.S. and New York constitutions.
He also addressed the Governor's plan to expand the DNA database to include the collection of DNA samples from individuals convicted of all felonies and Penal Law misdemeanors. "No one can seriously argue with the Governor's objective of exonerating the innocent and convicting the guilty," Doyle said.
"My overriding concern with the proposal is that it is limited in its scope and effect," he said, explaining that addressing many of the root causes of wrongful convictions requires a comprehensive approach.
In addition to expanding DNA collection, Doyle said the Legislature should consider such proposals as: requiring the videotape recording of police interrogations; addressing mistaken-identity testimony with changes in how police lineups are conducted; strengthening a prosecutor's obligation to turn over evidence favorable to the defense; and allowing a defendant who had pleaded guilty to a crime to petition a judge to obtain a DNA test.
"Too many innocent people are convicted and spend all or part of the rest of their lives in prison," Doyle said. "Governor Cuomo's DNA proposal takes a serious step in the right direction. The Legislature should build on the Governor's proposal and enact a comprehensive law that would allow New York to say that it has led the way in minimizing the risk of wrongful convictions."
The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876.