Communications Office:
David Bookstaver, Director
Mai Yee, Assistant Director
(212) 428-2500

Date: September 11, 2001

Seal of the Unified Court System
Chief Judge Targets Shortfall
of Civil Legal Services for New York's Poor
ALBANY - At a judicial summit on increasing access to the legal system held in Albany today, Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye will announce the creation of the New York State Access to Justice Center, designed to address the shortfall of civil legal services available to low-income New Yorkers. The Access to Justice Center will be charged with removing barriers to legal representation for the poor and generating new ideas for civil legal services, including developing permanent funding sources, increasing services for self-represented litigants and promoting the use of alternative dispute resolution. It will be the first court-sponsored entity of its kind in the nation to fostering civil legal services for low-income litigants and to developing public-private partnerships that support the delivery of such services.

Chief Judge Kaye said, "For a family seeking protection from eviction, for an elderly person confused by the social services bureaucracy or for a battered woman fleeing domestic violence, having access to adequate legal services can be critical to their safety and well-being. Yet only a small percentage of impoverished New Yorkers - perhaps 15% - stand a reasonable chance of getting a lawyer when they desperately need one. The Access to Justice Center will serve as the central vehicle for securing long-term funding sources for civil legal services for New Yorkers who need but cannot afford such services. I am grateful to our partners in government for their cooperation in establishing this unique center, which will help ensure equal access to justice for all New Yorkers."

Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman noted, "The state of civil legal services has reached a turning point in New York. Ninety percent of all tenants appearing in Housing Court - many facing eviction from their homes - do not have an attorney. And while the demand for services is great, the supply is shrinking. To address this current predicament, we have created the New York State Access to Justice Center, using seed money allocated for this purpose. The center will galvanize our efforts to find permanent civil legal service funding streams, and I am confident that it will make significant headway in this important area of public interest."
Studies have demonstrated the cost-effectiveness of investing in legal services, with, for example, every dollar spent in eviction prevention programs in New York City yielding four dollars in government savings.

Chief Judge Kaye will announce the establishment of the center at the Access to Justice Conference, a court-sponsored forum of judges, court administrators and legal community leaders that convenes in Albany on September 11 and 12. It will be headed by Hon. Juanita Bing Newton, the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives, who spearheaded the ground-breaking two-day conference. Judge Newton's unique statewide position and office were specially created in 1999 by Chief Judge Kaye and Chief Administrative Judge Lippman as part of an initiative to promote broader access to the New York justice system.

In addition to discussions on the delivery of civil legal services to poor and moderate income New Yorkers, the Access to Justice Conference will also address the challenge of self-represented litigants, increasing pro bono activity within the legal community and expanding community outreach and education. Following the conference - the first held specifically to address issues of access to justice in New York - administrative judges throughout the state will draft action plans proposing ways to improve access to justice for citizens in their respective localities.