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2020Talks - February 28, 2020 


Tomorrow are the South Carolina primaries, and former VP Joe Biden leads in the poll, followed by winner of the first three contests, Sen. Bernie Sanders and businessman Tom Steyer. Some Republican South Carolinians may vote for Sanders because they want closed primaries.

The Case of the Disappearing NY Legal Services?

July 14, 2010

ALBANY, N. Y. - The providers of civil legal services for those who can't afford a lawyer to fight such things as foreclosure, eviction, and denial of benefits say they are in trouble. They say the public protection budget bills passed by the New York Legislature this spring include a devastating 70 percent cut in funding.

Legal services in New York have been chronically underfunded for decades, according to Anne Erickson of Empire Justice Center; now, funding will be cut from $8.6 million to $2.5 million.

"And that's to fund legal services all across the state. So, from Buffalo to Montauk, we just can't function."

Erickson hopes the cuts will be reconsidered if and when lawmakers meet to pass a complete budget. It's been overdue since April 1, and Gov. Paterson has been pushing through extender bills which reflect the state's diminishing resources.

In the meantime, at Nassau-Suffolk Law Services, Sheila Johnson says a domestic violence unit has already been shut down, a consumer debt project had to be closed, and a home preservation project is threatened. And, she says, people to represent those in need are growing scarce.

"We've had to lay off two of our part-time attorneys. There are eight potential layoffs looming. We have a hiring freeze, and we're not replacing attorneys who have left."

Unlike criminal cases in which an indigent defendant can get a court-appointed attorney, Erickson says people who are navigating the complicated legal system in civil cases have no right to an attorney. She calls the shrinking of legal services in trying economic times a "double whammy."

"When people are facing more foreclosures, more evictions, more denial of benefits, more need to access benefits - at the very moment when the services are needed most, they're being cut."

New York is one of only seven states that does not provide stable, ongoing funding for legal services. In other words, if the 70 percent of funding that was cut is not restored, there's nowhere to turn for more.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY