Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman of the state Court of Appeals held a hearing Thursday to hear testimony from around the state regarding the progress of a push to provide civil legal services to New Yorkers who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford representation.
Starting off, Lippman spoke about his passion for providing legal services to the poor in civil proceedings, which is not guaranteed like it is in criminal proceedings. He is touted as a national leader on the issue.
He said his two goals are to see increased public funding for civil legal services and to enhance pro-bono services.
“This is our mission and our responsibility,” he said. “If there isn’t equal justice in our courthouse, we might as well close the doors.”
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was the first witness, and he spoke mainly about his efforts to combat the housing foreclosure crisis. He announced earlier this week the first group of recipients of a three-year $60 million grant for housing counseling and legal services to New Yorkers who are in danger of losing their homes.
The funds for the grant program are a portion of the National Mortgage Servicing Settlement, a $25 billion settlement between five major mortgage banks, 49 states and the federal government over foreclosure abuses. New York’s cut is $548 million in reductions, refinancing and direct payments to homeowners, plus $130 million for housing counseling and legal services.
During his testimony, Schneiderman said more banks might join the settlement.
“No one has yet, but there is the potential for others to sign on to the settlement,” he told reporters after the hearing. “It does require a different set of standards, but if (others) haven’t settled, they still have exposure.
“I hope that we’re going to get some more banks to sign on,” he continued.