News From the Center
PRO BONO APPEALS PROGRAM
The Rural Law Center continues its collaborative connection with the New York State Bar Association through a rural Pro Bono Appeals Program. This innovative partnership, anchored with the NYSBA Committee on Courts of Appellate Jurisdiction, is providing high quality, appellate representation to rural New Yorkers with meritorious issues. We are especially excited about this program because there are almost no appellate resources for low income rural clients. When appeals are done by locally assigned counsel, the assigned attorney is usually a rural general practitioner, with little or no appellate experience. Coupled with the outrageously high costs of having a transcript prepared, few rural litigants, even of moderate means, can afford appellate representation. This program provides lawyers who are expert appellate attorneys. These attorneys often come from large urban law firms, who are willing to pay, through their firm’s pro bono program, all of the costs for the Record on Appeal.
This project deals with civil matters in New York’s Third and Fourth Departments that touch on the "essentials of life" issues that Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman has outlined in his Task Force Reports. The expanded focus of this program now includes issues of shelter and housing, subsistence income and benefits, health and education, personal safety and family stability.
The Rural Law Center is specifically involved in outreach to rural trial attorneys, assisting with Records on Appeal, developing a Pro Se Appeals Manual, and administering Appeals CLE classes to upstate rural attorneys. Additionally, the Rural Law Center provides staff and office space for this valuable program.
"JUDGES' BEST PRACTICES" PRO BONO/CLE PROJECT
JUDGES' BEST PRACTICES - FT. EDWARD, NEW YORK
L. to R. Hon. Vito C. Caruso, Administrative Judge, 4th Judicial District; Hon. J. Timothy Breen, Family Court, Warren County; Hon. Courtney Hall, Family Court, Saratoga County; Hon. Stephen Ferradino, Supreme Court, Saratoga County.
In these changing times, the growing demand for access to justice for the poor increases the importance of encouraging attorney pro bono activity in New York State. Additionally, the issue of increased need for pro bono involvement in the rural areas of the state, has become more apparent. Since rural practitioners often practice alone, or in small firms, they often do not have the resources available in urban areas. Therefore, they routinely face difficulties of time and distance when trying to meet their mandatory Continuing Legal Education (CLE) requirements. Recognizing both the rural need for pro bono activity and the rural attorney's need for accessible CLE courses, the Rural Law Center of New York, Inc. (RLCNY) initiated its innovative "Judges' Best Practices" Pro Bono/CLE Project nine years ago.
As an accredited CLE provider in New York State, the Rural Law Center travels to rural counties statewide to deliver on-site, locally specific and credit bearing CLE presentations. Each presentation is essentially a partnership between the Rural Law Center, and the local judiciary, the local bar association, and the local legal services program. Generally scheduled as half-day sessions, with the curriculum designed and taught by local judges, these seminars focus on the practice areas of Supreme Court, Family Court, County Court and Surrogate's Court. This model serves the needs of all partners in the project. The judges are able to demonstrate their court's specific expectations and thereby elevate the level of practice. Practicing attorneys receive useful information and guidance from the local courts. And most importantly, attending attorneys (in lieu of registration fees) agree to provide pro bono services that are administered by the local legal services program or the local bar association.
When we began this project, the Rural Law Center was funded primarily by the IOLA Fund of the State of New York. In order to provide the "Judges' Best Practices" to rural regions of the State, the Center received additional funding from the American Bar Association and the New York Bar Foundation. Additionally, variations of these trainings were added and "Best Practices" have been presented in specific areas, such as Domestic Violence Law and Immigration Law.
KINSHIP CARE PROGRAM
There are thousands of children in the rural areas of New York State being raised by relatives, many of whom are grandparents. Any relative, other than a parent, who is the primary caregiver is providing what is now known as Kinship Care. These arrangements may be either temporary or permanent and are established when the parents are unable or unwilling to care for a child due to illness, addiction, incarceration or violence. This care model keeps children in a familiar and nurturing environment and prevents the need for the state to make a foster care placement.
Grandparents and other relatives who assume care for these children often lack legal authority to make important decisions. It is important that these Kinship Caregivers consider filing for custody to have the legal right to make decisions and access services for the children in their care.
Because there is little or no access to legal assistance for low-income grandparents, most attempt to gain custody by entering the Family Court unrepresented and often they are unsuccessful.
The Rural Law Center has entered into a model partnership with county Departments of Social Services and the statewide Kinship Navigator program that provides assistance with petition completion and training for caseworkers. In the past year, our program provided individual legal support to rural families and we provided training for caseworkers, which we estimate will impact the placement of rural children in supportive, extended family networks.