The Proskauer corporate social responsibility and pro bono blog

Francis Lewis High School Makes Semi-Final Run in Moot Court Competition

For over 30 years, Proskauer lawyers have worked with students from Francis Lewis High School in Queens to help prepare them for moot court competitions. This year’s program was unlike any other with practices held over Zoom from living rooms and bedrooms across the City; and, instead of walking up to the lectern at the Thurgood Marshall Courthouse, a grand classical revival landmark in lower Manhattan, each student argued at home in front of a laptop. Despite the challenging situation, the competitors made it to the semi-finals of this year’s Metropolitan Mentor Moot Court competition for the first time in ten years. Continue Reading

New York City Bar Report Recommends Changes in the Appointment and Assignment Process for Family Court Judges

Delays in New York City Family Court proceedings too often result from an inadequate number of judges combined with a court structure that makes it difficult to allocate judges where they are most needed.  Although these structural faults require legislative and constitutional changes, there are certain steps, according to a recent New York City Bar Association report, that the Office of Court Administration (OCA) and the Mayor’s Office should take now to improve the judicial appointment and assignment process.

As members of the work group that produced the report, we are struck by the almost impossible burden placed on court administrators to manage efficiently an archaic and confusing system of 11 separate and distinct trial courts with varying jurisdictions.  Due to the lack of sufficient Family Court judges, OCA assigns judges to the Family Court on a temporary basis from other courts.  Every time a judge moves from one court to another, cases are reassigned, causing delay and confusion among litigants.  Moreover, when judges are assigned without experience or expertise in family law as they take over cases lacking familiarity with prior proceedings, they understandably do not perform at the same level of efficiency as fulltime Family Court Judges.

It is not simply, however, the assignment process that causes delay. Indeed, too often there is a lag between a Family Court vacancy and the appointment of a new judge.   The Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary (“MACJ”), which is comprised of 19 highly qualified members of the New York Bar, is responsible for nominating judicial candidates for appointment and reappointment by the Mayor.

To help alleviate delay in Family Court, the report makes certain recommendations which include:

  • Training: Judges who are new to the Family Court should be better trained in the substantive areas they are adjudicating and in case management.
  • Data Collection: OCA should collect, compile and analyze data in each county as to the length and frequency of delay caused by vacancies, which would help track caseload and staffing needs and would also help identify the causes of delay.
  • Transparency and Coordination: OCA and MACJ should improve communication and planning to avoid any unnecessary delay in the appointment process and should announce appointments and reassignments so that stakeholders and the public are given sufficient notice.
  • Expanding MACJ: Given the substantial work load, the appointment process would benefit from increasing the number of MACJ members.
  • Expeditious Appointments:  Where possible, the Mayor should select appointees before vacancies arise.

This report lays bare serious issues that need to be addressed not only through the report’s recommendations but through broader reform efforts in New York to simplify the court structure and thereby unify the various trial courts.

Indeed, the work group that produced this report heard directly from practitioners and institutional providers who described the real-world impact of extended judicial vacancies, the rapid turnover of jurists, and the failure to be notified in a timely fashion of reassignments.  As the report states, “the current system leaves the Family Court in a state of constant flux . . . that compromises the administration of justice, often at critical points for the safety and security of families and children.”

Bloomberg and Proskauer Sponsor Equal Justice Works Fellow at Mount Sinai Medical Legal Partnership

COVID-19 has been catastrophic for the wellbeing of low-income Americans, particularly in communities of color. The costs to health and human life have been devastating and the substantial collateral damage on the financial and social fabric of the country is expected to be felt into 2021 and beyond. One of this country’s leading hospitals, Mount Sinai, is addressing the legal needs of its patients through the Mount Sinai Medical Legal Partnership (MSMLP).  Serving one of the most diverse populations of any hospital, MSMLP addresses critical and urgent legal needs that may be affecting a patient’s health such as income maintenance, housing, education and employment, legal status and personal and family stability. This vital work is needed now more than ever.

To this end, Bloomberg and Proskauer are sponsoring Equal Justice Works Fellow Rita Gilles who will work at MSMLP under the supervision of the LegalHealth division of New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG). Rita, a recent graduate of Yale Law School, will provide legal aid to low-income families of children and adolescent patients at Mount Sinai. Continue Reading

Proskauer’s Amicus Brief Challenges the Constitutionality of Massachusetts Law Mandating that Children Charged with Murder Be Tried and Sentenced as Adults

On November 25, 2020, Proskauer filed a motion for leave to file an amicus brief on behalf of Citizens for Juvenile Justice and the Committee for Public Counsel Services, Youth Advocacy Division in support of Raymond Concepcion, a youth with disabilities who was automatically tried as an adult, convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 20 years.  Proskauer’s brief urged the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts to find that section 74 of the Youthful Offender Act is unconstitutional, reverse Raymond’s conviction and remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

Background

When Raymond was 15 years old, two adult gang members ordered him to shoot a stranger, promising that he could leave the gang if he complied.  Out of fear, Raymond did as instructed and shot a man, killing him.  Raymond has an IQ of 66 and the developmental maturity of an eight- or nine-year-old.  As a younger child living in the Dominican Republic, Raymond suffered emotional distress after witnessing shootings of multiple family members.  When he was 12 years old, Raymond moved to Boston, where he attended three different public schools and failed nearly all his classes.  An expert testified to Raymond’s psychological, social and intellectual capacities.  Nevertheless, pursuant to section 74 of the Youthful Offender Act, due to his age and alleged offense, Raymond was automatically tried in adult court, where he was automatically sentenced to life imprisonment and given an above-minimum parole eligibility date.  Raymond’s youth and intellectual disability were disregarded at his indictment, trial and sentencing. Continue Reading

Federal Court Considers Proskauer Amicus Brief on Behalf of 25 Leading Colleges and Universities in Setting Aside Visa Restrictions

As we previous reported, on October 30, 2020, Proskauer filed an amicus brief on behalf of 25 leading colleges and universities in support of a preliminary injunction, and, in the alternative, for partial summary judgment sought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the Northern District of California against Interim Final Rules issued by the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Labor.  The new Rules would have substantially limited the ability of academic institutions to employ thousands of highly skilled international workers through the H-1B, H-1B1, E-3, EB-2, and EB-3 visa programs.  Because DHS and DOL issued the Interim Final Rules without providing the required notice-and-comment period under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), these colleges and universities did not have the chance to weigh in on the effect the Rules would have on their institutions.  Proskauer’s amicus brief gave these academic institutions an opportunity to have their voices heard and to educate the Court regarding the Rules’ significant impact on both international workers and the institutions that benefit from their groundbreaking contributions. Continue Reading

It Is Time to Address the VA’s Enormous Backlog of Claims for Disability Benefits

Nearly half of the 20 million veterans in the United States use at least one government benefit or service offered by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (commonly known as the “VA”). Many of these veterans have developed mental and physical disabilities related to their service, and are entitled to compensation.  However, despite the urgency to address the financial and medical burdens hampering our nation’s veterans, the process to obtain disability benefits is often long and complicated. In 2017, it took an average of 125 days to receive a decision on an initial claim, while appeals to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (the “Board”) took an average of seven years to resolve.

There are a range of administrative, political, and logistical factors that contribute significantly to these delays, such as a marked increase in the number of complex claims, understaffing, flawed case-tracking technology, and high staff turnover. The Board has also found that adjudicators frequently commit errors, release flawed findings, and make determinations based on inadequate information – as high as 57% of cases it reviewed in 2017 – regularly causing both simple and complex cases alike to languish in a backlog for months or years on end.

Furthermore, the VA itself describes the structure of the appeals system as a “complex, multi-stage, non-linear process,” which is difficult to navigate as an attorney, let alone as an individual applicant without representation. Through our partnerships with the New York City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project, the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Veterans Legal Services Project, and the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School’s Veterans Legal Clinic, Proskauer attorneys have helped countless veterans obtain the benefits they deserve.  Even with an experienced lawyer, delays are common and often devastating to indigent and disabled veterans who rely on the financial support for everyday necessities.

There have been recent attempts to address the untenable situation through a push for increased staffing and new legislation.  The Appeals Modernization Act (the “AMA”), which went into effect in February 2019, seeks to simplify and hasten the appeals process. Under the AMA, veterans have a choice of three channels through which to challenge a decision: a supplemental claim, a request for higher-level review, or a direct appeal to the Board.  The former two options provide an opportunity to resolve disagreements at the regional office level before appealing the Board.

The AMA has had some initial success. Wait times for initial decisions have decreased to around 96 days, while supplemental claims and higher-level review decisions are taking around 60 and 41 days, respectively.  Long delays, however, still persist for Board appeals, which may be due to the prioritization of “legacy” appeals (those that were pending prior to AMA becoming law).

And, unfortunately, the COVID-19 public health crisis has threatened this recent modest progress.  At the onset of the pandemic, the backlog of initial claims had been kept relatively stable at 70,000, but by May 29, 2020, it had spiked to 114,000.  While the VA continues to accept, process, and decide claims while working remotely, the in-person medical exams which provide crucial evidence of a claimant’s disabilities and are usually integral to proving a claim were suspended from April 2, 2020 through late May 2020.  Exams have resumed in many locations but the suspension likely has contributed to the growing backlog and slowed the decline in processing times.

It is too early in the law’s implementation to know whether the AMA signifies any meaningful change for former service members.  One thing, however, is certain: the resources, support, and services offered to veterans with disabilities are inadequate.  The VA needs significant investment and improvement in their clinical, adjudicatory, and administrative processes if it is to properly care for those who selflessly gave their health for the safety of this nation.

The authors wish to acknowledge former Proskauer Summer Associate Madeline Coburn for her significant contributions in drafting this blog post.

Taking Action for Families Separated at the Border

An anxious mother, detained in a separate facility from her son, is informed that authorities had lost track of him.  A devastated father is deported without his child.  A crying child is ripped from his father’s arms and put into a cage-like metal cell.  These Proskauer clients – all escaping violence in Central America – suffered those horrors not in their home countries but in the country where they sought asylum, in the United States.

Beginning in 2017 as a pilot project, the U.S. government began splitting thousands of families in an effort to deter immigration across the southern border.  The practice became official in 2018 through the government’s “zero tolerance” policy which called for the detention and prosecution of all individuals – including those seeking asylum – who crossed the border anywhere other than an official port of entry.

While national outrage prompted an official end to the policy, the government did not stop, and to this day continues to separate families.  In total, over 5,500 children have been separated from their parents since 2017, at least 1,100 of whom were separated after the policy officially ended.  Tragically, the parents of 666 separated children still have not been found. Continue Reading

LexBlog