177 Livingston Street 7th Floor Brooklyn, NY 11201 (718) 254-0700 info@bds.org

ABOUT

COVID-19 INFORMATION

Due to the ongoing public health emergency related to COVID-19, Brooklyn Defender Services’ physical offices are closed to visitors until further notice.

However, our staff continues working diligently on your cases and continues handling intake, arraignments, and emergencies. We are receiving calls and emails. If you are unable to reach our staff, please leave a message and we will respond as soon as we can. 

To access a directory of staff phone numbers, please click here.

To find a guide to available resource and services, please see our COVID-19 Resource Guide.

We understand that these are difficult times. We understand that life circumstances are being dramatically altered due to COVID-19.  We are available to help you. See below to learn more about how this affects your case and how to get in contact with our staff. 

 

For all criminal cases, including criminal cases sent to Family Court:

  • The criminal courts are closed except for arraignments, Youth Part 1 (YP1), and a limited number of urgent applications, all of which are being conducted by video. Although arraignments at 120 Schermerhorn St. are taking place by video, they are open to the public.  Members of the public can go to the arraignment courtroom on the first floor of 120 Schermerhorn St. and watch the video arraignment.  Arraignments of Adolescent Offenders in Youth Part 1 (YP1) at 320 Jay St. are also taking place by video.  Family and other members of the public may go to Youth Part 1 (YP1) and watch the video arraignment.
  • If you are a client or a family member of a client, do not go to court unless instructed to by an attorney. Most cases will be automatically adjourned to a new court date without clients appearing.
  • Your attorney will call you or your family with your new court date.
  • For questions about your case, if you already have your attorney’s phone number, please feel free to reach out to them directly. If not, or for additional information, please call 718-254-0700 or email bds@bds.org
  • Note: If you know or have a loved one incarcerated who is feeling ill or having difficulty accessing medical care, please contact Jail Services at 646-787-3325 (English) or 646-971-2710 (Spanish). The person must be represented by BDS.

 

For Family Court ACS cases:

  • Please do not travel to the Family Court as the Family Court is operating digitally and is hearing some cases remotely. If you are a client, please contact your attorney or social worker for your next court date and to discuss any issues you have with your family court case.
  • If you cannot reach your attorney or social worker or you have an emergency concerning removal of children, please call 347-592-2500. If someone doesn’t answer, we will call you back as quickly as possible.
  • If you are not a current BDS client but you are being investigated by ACS, please call 646-974-9343 for immediate assistance. If someone doesn’t answer, we will call you back as quickly as possible.

 

For Integrated Domestic Violence (IDV) Court cases:

  • IDV court is physically closed. Cases will be automatically adjourned to a new court date without clients appearing.
  • IDV court is able to hear limited emergency applications.
  • If you have an order that is not being followed or need further legal relief, please contact your IDV attorney (A staff directory is listed at the top of this page)
  • Your attorney will call you or your family with your new court date.

 

For immigration cases:

  • To reach our immigration practice, please call: 718-564-6290
  • For questions regarding DETAINED individuals ONLY: 347-768-3040
  • ICE continues enforcement operations, including arrests at homes, places of business, and near courthouses. Know Your Rights by watching our video series: www.wehaverights.us
  • Until the close of business on July 1, 2020, all in-person reporting requirements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been suspended, and all appointments to report in person to ICE/ERO New York City, or any ICE sub-office (Central Islip and Newburgh) as well as to report in person to ICE contractors (BI) on ATD have been cancelled and will be rescheduled, or you will be contacted telephonically. Previously scheduled telephonic reporting has not been suspended.
  • Hearings for detained individuals are still occurring at the New York Varick Street Immigration Court; most are being conducted by video teleconference.
  • EOIR (Immigration court): Non-detained hearing at 26 Federal Plaza and 290 Broadway in New York scheduled at least through November 13, 2020 have be postponed. Some other immigration courts have resumed non-detained hearings.
  • USCIS is reopening the local offices to the public for ceremonies on June 15, 2020 and will gradually schedule inter-views and appointments later in the month. (Additional information about details has not been provided). Applicants who are scheduled to come to the office will receive a notice and instructions in the mail. Individuals should check the USCIS website and read notices carefully regarding COVID-19 related precautions and requirements for in person appointments.

 

For housing or civil cases:

  • Housing Court, NYCHA, and Evictions:
    • On June 30th, the Governor signed the Tenant Safe Harbor Act into law which protects tenants who have not paid rent between March 7, 2020 and the to-be-determined date when their region fully opens, as long as they can prove they experienced financial hardship during the COVID-19 crisis.
      • This means that a tenant cannot be evicted for unpaid rent that has accrued since the crisis began (as long as they can prove hardship).
      • A tenant, however, can still be held liable for the unpaid rent, as the landlord can receive a monetary judgement against the tenant for the rent accrued during the crisis.
    • The Tenant Safe Harbor Act does not protect tenants with existing warrants of eviction but the universal eviction moratorium continues to still be in place until further notice, and at least until August 6th.
    • Therefore, there will be no evictions of any kind, for anyone, as long as the moratorium is in place. 
    • NYC housing court began accepting new filings again on June 20th
      • Landlords are only permitted to file new eviction cases by mail and tenants who are served with papers for an eviction case do not need to visit the courthouse to respond.   
      • All new eviction petitions are required to include a notice to tenants that they do not have to visit the courthouse to respond to their eviction case.  The notice includes information about how a tenant can respond to the petition by phone.
      • At this time, the court will not be defaulting tenants who fail to respond to an eviction petition.
      • Lawyers for landlords who file a new eviction case must affirm to the court when they file that the eviction is not prohibited by the federal CARES Act moratorium on evictions, which prohibits evictions of tenants in public housing those with Section 8 rental vouchers or those who live in buildings with federally backed mortgages or funding until at least July 25th.
    • Until further notice, the court is not scheduling conferences or hearings in pending eviction cases in housing court in which a tenant is not currently represented by counsel.
    • However, the Office of Court Administration has decided to resume in-person trials in Brooklyn Housing Court beginning on July 27th and although the court will be prioritizing two attorney cases for these trials, they may resume trials involving unrepresented litigants.
    • Tenants who choose to do so may enter into written agreements with their landlords to apply their security deposits to rent and then pay back (replenish) the security deposit over a 12-month period that starts 90 days after the security deposit is applied to rent.
    • NYCHA and other administrative hearings are also being postponed. If you have a client who believes they have an upcoming hearing date let us know.
    • Please reach out to civil if a client receives anything from either court or their landlord.
  • Housing Court remains open for applications addressing post-eviction relief, illegal lockouts, emergency apartment repairs.

 

For questions about public benefits:

  • All negative case actions have been canceled. Appointments have been rescheduled. Recertifications have been extended automatically.
  • If you need to apply for public assistance or SNAP you can do so online or via the HRA Access app: https://a069-access.nyc.gov/accesshra/.
  • Most HRA offices are closed! If you must visit in person call 311 for available locations.
  • Food assistance is available at a food pantry near you.  Call 311 for locations.
  • If you have questions, or would like to speak to the civil practice, please ask your attorney to make a referral or contact us at 332-213-4193.

 

For questions about education and employment

  • For the 2020-21 school year, the New York City Department of Education has stated that it plans to open its schools using a “blended learning” model, with a mix of in-person and remote learning, as long as infection rates in the community stay below 3%. The DOE’s reopening plan is available here.
  • Students who are participating in blended learning will receive their school schedules at some point in August, but the DOE has indicated that students who opt to participate in blended learning will attend school between one and three days each week. Families also have the option for their students to do all of their learning remotely, and can indicate their desire to have their children attend school remotely full-time by filling out the learning preferences form.
  • The only opportunity to switch to blended learning will be from November 2-15, by filling out this form. Families who choose blended learning can choose for their children to do 100% remote learning at any time. More updates about the return to school can be found here.
  • Over 400 school locations are continuing to serve Grab and Go meals over the summer. Meals will be available for children and families from 7:30 a.m. through 11:30 a.m. and for adults from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. No registration, ID, or documentation is required to pick up these meals. People can find the closest location serving meals here. Families may also text the word “Food” or “Comida” to 877-877 to find the closest meal hub.
  • If you or a family member are unable to work because of factors related to coronavirus, you may be eligible for immediate unemployment insurancepandemic unemployment assistancevarious forms of paid leaveworker’s compshort term disability, or a reasonable accommodation such as working from home.  You also have the right to work in safe conditions and have protections against discrimination.
  • If you want more information about your child’s educational rights in this uncertain time, or what employment benefits you might be eligible for, contact us at education@bds.orgemployment@bds.org, or call us at 646-971-2722.

 

Community office:

  • Our community office is currently closed but we are working remotely and available to help.
  • If you have issues or questions about ACS, education, housing, education, employment benefits, re-entry services, criminal matters or general legal issues, please call 646-971-2722 or email us at communityoffice@bds.org.

 

For all media and press inquiries please email Daniel Ball at dball@bds.org. 

COVID-19 INFORMACION

Debido a la actual emergencia de salud pública relacionada con el Coronavirus COVID-19, las oficinas físicas de Brooklyn Defender Services están cerradas a los visitantes hasta nuevo aviso.

Sin embargo, nuestro personal continúa trabajando diligentemente en sus casos y continúa manejando admisión, acusaciones y emergencias. Estamos recibiendo llamadas y correos electrónicos. Si no puede comunicarse con nuestro personal, deje un mensaje y le responderemos lo antes posible.

Para acceder al directorio de números de teléfono del personal, haga clic aquí.

Para encontrar una guía de recursos y servicios disponibles, consulte nuestra Guía de Recursos COVID-19.

Entendemos que estos son tiempos difíciles. Entendemos que las circunstancias de la vida están siendo alteradas dramáticamente debido al COVID-19. Estamos disponibles para ayudarlo. Consulte a continuación para obtener más información sobre cómo esto afecta su caso y cómo ponerse en contacto con nuestro personal.

 

 

Para todos los casos criminales, Incluyendo los casos enviados a la corte de familia:

  • Los tribunales penales están cerrados, excepto por comparecencias, Juventud Parte 1 (YP1) y un número limitado de solicitudes urgentes, las cuales se llevan a cabo por video. Aunque las comparecencias en el 120 de Schermerhorn St. se realizan por video, están abiertas al público. Los miembros del público pueden ir a la sala de comparecencia en el primer piso del 120 de Schermerhorn St. y ver el video de la misma. Las comparecencias de delincuentes adolescentes en Juventud Parte 1 (YP1) en el 320 de Jay St. también se llevan a cabo por video. Los familiares y otros miembros del público pueden ir a Juventud Parte 1 (YP1) y ver la comparecencia en video.
  • Si usted es un cliente, o un miembro de la familia de un cliente, no vaya a la corte a menos que se lo indique un abogado. La mayoría de los casos se pospondrán automáticamente y se les dará una nueva fecha en la corte sin que tengan que comparecer clientes.
  • Su abogado lo llamará a usted o su familia con su nueva fecha de corte.
  • Si tiene preguntas sobre su caso, o si tiene el número de teléfono de su abogado, no dude en comunicarse directamente. De lo contrario, o para obtener información adicional, llame al 718-254-0700 o envíe un correo electrónico a bds@bds.org.
  • Nota: si tiene un ser querido encarcelado que se siente enfermo o tiene dificultades para obtener atención médica, comuníquese con Servicios Carcelarios al 646-787-3325 (inglés) o al 646-971-2710 (español). La persona debe estar representada por BDS.

 

Para corte de Familia y casos de ACS:

  • No viaje al Tribunal de Familia ya que el Tribunal de Familia está funcionando digitalmente y está atendiendo algunos casos de forma remota. Si es cliente, comuníquese con su abogado o trabajador social para su próxima cita en la corte y para discutir cualquier problema que tenga con su caso en la corte de familia.
  • Si no puede comunicarse con su abogado o trabajador social, o tiene una emergencia relacionada con la remoción de niños, llame al 347-592-2500. Si alguien no responde, le devolveremos su llamada lo antes posible.
  • Si no es un cliente actual de BDS pero ACS lo está investigando, llame al 646-974-9343 para recibir asistencia inmediata. Si alguien no responde, le devolveremos su llamada lo antes posible.

 

Para casos judiciales de violencia doméstica integrada (IDV):

  • La corte IDV está físicamente cerrada. Los casos se reprogramarán automáticamente a una nueva fecha en la corte sin que comparezcan los clientes.
  • La corte IDV puede atender solicitudes limitadas de emergencia.
  • Si tiene una orden que no se está siguiendo o necesita más ayuda legal, comuníquese con su abogado de IDV (en la parte superior de esta página encontrará un directorio del personal).
  • Su abogado lo llamará a usted o su familia con su nueva fecha de corte.

 

Para casos de inmigración:

  • Número de teléfono de la práctica de inmigración de BDS: 718-564-6290
  • Para preguntas relacionadas ÚNICAMENTE con personas DETENIDAS: 347-768-3040
  • ICE continúa sus operaciones de aplicación de la ley, incluyendo arrestos en hogares, lugares de negocios y cerca de los tribunales. Conozca sus derechos viendo nuestra serie de videos: wehaverights.us
  • Hasta el cierre de negocios, el 1 de julio de 2020, todos los requisitos de presentación de informes en persona con el Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas (ICE) han sido suspendidos, y todas las citas para informar en persona a ICE / ERO New York City o cualquier sub-oficina (Central Islip y Newburgh), así como para informar en persona a los contratistas de ICE (BI) sobre ATD, se han cancelado y se reprogramarán, o se le contactará telefónicamente. Los informes telefónicos programados previamente no se han suspendido.
  • Las audiencias para las personas detenidas todavía se llevan a cabo en el Tribunal de Inmigración de Varick Street en Nueva York; la mayoría se realizan por video teleconferencia.
  • EOIR (Immigration court): Audiencias para las personas no detenidas en las cortes 26 Federal Plaza y 290 Broadway en Nueva York programadas hasta por lo menos el 13 de noviembre han sido prorrogadas. Algunas otras cortes de inmigración han reiniciado audiencias para las personas no detenidas.
  • El USCIS abrirara sus oficinas locales al publico para ceremonias el dia 15 de Junio del 2020 y gradualmente dara citas para entrevistas y citas mas adelante este mes (informacion adicional sobre los detalles no han sido provistos). Aquellos aplicantes que tienen cita para visitar la oficina recibiran una noticia y instrucciones por medio del correo. Individuos deben de visitar la pagina de web del USCIS y leer las noticias cuidadosamente sobre el COVID-19, precauciones y requisitos para las citas en persona.

 

Para casos de vivienda o casos civiles:

  • El 30 de junio, el Gobernador firmó la Ley de Protección de Inquilinos que protege a los inquilinos que no han pagado el alquiler entre el 7 de marzo de 2020 y la fecha por determinar cuando su región se abra por completo, siempre que puedan demostrar que han experimentado dificultades financieras durante la crisis de COVID-19.
    • Esto significa que un inquilino no puede ser desalojado por el alquiler impago que se ha acumulado desde que comenzó la crisis (siempre y cuando puedan demostrar dificultades).
    • Un inquilino, sin embargo, aún puede ser considerado responsable del alquiler impago, ya que el propietario puede recibir un juicio monetario contra el inquilino por el alquiler acumulado durante la crisis.
  • La Ley de Puerto Seguro para Inquilinos no protege a los inquilinos con órdenes de desalojo existentes, pero la moratoria de desalojo universal sigue vigente hasta nuevo aviso, por lo menos hasta el 6 de agosto.
  • Por lo tanto, no habrá desalojos de ningún tipo, para nadie, mientras la moratoria esté vigente.
  • El tribunal de vivienda de Nueva York comenzó a aceptar presentaciones nuevamente el 20 de junio
    • Los propietarios solo pueden presentar nuevos casos de desalojo por correo y los inquilinos que reciben documentos para un caso de desalojo no necesitan visitar el tribunal para responder.
    • Se requiere que todas las nuevas peticiones de desalojo incluyan un aviso a los inquilinos de que no tienen que visitar el juzgado para responder a su caso de desalojo. El aviso incluye información sobre cómo un inquilino puede responder a la petición por teléfono.
    • En este momento, el tribunal no estará incumpliendo con los inquilinos que no respondan a una petición de desalojo.
    • Los abogados de los propietarios que presenten un nuevo caso de desalojo deben afirmar ante el tribunal que el desalojo no está prohibido por la moratoria de la Ley federal “CARES” sobre desalojos, que prohíbe los desalojos de inquilinos en viviendas públicas, aquellos con vales de alquiler de Sección 8 o aquellos que viven en edificios con hipotecas o fondos respaldados por el gobierno federal hasta al menos el 25 de julio.
  • Hasta nuevo aviso, el tribunal no programará conferencias o audiencias en casos de desalojo pendientes en un tribunal de vivienda en el que el inquilino no esté representado por un abogado.
  • Sin embargo, la Oficina de Administración de la Corte ha decidido reanudar los juicios en persona en el Tribunal de la Vivienda de Brooklyn a partir del 27 de julio y, aunque la corte dará prioridad a casos de dos abogados para estos juicios, pueden reanudar los juicios que involucren a litigantes sin representación.
  • El Tribunal de la Vivienda permanece abierto para solicitudes que traten casos de alivio posterior al desalojo, cierres ilegales y reparaciones de emergencia en apartamentos.
  • Los inquilinos que elijan hacerlo pueden firmar acuerdos por escrito con sus propietarios para aplicar sus depósitos de seguridad para pagar los meses de mora y luego reponer el depósito de seguridad, hay un período de 12 meses que comienza 90 días después de que el depósito de seguridad se aplique para pagar la renta.
  • NYCHA y otras audiencias administrativas también se posponen. Si tiene un cliente que cree que tiene una próxima fecha de audiencia, infórmenos.
  • Si usted es un cliente existente con preguntas sobre su caso, comuníquese directamente con su abogado.
  • Si usted es un cliente de Brooklyn Defender Services con un problema legal civil, y aún no trabaja con nuestro equipo, o no recuerda con quién está trabajando, comuníquese con nuestro coordinador de admisión en la línea telefónica 332-213-4193.

 

Para preguntas sobre beneficios públicos:

  • Todas las acciones de casos negativos han sido canceladas. Las citas han sido reprogramadas. Las recertificaciones se han extendido automáticamente.
  • Si necesita solicitar asistencia pública o SNAP, puede hacerlo en línea o mediante la aplicación HRA Access: https://a069-access.nyc.gov/accesshra/.
  • ¡La mayoría de las oficinas de HRA están cerradas! Si debe ir en persona, llame al 311 para conocer las ubicaciones disponibles.
  • Asistencia alimentaria está disponsible en una despensa de alimentos cerca de usted. Llame al 311 para conocer las ubicaciones.
  • Si tiene preguntas o desea hablar con la práctica civil, solicite a su abogado que lo remita o contáctenos al 332-213-4193.

 

Para preguntas sobre educación y empleo

  • Para el año escolar 2020-21, el DOE ha declarado que planea abrir sus escuelas utilizando un modelo de “aprendizaje combinado”, con una combinación de aprendizaje presencial y remoto, siempre que las tasas de infección en la comunidad se queden por debajo del 3%. El plan de reapertura del DOE está disponible aquí.
  • Los estudiantes que participan en el aprendizaje combinado recibirán sus horarios escolares en algún momento de agosto, pero el DOE ha indicado que los estudiantes que opten por participar en el aprendizaje combinado asistirán a la escuela entre uno y tres días a la semana. Las familias también tienen la opción de que sus alumnos realicen todo su aprendizaje de forma remota y pueden indicar su deseo de que sus hijos asistan a la escuela de forma remota a tiempo completo completando el formulario de preferencias de aprendizaje.
  • La única oportunidad de poderse cambiar al programa de aprendizaje combinado es del 2 al 15 de noviembre. Complete este formulario.
  • Más de 400 escuelas continúan sirviendo comidas para llevar durante el verano. Las comidas estarán disponibles para niños y familias de 7:30 a.m. a 11:30 a.m. y para adultos de 11:30 a.m. a 1:30 p.m. No se requiere registro, identificación o documentación para recoger estas comidas. Las personas pueden encontrar el lugar más cercano que sirve comidas aquí. Las familias también pueden enviar un mensaje de texto con la palabra “Comida” o “Comida” al 877-877 para encontrar el centro de comidas más cercano.
  • Si usted o un miembro de su familia no pueden trabajar debido a factores relacionados con el coronavirus, puede ser elegible para un seguro de desempleo inmediato, asistencia por desempleo pandémico, varias formas de licencia pagada, compensación del trabajador, discapacidad a corto plazo o una adaptación razonable como desde casa. También tiene derecho a trabajar en condiciones seguras y tener protección contra la discriminación.
  • Si desea obtener más información sobre los derechos educativos de su hijo en este momento de incertidumbre, o para qué beneficios laborales podría ser elegible, comuníquese con nosotros a education@bds.org, employment@bds.org, o llámenos al 646-971-2722.

 

Oficina de la comunidad:

  • Nuestra Oficina de la Comunidad actuelmente se encuentra cerrada, pero estamos trabajando de forma remote y estamos disponsibles para ayudar.
  • Se usted tiene problemas o preguntas sobre ACS, educacion, empleo, vivienda, beneificios de empleados, servicios de reingreso, asuntos criminales, o otras problemas legales, llámenos al 646-971-2722 o envienos un correo electrónico a communityoffice@bds.org.

 

Para todas las consultas de prensa y medios, envíe un correo electrónico a Daniel Ball a dball@bds.org.

 

 

BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES

The mission of Brooklyn Defender Services is to provide high quality legal representation and related services to people who cannot afford to retain an attorney.

Brooklyn Defender Services is a public defender organization that represents nearly 35,000 people each year who are too poor to afford an attorney. Our staff consists of specialized attorneys, social workers, investigators, paralegals and administrative staff who are experts in their individual fields.

Our staff are highly qualified and specially trained to provide excellent legal representation to people charged with a crime or facing child welfare proceedings. Every client receives the services needed to defend his or her case, including an investigator to track down witnesses or recover evidence, a social worker to improve the life circumstances of our client and an excellent attorney who will analyze the legal issues in the case, try to negotiate a fair resolution of the matter and will represent the client at a trial.

BDS has many services for our clients on-site, including civil legal advocacy, such as assistance with educational needs of our clients or their children, housing and benefits advocacy and immigration advice and representation.

People who are arrested face many obstacles, even if their case was resolved in their favor. Some examples are loss of employment, suspension from school, eviction from public or private housing, deportation, forfeiture of property and loss of licenses. Our goal is to help clients with these issues as they arise. We also work to change these systems by challenging their legality and advocating for changes in the law.

Each year, there are 100,000 arrests in Brooklyn. Eighty-five percent of these arrests are for misdemeanors or a non-criminal offense. Ninety percent of the people arrested cannot afford an attorney. Brooklyn Defender Services staffs the court so that every person has an attorney as soon as they see the judge.

One thousand families each year get a similar benefit—they too have an attorney waiting in the courtroom to help them on the very day that proceedings are filed for removal of their children.

Many of our clients are people with a mental illness. Many of our clients are under the age of 18. A growing number are veterans facing difficulties in returning home. A large portion are suffering with drug addiction or alcoholism. It is only through a zealous voice advocating for those unable to speak for themselves that justice is done. BDS is that voice.

PRACTICE AREAS

  • Criminal Defense

  • Family Defense

  • Immigration

  • Civil Justice

  • Policy & Advocacy

  • Community Office

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Kevin Snover, Chairman of the Board
Gregory Cerchione, Secretary
Cindi Elibott Giglio, Treasurer
Jason Starr, Board Member
Andrea Bonina, Board Member
Robert J. Gunther, Jr., Board Member
Jeffrey Rona, Board Member
Lisa Schreibersdorf, Board Member and Executive Director

PRO BONO AT BDS

Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) is committed to high-quality and zealous representation on behalf of Brooklyn residents facing the criminal, family and immigration justice systems.   As part of this mission, BDS strives to ensure pro bono partnerships leverage resources and provide critical support for our clients in and out of the courtroom to ensure our clients obtain the best result possible in court and, hopefully, a better outcome in their lives.

BDS regularly partners with New York City’s major law firms, corporations and other members of the private bar on numerous cases from all of our practice areas.  Our pro bono partners have worked on individual cases, filed complaints in federal courts, co-authored amicus briefs, co-counseled hearings, filed and argued appeals and conducted research on novel areas of law.  BDS offers pro bono opportunities that not only present ideal opportunities for pro bono attorneys to get real courtroom experience and work with clients in need, but that result in just and better outcomes for our clients.  BDS offers both short- and long-term projects and has flexible co-counseling arrangements. Additionally, we offer comprehensive training programs, mentorship and supervision that will provide a meaningful experience for the pro bono attorney and the client.

Law firms, corporations, law-firm attorneys, and in-house counsel who are interested in joining Brooklyn Defender Services’ pro bono practice, please contact Molly Meltzer, Director of Pro Bono at mmeltzer@bds.org.

Retired or Transitioning Attorneys interested in pro bono opportunities are welcomed at Brooklyn Defender Services. Our organization is one of the host organizations of the Attorney Emeritus Program (AEP) established by former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. Please visit the NY Courts website to register for the program and contact us at pbvolunteer@bds.org.

Individual Volunteers are incorporated into our practices on an as-needed basis. Please send a resume and cover letter indicating particular skills you have that are applicable to our work and your specific availability to pbvolunteer@bds.org.

HISTORY


BDS opened its doors in 1996 as the first borough-specific public defender office in New York City, with 38 employees working around donated conference room tables out of office space recently vacated by the New York Telephone Co. That first year we lived rent-free, while the building was being renovated around us, and handled 10,000 cases.

Today, BDS is one of the largest defender offices in the country, representing tens of thousands of clients in criminal, family, immigration and civil cases annually. Our staff of 300 includes 180 attorneys and 120 social workers, investigators, paralegals, re-entry specialists, jail liaisons, community organizers and policy specialists as well as dedicated advocates for youth, veterans and parents. Our specialized defense approach allows us to provide targeted services for clients with mental illness or developmental disabilities, adolescent clients, trafficking victims and veterans.

 

PARTNERS AND SUPPORTERS


Our primary mission at BDS is to represent people facing serious accusations from the government. We recognize that our clients face many additional challenges and obstacles related to their poverty. As the largest Brooklyn-based legal services provider, BDS’s interdisciplinary staff provides supplemental legal and social services on site to our clients, including immigration attorneys, housing attorneys, an education attorney and social workers who specialize in areas such as mental health and youth advocacy.

826NYC

ARISE (Action for Reform in Special Education)

Attorney General Office Criminal Justice and Mental Health Roundtable

Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Brooklyn Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyer’s Project

Brooklyn Community Bail Fund

Brooklyn Community Services

Brooklyn Justice Corps

Brooklyn Justice Initiatives

Brooklyn Law School

Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association

Brownsville Community Justice Center

Camelot

Caribbean American Center of New York

CASES

Center for Community Alternatives

Center  for Court Innovation

Center for Family Life

Child Welfare Organizing Project

Children’s Museum of the Arts

Christ Church Fellowship Baptist Church

Coalition for Effective Behavioral Health Reforms and Dignity in Schools Campaign

Common Justice

Drew House & Project Greenhope

Esperanza

EXALT

Families for Freedom

Families Rising

Fortune Society

Good Shepherd Services

Haitian Centers Council

Haitian Family Resource Center

Haitian Legal Immigration Legal Assistance Program

Health Home Initiative

La Union

Lutheran Social Services

Medgar Evers College Adult Education Department

MFY Legal Service

NAMI- NY

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

New York State Bar Association

NY Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) Coalition with Legal Aid Society, Bronx Defenders, Make the Road New York, Center for Popular Democracy, Vera Institute, Cardozo Law School & Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

NYU Law School

Osborne Association

P2PH

Parent Providers Coalition (Bronx Defenders, Center for Family Representation)

Pinkerton Fellows at John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Pro Bono Scholars

Ridgewood-Bushwick Young Adult Literacy Program

Shorefront YM-YWHA, Brighton-Manhattan Beach, Inc.

Shriver Center

STEPS

TASC, EAC-Link

YCP

Young New Yorkers

INFORMATION

NEED HELP?

If you are a Brooklyn resident and cannot afford an attorney, BDS will provide free advice.

If you or a loved one are arrested in Brooklyn during the protests and need a lawyer, call this number for legal assistance 240-531-1971.

In fear of being arrested? Call 718-254-0700 and ask for the operator.

In fear of having your children removed? Call (646) 974-9343.

BDS COMMUNITY OFFICE IN EAST NEW YORK

Visit our Community Office in East New York, located at:
566 Livonia Ave. (Between Alabama & Georgia Avenues)
Brooklyn, NY 11207
(646) 971-2722

We accept walk-in consultations on a variety of legal issues including ACS/child welfare, housing, and criminal matters. The office also offers regular Know Your Rights workshops open to community members. Past training topics included education rights, seeking employment with a criminal record, and what to do when ACS knocks on your door.

Current BDS clients, if you need to connect with your attorney or social worker, it is possible to arrange meetings to be held at the community office.

The office also has a variety of informational material and community resources, including know your rights fact sheets, community events, and voter registration forms.

For more information, call (646) 971-2722.

OPPORTUNITIES

NEW YORK STATE PUBLIC DEFENDERS CAREER FAIR

In April 2017, New York State enacted statewide reforms intended to improve the right to counsel for people charged with a criminal offense, who cannot afford to hire an attorney.

Amendments to New York County Law § 722-e and the addition of Executive Law § 832 (4) enacted by New York State Governor Cuomo and supported by the NYS legislature encourages and enables each criminal defense provider of legally mandated representation to furnish high quality, effective representation for every client. These recent legislative reforms offer public defense providers across the state the opportunity to hire additional attorneys, investigators, social workers and support staff and develop other resources to further their efforts in improving the overall quality of mandated representation.

Persons eager to explore opportunities within the New York State public defense arena who seek a challenging work environment that promotes diversity, embraces change, and provides leadership opportunities are encouraged to participate in this Public Defenders Career Fair.

See here for more information.

ATTORNEY TRAINING PROGRAM FOR NEW BDS EMPLOYEES

Criminal Defense Practice Brooklyn Defender Services’ intensive training program is designed for recent law graduates and attorneys who are new to the practice of criminal law in New York. Attorneys spend the first few weeks of their employment at BDS attending in-house lectures on various aspects of criminal defense, shadowing experienced attorneys and practicing their skills through simulations of various aspects of criminal practice.

The Appellate Division has granted us a student practice order which gives us the right to have law students and law graduates working for BDS to appear in court even though they are not yet admitted to practice law. This allows our interns, fellows and recent law graduates to handle cases with supervision.

INTERNSHIPS

Law Student Summer Internships

BDS has many relationships with local educational institutions, including clinical study programs from New York University Law School (the Offender Re-Entry Clinic, the Family Defense Clinic and the Community Defender Clinic), the Youth Justice Clinic of Cardozo Law School, the Criminal Defense Clinic of St. John’s School of Law and the CUNY Law School Family Law Concentration Clinic.

Brooklyn Defender Services also offers full-time summer internships to law students who have completed their second year of law school and have a commitment to public defense. The internship program lasts eight weeks. Intern duties may include legal research and writing, representation of clients in arraignments (under supervision), court appearances, client and witness interviews, trial preparation and investigation assistance.

Our law student summer internship program is extremely competitive and positions are limited. We are currently accepting applications for Summer 2021 internships.

  • For the Immigration Practice internship, please send a a cover letter, resume, and writing sample to Scott Coomes (scoomes@bds.org) and Mark Doss (mdoss@bds.org).
  • For the Family Defense Practice internship, please send a cover letter, resume, and writing sample to Ambika Panday (apanday@bds.org) and Aisha Alleyne (aalleyne@bds.org).
  • For the Civil Justice Practice internship, please send a cover letter, resume, and writing sample to Lauren Price (lprice@bds.org).
  • The Criminal Defense Practice is no longer accepting applications for the Summer 2021 program.

All internships are volunteer positions. However, BDS will work with students to secure funding from outside sources or class credits where available.

 

Postgraduate Law Fellowships

Brooklyn Defender Services hosts fellows to work in our office on special projects. Each year, we aim to identify law student fellowship applications that meet our mission of serving underprivileged clients in Brooklyn through innovative proposals. These include Equal Justice Works fellowships, Skadden fellows, and Soros fellowships among others. We additionally welcome law students from around the country whose law schools have fellowship placement options, particularly post-graduate fellowships. Applications for fellowships for the upcoming year are now closed.

 

Investigative Assistant Internships

BDS seeks undergraduates and recent college graduates with a commitment to social and criminal justice issues for our Investigative Assistant Internship. Investigative assistants locate, review, and download video surveillance; photograph and document crime scenes; and conduct background research on witnesses. They additionally provide administrative assistance to the investigations unit.

While some of the investigative assistant’s work will take place in the office, much of it will be out in the field—in private homes, in local businesses, on the street and in the greater community. Ideal applicants should be comfortable working all over Brooklyn and should possess characteristics necessary to approach and interact with strangers about sensitive subjects. Candidates must be able to work in a collaborative setting and be able to produce high-quality written work.

Required qualifications and abilities:
– Excellent interpersonal and communication skills
– Interest in criminal defense and the rights of the accused
– Fluency in another language is highly desired, but not required

This internship is unpaid. We strongly encourage interns to apply to grants, fellowships or any other funding available through school or third-party organizations. Interns will be provided with unlimited monthly metro cards for the duration of their internship.

We are not currently accepting applications for the investigative internship.

POLICY

LEGISLATIVE MEMOS & ONE-PAGERS

Criminal Law Reform Issues

Adolescent Justice

  • BDS Supports Raising the Age of Youthful Offender Status, A.4743B (PDF ) – June 1, 2018
  • Check out our one-pager on Raising the Age of YO here.

Bail 

  • BDS supports the Assembly Bail Reform proposal, A.10137A (PDF ) – May 29, 2018
  • BDS Supports Comprehensive Bail Reform, A9955 & S3579A/A5033A (PDF )- April 16, 2018
  • BDS Supports Reform of Laws Governing Charitable Bail Organizations, A4880A/S4776A (PDF ) – February 9, 2017

Discovery

  • BDS Supports Comprehensive Discovery Reform, A4360A, S7722/A10135, & S6848/A7292 (PDF )- April 16, 2018
  • Check out the Repeal the #BlindfoldLaw Coalition one-pager on the urgent need for discovery reform here.

Drug Enforcement

  • BDS Strongly Opposes Increased Penalties for Opioids & K2 (PDF ) – March 26, 2018

Employment Collateral Consequences

  • BDS Responds and Proposes Amendments to Governor Cuomo’s Proposed Elimination of Parole Fee and Changes to Conviction-Related Barrier to Employment and Participation in Education Councils in the FY19 Executive Budget (PDF ) – February 5, 2018

Gravity Knives

  • BDS Memo of Support for Repealing Gravity Knife Law (PDF ) – May 22, 2019
  • BDS Sends Letter to Governor Cuomo Urging His Signature on Gravity Knife Reform Legislation (PDF ) – October 11, 2017
  • BDS Sends Letter to Governor Cuomo Urging His Signature on Gravity Knife Reform Legislation (PDF ) – June 28, 2016
  • Check out our infographic on gravity knives, “Why Are Carpenters Being arrested for Carrying Their Tools?”  here.
  • BDS Memos in Support of Bills to Decriminalize Possession of Common Workers’ Utility Knives, (A4821/S3675 PDF) (A9042/S6483 PDF ) – March 1, 2016
  • Memo of Support to End the Criminalization of So-Called “Gravity Knives” S3675/A.4821 (PDF ) – April 23, 2015

Immigrants Rights

  • BDS Memo in Support of the Protect Our Courts Act, A11013A/S8925 (PDF ) – June 14, 2018

Jail and Prison Conditions

  • BDS Supports Access to Feminine Hygiene Products in NYS Jails and Prisons, S6176/A588A (PDF ) – June 14, 2017

Police Asset Forfeiture

  • BDS Response to Governor Cuomo’s Proposed Changes to Asset Forfeiture in the FY19 Executive Budget (PDF ) – February 5, 2018

Prostitution and Trafficking

  • BDS Memo in Support for Expanding New York’s Vacatur Law for Survivors of Trafficking, S4997/A4540 (PDF ) – June 1, 2018
  • BDS Memo in Support for Repeal of New York’s Penal Law 240.37, S8107A/A9704A (PDF ) – June 1, 2018

Sealing

  • BDS Memo in Support for Legislation to Seal Certain Criminal Convictions and “Ban the Box” on Job Applications, A2699/ S5593 & A2990/S2029 (PDF ) – June 12, 2015

Solitary Confinement 

  • BDS Expresses Strong Support for the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, A3080B/S4784A (PDF ) – March 8, 2018
  • BDS Memo in Support of Restricting Segregated Confinement for Juveniles and Special Populations, A1346A & A1347 (PDF ) – April 3, 2015

Speedy Trial

  • BDS Memo in Support of Speedy Trial Reform – Kalief’s Law, S7006B & A3055A (PDF )- April 16, 2018
  • BDS Releases Statement in Support of Kalief’s Law, S5988A/A8296A (PDF ) – March 1, 2016
  • BDS Expresses Strong Support for Kalief’s Law, S5988/A7841 (PDF ) – August 18, 2015

 

Child Welfare Law Reform Issues

Adoption Subsidies

  • BDS Supports Amendments to Monthly Adoption Subsidies to Foster Parents, S6518/A8313 (PDF ) – May 30, 2017

Family Court ACDs

  • BDS Joins in Memo in Support of Expanding Option of Adjournments in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD) & Suspended Judgments in Child Protective Proceedings in the Family Court, S.4767/A6837 (PDF ) – April 16, 2018
  • BDS Joins in Memo in Support of Expanding Option of Adjournments in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD) & Suspended Judgments in Child Protective Proceedings in the Family Court, S.4767/A6837 (PDF ) – May 8, 2017

Kinship Care

  • BDS Joins in Memo in Support of Kinship Guardianship Assistance Legislation, S4833/A7554 (PDF ) – May 30, 2017

Post-Termination Contact

  • BDS Memo in Support of the Preserving Family Bonds Act, S4203/A2199 (PDF ) – April 2019
  • Preserving Family Bonds Coalition Joint Memo in Support (PDF) – April 2019

LETTERS AND TESTIMONY

October 28, 2020

BDS testifies before the New York City Council General Welfare Committee (PDF)

October 19, 2020

BDS testifies before the The New York City Taxi and and Limousine Commission about proposed rule changes (PDF)

October 16, 2020

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committees on Education and Health on Reopening NYC Public Schools (PDF)

October 13, 2020

BDS submits Public Comment on Proposed Rule re Biometric Data Collection (PDF)

September 30, 2020

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Health and Hospitals about NYC’s COVID-19 Testing and Contact Tracing Program. (PDF)

September 22, 2020

BDS testifies before the NYS Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections & Committee on Health about the impact of COVID-19 on prisons and jails. (PDF)

BDS submits letter to New York State Court’s Commission on Equal Justice in the Courts on structural racism in the Unified Court System. (PDF)

Report to the New York State Court’s Commission on Equal Justice in the Courts submitted by The Judicial Friends Association. (PDF)

September 21, 2020

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Criminal Justice & Committee on Hospitals about the Department of Correction and Correctional Health Services’ management of COVID-19 in jails. (PDF)

September 18, 2020

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on the exclusion of immigrants in COVID-19 relief. (PDF)

BDS testifies before the NYC Council about the looming eviction crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (PDF)

September 15, 2020

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on issues facing NYC renters, including discrimination against people who use housing vouchers. (PDF)

May 19, 2020

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committees on Criminal Justice & the Justice System Oversight Hearing on COVID-19 in City Jails and Juvenile Detention Centers.

February 28, 2020

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committees on Immigration and Hospitals Oversight Hearing ICE’s Escalated Attacks on NYC Policies Protecting Immigrants. 

February 25, 2020

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Public Safety Jointly with the Committee on Justice System Oversight Hearing DNA Collection and Storage in NYC. (PDF)

February 24, 2020

BDS Testifies before NYC Council Committee on Justice System and Committee on Housing and Buildings Oversight Meeting and Introduction of Bills Int 1104-2018 and Int 1529-2019. (PDF)

February 10, 2020

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Public Safety on Preventing Hate and Violence (PDF)

February 3, 2020

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Criminal Justice Oversight Hearing on Violence in City Jails (PDF)

January 21, 2020

BDS submits Public Comment on DHS and DOJ Proposed Rule Re: Procedures for Asylum and Bars to Asylum Eligibility

January 13, 2020

BDS submits Public Comment on DHS Proposed Rule Re: Asylum Applications, Interview, and Employment Authorization for Applicants

December 30, 2019

BDS submits Public Comment on USCIS Proposed Rule of the USCIS Fee Schedule

December 18, 2019 

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committee on Public Safety Hearing on the POST Act (PDF)

http://bds.org/wp-content/uploads/2019.12.11-City-Council-Testimony-Day-Fines-and-Collateral-Consequences.pdf

December 11, 2019

BDS testified before the New York City Council Committees on the Justice System and on Government Operations about day fines and collateral consequences of drug arrests and conviction (PDF)

December 10, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYS Assembly Committee on Codes and Committee on Correction Hearing on Sealing of Criminal Records and Expansion of Youthful Offender Status (PDF)

November 21, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYS Assembly on family separation in the child welfare system and family court system

November 15, 2019

BDS submits Public Comment on USCIS Proposed Rules on Special Immigrant Juvenile Petitions, 84 FR 55250.

November 14, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYS Assembly on pre-trial services and ATI’s in light of the new bail statute (PDF)

November 12, 2019

BDS submits Public Comment on DNA-Sample Collection for Immigration Detainees 84 Fed. Reg 563973.

October 17, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYS Senate Standing Committee on Codes Hearing on Potential Legislative Changes to Section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law (PDF)

September 23, 2019

BDS submits Public Comment on Department of Homeland Security “Notice on Designating Aliens for Expedited Removal 84 Fed. Reg. 35409.

September 3, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Immigration (PDF)

August 9, 2019

BDS testifies before the Joint Senate Task Force on Opioids Addiction and Overdose (PDF)

June 27, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Public Safety Hearing on Ints. 0567-2018, 0635-2018, 1244-2018, 1553-2019, 1548-2019, & T2018-2223, & Res. 0866-2019. (PDF)

May 22, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on Implementation of Pre-Trial Justice Reforms Enacted by New York State (PDF)

May 1, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Criminal Justice Oversight Hearing on the Experience of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Individuals in NYC Jails (PDF)

April 29, 2019

BDS joins the Bronx Defenders, the Legal Aid Society, Neighborhood Defender Services of Harlem and NY County Defender Services in urging enactment of a slate of criminal justice reforms before session ends (PDF)

April 10, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committees on Immigration and the Justice System Oversight Hearing on ICE Out of New York Courts Resolution 0828-2019 regarding Protect Our Courts Act (A.2176 / S.425). (PDF)

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on General Welfare and Committee on Hospitals Joint Oversight Hearing on the Impact of Marijuana Policies on Child Welfare. (PDF)

February 27, 2019

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committees on Public Safety, Justice System, Consumer Affairs & Business Licensing, and Civil & Human Rights Public Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. (PDF)

February 26, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Criminal Justice Oversight Hearing on Department of Correction Programming. (PDF)

February 25, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on Family Separation in Criminal Cases (PDF)

February 4, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on General Welfare Oversight Hearing on Client Experience at HRA Centers. (PDF)

January 16, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Juvenile Justice Hearing on Evaluating Programs that Aim to Reduce Recidivism Among Justice-Involved Youth. (PDF)

December 19, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Immigration Oversight Hearing on the Need for Legal Representation in Immigration Court Under Trump. (PDF)

December 3, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committees on Criminal Justice and the Justice System Oversight Hearing: “Why Does the City Make it so Hard to Post Bail?” (PDF)

November 27, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committees on Justice System and General Welfare Oversight Hearing on Removals from Parents and Caretakers In Child Welfare Cases. (PDF)

BDS testifies before New York Senators Luis Sepúlveda and Gustavo Rivera’s Public Forum on New York State’s Parole Process, Structure of the Parole Board, and Data Indicating Systemic Bias in Parole Decisions. (PDF)

November 14, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Committee on Hospitals, Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction and Committee on Criminal Justice Oversight Hearing on Correctional Health (PDF)

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committees on Immigration, Health & General Welfare on the impact of the proposed “public charge” rule in NYC (PDF)

November 14, 2018

BDS submits testimony to the NYS Assembly in support of guaranteed access to Medication-Assisted Treatment in New York’s prisons and jails (PDF)

October 25, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Governmental Operations and Committee on Immigration Oversight Hearing on Language Access Implementation Plans. (PDF)

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Justice System Oversight Hearing on Pay Hearing and Retention Rates for ADAs and Public Defenders (PDF)

October 16, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York State Assembly on legalizing the adult use of marijuana (PDF)

Shakira Kennedy, an advocate and parent who is represented by BDS’ Family Defense Practice, testifies before the New York State Assembly on the harms of cannabis prohibition on New York’s racially and economically marginalized families (PDF)

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Education on employment and school transportation (PDF)

October 3, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committees on Governmental Operations and Criminal Justice on voting rights for people on parole (PDF)

September 27, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on the Justice System Oversight Hearing on the Cost of Justice (PDF)

BDS testifies before the New York State Commission on Parental Legal Representation (See PDF for attachments)

September 17, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Immigration and the Committee on Youth Services Oversight Hearing on LGBTQ immigrant youth in NYC (PDF)

September 6, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committees Immigration and Youth Services Oversight Hearing on Abolishing ICE (PDF)

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committees on Criminal Justice and Women Oversight Hearing Examining Sexual Abuse and Harassment in City Jails (PDF)

July 12, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Oversight Hearing on the impacts of the Trump Administration Family Separation Policy in NYC (PDF)

June 21, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on the Justice System Oversight Hearing on Addressing the Opioid Crisis in Criminal Court (PDF)

June 13, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Public Safety Oversight Hearing on NYPD’s Gang Takedown Effects (PDF)

June 13, 2018

BDS Submits Comments to the NYS Dept. of Financial Services & NYS Dept. of State Listening Session on Abuses by the Bail Bond Industry (PDF)

May 2, 2018 

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on the harm of the commercial bail bond industry (PDF)

April 24, 2018

BDS submits written testimony to the  NYC Council Committee on Immigration Oversight Hearing on NYC Support for Immigrant Parents of Children Ages 0-5 Years (PDF)

April 23, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Criminal Justice Oversight Hearing on Safety and Security in City Jails (PDF)

April 18, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committee on Juvenile Justice and the Committee on Justice System Oversight Hearing on  NYC’s Preparedness to Raise the Age and Reso. 0283-2018 (PDF)

March 26, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Budget Hearing on Immigration (PDF)

February 27, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committee on Justice System on Issues with Criminal Discovery Practices (PDF )

February 26, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council in Support of Marijuana Legalization and, in the Interim, Immediately Ending Marijuana Arrests and Prosecutions (PDF  )

January 11, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York State Assembly Hearing on Legalizing & Regulating Adult Sale and Possession of Marijuana and its Prospective Effects on Public Health and the Criminal Legal System (PDF  )

December 14, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Oversight Hearing on Examining Forensic Science Practices in the NYPD Crime Lab and OCME (PDF )

December 4, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Oversight Hearing on Progress in Closing Rikers (PDF )

November 28, 2017

BDS comments: Proposed state regulations on solitary confinement in local jails only codify the practice of torture (PDF )

November 21, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on NYPD’s role in school safety and efforts to improve school climate (PDF )

November 16, 2017

BDS, along with 100 community and advocacy groups across NYS, submit letter to Governor Cuomo with recommendations for changes to New York’s pretrial detention system

November 15, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council’s Oversight Hearing on the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD (PDF )

October 30, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYS Assembly Hearing on Healthcare in NYS Prisons and Local Jails (PDF )

October 26, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Juvenile Justice Hearing on Reentry Programs for Formerly Incarcerated Youth (PDF )

October 25, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council oversight hearing on violence in city jails (PDF )

October 23, 2017

Do You Qualify to Have Your Criminal Record Sealed? A BDS One-Pager. (PDF )

October 16, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Public Safety (PDF )

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Technology on Algorithm Transparency (PDF )

September 27, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Oversight Hearing on Safe and Accessible Shelters for Homeless Youth (PDF )

September 20, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Aging in support of Int. No. 1616–– a Local Law in relation to establishing a temporary task force on post-conviction reentry for older adults (PDF )

September 18, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Courts and Legal Services Hearing on New York’s Integrated Domestic Violence Courts (PDF )

September 13, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee oversight hearing on Best Practices for NYC Agencies, Courts, And Law Enforcement Authorized to Certify Immigrant Victims for U and T Visas (PDF )

September 7, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Public Safety  & Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services joint Oversight Hearing on NYPD’s Responses to Persons in Mental Health Crisis (PDF )

More

DATA AND REPORTS

Brooklyn Defender Services handles approximately 40 percent of the overall criminal cases for the Borough of Brooklyn, making our client profile indicative, if not entirely representational, of the wider law enforcement trends across the city, as they pertain to arrests, custody and court adjudication.

More

STRATEGIC LITIGATION

BDS’s Special Litigation Counsel works with BDS defenders and clients, outside counsel and activists, to identify systemic criminal justice deficiencies and constitutional violations that unjustly affect criminal justice outcomes for our clients. Once identified, special litigation lawyers strategically litigate those issues in State and Federal courts to improve both process and outcomes for all accused New Yorkers. From challenging unreasonable bail conditions when a case starts to overbroad barriers to re-entry when it’s over, BDS is striving to make the criminal justice system accountable to those it intends to serve through its growing impact litigation practice.

ADVOCACY

Brooklyn Defender Services has amassed a wealth of experience and expertise on the complexities that inform our client’s lives and their involvement in the justice system. BDS works with each of the courts and other stakeholders to improve procedures and policies that affect our clients in each of the courts where we are the institutional provider.

As zealous advocates for our clients and the communities we serve, it is also our duty to contribute to the larger conversations taking place within the criminal, family and immigration justice systems in order to facilitate meaningful changes. Through our presence on working groups and coalitions, the use of our external communications, position papers, blog, and other forums we seek to educate system players, legislators and community members about the critical issues facing our clients and give voice to some of New York’s most vulnerable populations.

COURT INVOLVED YOUTH

NEWS

News

ATTORNEY-IN-CHARGE OF BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES’ DEPORTATION DEFENSE TEAM DENOUNCES INCREASED ICE RAIDS IN NYC

October 20, 2020

Contact: Daniel Ball, dball@bds.org

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

STATEMENT BY ATTORNEY-IN-CHARGE OF BDS’ DETAINED DEPORTATION DEFENSE TEAM ON INCREASED ICE RAIDS IN NEW YORK METRO AREA

(BROOKLYN, NY) – Andrea Sáenz, Attorney-in-Charge of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) for Brooklyn Defender Services, released the following statement about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) increased home raids, detention, and new deportation cases against immigrants in the New York area amidst the COVID-19 pandemic:
“After months of limited activity, ICE has increased operations, raiding homes and arresting and detaining immigrants, as the danger of a second wave of the pandemic looms over New York City. These raids come as the death toll of immigrants in ICE detention is higher than it has been in the last fifteen years. ICE enforcement and detention is racist, inhumane, and a danger to us all. ICE must cease their raids, free all immigrants from their jails, and allow people to remain safely with their families. This latest reckless operation adds to the long list of reasons why ICE must be abolished.”

BACKGROUND: Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) is a public defender organization serving tens of thousands of Brooklyn residents each year since 1996. Our mission is to provide high-quality and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration legal representation, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy for people who cannot afford an attorney. Since the pandemic struck, BDS’ New York Immigrant Family Unity Project has taken successful legal action causing ICE to release 75% of all the detained immigrants we serve.

News

MARKING 100+ DAYS SINCE ALBANY ROLLED BACK BAIL REFORM, DEFENDERS DECRY 16 PERCENT RISE IN JAIL POPULATION AS ALARMING SECOND WAVE OF COVID19 THREATENS NYC

October 13, 2020

Redmond Haskins, The Legal Aid Society (RHaskins@legal-aid.org)

Dan Ball, Brooklyn Defender Services (Dball@bds.org)

Ryan Karerat, The Bronx Defenders (RKarerat@bronxdefenders.org)

Lupe Todd-Medina, New York County Defender Services (LToddmedina@nycds.org)

Sam McCann, The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (SMccann@ndsny.org)

Hettie Powell, Queens Defenders, (hpowell@queensdefenders.org)

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

Marking 100+ Days Since Albany Rolled Back Bail Reform, Defenders Decry 16 Percent Rise in Jail Population as Alarming Second Wave of COVID-19 Threatens NYC

With Jails Functioning as Deadly Incubators for COVID-19, Officials Must Commit to Decarceration to Save Lives

(NEW YORK, NY) – The Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders, New York County Defender Services, Queens Defenders and Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem issued the following joint statement decrying the increase in New York City’s jail population by 455 people – roughly 16 percent – held pretrial, amid a second wave of COVID-19, following the implementation of rollbacks to New York State’s bail reform law, which went into effect on July 2, 2020:

“It is unconscionable that Albany capitulated to racist fear-mongering and subjected more people to pretrial detention during the COVID-19 pandemic – a betrayal that is both cruel and dangerous. One hundred days after the implementation of these bail rollbacks, our fears have been realized as more and more people are in jail at the very moment that the City braces for a resurgence of COVID-19. Forcing people to share dorms, meals, sinks, toilets, and poorly-ventilated air, and having people constantly coming in and out of custody and moving from facility to facility goes against everything public health experts have told us. This makes us all less safe, and particularly threatens the Black, Latinx, and working class communities that were already disproportionately devastated by the pandemic. New York needs a commitment from all stakeholders, from prosecutors to lawmakers, to resume decarceration and help New Yorkers protect themselves and each other from this deadly virus.”

Background: On July 2, 2020, the day bail reform rollbacks took effect, there were 2,909 people languishing pretrial in New York City jails. As of October 10, 2020, there were 3,364 people held pretrial in local jails. This amounts to an increase of 455 people. This increase reflects even larger number of people who are admitted to New York City jails and exposed to others there, as people cycle in and out and every day.

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BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES RELEASES PUBLIC COMMENT OPPOSING THE ADOPTION OF NYPD’S DISCIPLINE MATRIX

September 29, 2020

Contact: Daniel Ball, Brooklyn Defender Services

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

Brooklyn Defender Services Releases Public Comment Opposing the Adoption of NYPD’s Discipline Matrix

(BROOKLYN, NY) – Today, Maryanne Kaishian, Senior Policy Counsel of Brooklyn Defender Services, released the following statement and public comment in response to the release of NYPD’s proposed Discipline Matrix policy:

“As people across this city and country come together to demand an end to police violence against Black people and other people of color, New York City responded with a proposed NYPD Discipline Matrix, which utterly fails to meet these demands. This proposal protects police officers, not the people of New York, and will have no meaningful impact on abuse suffered by New Yorkers at the hands of the NYPD. The Discipline Matrix merely condenses and reorganizes the rules in the NYPD’s Patrol Guide, which has long failed to prevent or discourage police brutality and misconduct. We know, and this proposal shows, that the NYPD will never police itself.

New York needs truly binding measures of police accountability, not toothless matrices with massive loopholes that allow the NYPD to excuse abusive conduct. New York must also take legislative measures, such as eliminating mandatory minimums that protect rampant police misconduct by coercing people to take pleas rather than risk lengthy sentences. Finally, and most importantly, New York City must start divesting from law enforcement and invest in the needs of people who live here instead.”

Brooklyn Defender Services’ public comment to NYPD Commissioner Shea states: 

Brooklyn Defender Services submits these comments to the NYPD’s Proposed Discipline Matrix, published August 31, 2020. For the reasons set forth below, we strongly oppose adoption of the Matrix.

Every year, Brooklyn Defender Services (“BDS”) represents nearly 30,000 people in the criminal, family, and civil court systems of Kings County. Many of the people we serve, primarily Black and brown New Yorkers, have experienced abuse and misconduct by the NYPD. We at BDS have joined our communities in the call for meaningful, top-down change to the NYPD for years. We are now living in a seminal moment in history as police departments face demands from across the country to analyze long-standing abusive practices and the continued employment of perpetrators within their ranks. 

Amid calls for real reform, the NYPD has released a draft non-binding “Discipline Matrix” which defines prohibited police conduct and specifies potential penalties for personnel who engage in misconduct. However, this purportedly new document merely reiterates preexisting guidance that has consistently failed to rein in abusive police behavior. Crucially, under the proposal, the NYPD remains responsible for enforcing its own rules—which it has repeatedly demonstrated an unwillingness to do—and the Police Commissioner retains veto power over any and all disciplinary actions per City law.  We do not believe that essentially condensing the existing Patrol Guide into a 53-page Matrix will have any meaningful impact on abuse suffered by New Yorkers at the hands of the NYPD. Despite a demonstrated need for change, the Department instead makes it clear, once again, that it plans to continue to condone and defend a pervasive culture of abuse and violence while codifying ways for police to evade accountability.

The Patrol Guide is a publicly available document that purportedly governs police conduct by defining prohibited conduct and disciplinary actions that may be taken against offending personnel. However, anyone who has experienced police behavior in New York City understands that these “rules” do not prevent or meaningfully discourage policy brutality and misconduct. Alarmingly, efforts to enhance transparency and accountability, including increased video surveillance of police conduct, have done little to counteract violence and abuse that far too often goes unchecked and unpunished. In the past several months alone, countless instances of police violence captured on video, when the officers know they are being recorded, clearly demonstrate that the existing rules and protections are inadequate. Officers with highly publicized histories of misconduct not only remain on the job making arrests but are promoted through the ranks. This is unlikely to change if the arbiter of police discipline remains the NYPD itself. 

The Matrix reflects Patrol Guide language, sometimes verbatim. For example, the Patrol Guide governs use of force (221-01 and 221-02), requires NYPD personnel to intervene during instances of excessive force by other officers (221-02), and has strict reporting requirements (221-03). These rules are on the books but do little to curb obvious, persistent, and often recorded violations of these rules by NYPD personnel, and reforms have historically been disregarded by the Department. The chokehold ban went into effect in 1993 after the police killed 21-year-old Federico Pereira in Queens, but police have repeatedly been seen on video using prohibited chokeholds on New Yorkers. Even though the body-worn camera (“BWC”) program, launched after the 2014 Black Lives Matter protests, requires officers to have their cameras turned on during almost all encounters with civilians, BWCs are routinely obstructed or turned off.  The Right to Know Act was enacted in 2018, yet police often conceal their badge numbers and refuse to give required information to the public. 

While the stated goal of the Matrix is to provide transparency and efficiency in the accountability process, it ultimately is little more than a theoretical possibility—it states what penalties could be imposed, is non-binding, and does not present a solution to ongoing disregard for existing Department policies. This stated commitment to transparency is clearly apocryphal; since the repeal of 50-A, which shielded police personnel files from public view, the NYPD has engaged in an ongoing court battle to fight the release of any and all NYPD disciplinary records. 

The Matrix, like the Patrol Guide and previous attempts at police reform, also includes major loopholes allowing the NYPD to excuse abusive conduct using myriad mitigating factors. The mitigation language incorporates racist presumptions that underpin brutal policing, raising their profile from mostly unspoken understandings to Department-sanctioned excuses. For example, excessive force may be excused if an officer claims that a person was “apparently under the influence of a stimulant or narcotic which would affect pain tolerance,” with no requirement for the officer to be factually correct. The subject’s “size, age and condition” compared to the officer may also be considered. In these two factors alone, the Matrix manages to codify historically race-based presumptions about drug use, pain tolerance, age, and strength into official NYPD code. This loaded language has been used throughout American history to justify racist, deadly, and abusive policing, and the NYPD has made it part of its 2020 platform. 

Additional mitigating factors are also familiar to defenders and anyone who has been charged with criminal conduct in attempts by police to excuse their own abuse or misconduct. Police allegations that a person made furtive movements, that a crowd gathered, that a situation was tense, or that they resisted arrest by moving any part of their body, among other claims, would continue to help officers evade accountability.

Any attempt to rein in the police without significant cuts to budget and personnel—beginning with those who have already committed “prohibited” conduct—as well as independent oversight with disciplinary powers, and binding conduct requirements will not change a Department with a long history of abuse, misconduct and unaccountability, particularly against Black and brown communities. The Matrix also notes that police may face both civil and criminal actions for egregious misconduct, but every dollar of civil lawsuit settlements are paid by NYC residents and criminal actions filed by prosecutors against police can only be described as exceedingly rare. We have every reason to believe, based on past experience and the ongoing public words and actions of the NYPD and its unions, that this program will merely pacify some critics while maintaining the status quo.

Lastly, the Department’s effort to ram through this Matrix in 30 days—without adequate time for public analysis and comment—just reiterates that this flawed process is little more than a facade designed to mask recycled policies that have already proven to be ineffective. This is an unacceptable tactic, particularly at a time when gathering stakeholder input is more difficult than ever and the public is demanding an open, effective, comprehensive process that results in meaningful change. The Department’s fundamentally flawed process will inevitably yield ineffective results and only exacerbate the significant harms done to New Yorkers.  

Simply put, this Discipline Matrix has failed to incorporate the transformative changes community members have been demanding. The NYPD will never police itself.”

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BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES’ STATEMENT ON THE PASSING OF SUPREME COURT JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG

September 23, 2020

Contact: Jared Chausow, jchausow@bds.org

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES’ STATEMENT ON  THE PASSING OF SUPREME COURT JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG

(Brooklyn, NY) — Today, Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services, released the following statement in response to the passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

“Today we mourn the loss of a trailblazer and pioneer. In true Brooklyn form, Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not take ‘no’ for an answer and broke barriers her entire life. As a Supreme Court Justice, an effective advocate, a feminist, wife, and mother, and a powerful voice against the status quo, Justice Ginsburg opened doors for countless others. She is breaking a boundary one last time as the first woman in the history of our country to lie in state in the United States Capitol. As she does, our country grieves a brilliant and fair jurist and a role model for women, civil rights lawyers, and all people who believe that a fair and equitable society is possible and worth fighting for. The model of advocacy that she pursued, asking the courts to think differently, to push boundaries and preconceived ideas about the structure of society followed by her willingness to see the world as it could be in her position on the Supreme Court—those are the qualities, values, and attitudes that embody the essence of public defenders. We can all learn from her tenacity, her vision, her insistence that justice can be obtained through the courts, from her very hope and faith that things can be more fair, more just, more equitable. The best way to honor her legacy is for each of us to imagine a better world and pursue it with all we have and to stand by our own convictions, values, and beliefs no matter what.”

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BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES’ STATEMENT ON NYPD’S MASS ARRESTS AT PROTEST AGAINST ICE ATROCITIES

September 22, 2020

Contact: Jared Chausow, jchausow@bds.org

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES’ STATEMENT ON NYPD’S MASS ARRESTS AT PROTEST AGAINST ICE ATROCITIES 

(Brooklyn, NY) — Today, Maryanne Kaishian, Senior Policy Counsel at Brooklyn Defender Services, released the following statement in response to NYPD making mass arrests at a mid-day protest in Times Square against ICE’s human rights abuses:

“This past weekend, the NYPD continued its escalation against the people of New York City who exercise their right to protest racist state violence. Despite its self-proclaimed restraint and training in de-escalation, the Department is only growing more violent and unaccountable, apparently emboldened by its leadership and by a federal government that encourages its abuse of New Yorkers. Such unconstitutional attempts to silence dissent by the NYPD are not new, but as they increase in frequency and severity we believe it has never been more clear that our City must divest from policing and invest in real community safety. We join with protesters in calling for the abolition of ICE and we urge the Manhattan District Attorney to drop all charges stemming from these arrests.”

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STATEMENT BY ATTORNEY-IN-CHARGE OF BDS’ DETAINED DEPORTATION DEFENSE TEAM ON IRWIN DETENTION CENTER WHISTLEBLOWER REPORT

September 16, 2020

 

Contact: Daniel Ball, dball@bds.org 

 

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

STATEMENT BY ATTORNEY-IN-CHARGE OF BDS’ DETAINED DEPORTATION DEFENSE TEAM

 ON IRWIN DETENTION CENTER WHISTLEBLOWER REPORT

 

(BROOKLYN, NY) – Andrea Sáenz, Attorney-in-Charge of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) for Brooklyn Defender Services, released the following statement about allegations of medical neglect and human rights violations raised by whistleblower Dawn Wooten, a nurse at the ICE detention center, Irwin Detention Center in Georgia:

“The accounts of torture and neglect at the Irwin Detention Center detailed by whistleblower Dawn Wooten are horrifying but sadly not shocking. From forced sterilization of immigrant women to life-threatening conditions that further the spread of COVID-19, these revelations once again demonstrate that the federal government continues to subject vulnerable people to inhumane, intolerable conditions. 

As attorneys representing detained immigrants in the New York City area, we know these types of atrocities happen at the over 200 ICE detention facilities across the country, including the jails where immigrants we represent are detained in New York and New Jersey. The people we represent have long reported dangerous, unsafe and negligent conditions, only exacerbated by the pandemic, including extreme isolation, lack of basic sanitation, and being denied adequate medical, mental health, and dental care and procedures. Across the country, immigrants in detention have resorted to hunger strikes to protest detention conditions.  

Immigrants do not need to be incarcerated as they fight their deportation cases. They can live and work in their communities where they can better support their families, and access counsel and evidence for their cases. We reaffirm our calls for ICE to cease raids and free all immigrants from their jails to allow them to remain safely with their families. We must end ICE detention and abolish ICE.”

BACKGROUND: Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) provides multi-disciplinary and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration defense, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy for tens of thousands of people in Brooklyn every year.  Since the pandemic struck, BDS’ New York Immigrant Family Unity Project has taken successful legal action forcing ICE to release 75% of all the detained immigrants we serve.

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BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES’ STATEMENT ON MAYOR DE BLASIO’S COMMENTS ON THE ARRESTS OF SEX WORKERS

September 2, 2020

Contact: Dan Ball, dball@bds.org

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES’ STATEMENT ON MAYOR DE BLASIO’S COMMENTS ON THE ARRESTS OF SEX WORKERS

(BROOKLYN, NY) – Jillian Modzeleski, Senior Staff Attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, released the following statement on comments made by Mayor de Blasio today that sex workers should not be arrested. His comments followed the City’s $5.6 million settlement in the death of Layleen Polanco in solitary confinement on Rikers Island, where she was detained pre-trial on prostitution and other charges. 

“It is long past time we dispel the myth that people arrested on prostitution charges, nearly all of whom are Black, Latinx and Asian transgender and cisgender women, are ‘rescued’ by police officers and benefit from being arrested and prosecuted or placed into court-ordered diversion programs. The Mayor’s comments today suggest he agrees that the City should end the arrests of people who do sex work, and we hope he follows through with action. At the same time, we must dispel the other myths that NYPD focuses on traffickers, which is belied by arrest data, and that criminalization keeps people safe. The Mayor apparently supports the Nordic Model, which decriminalizes the sale of sexual services while continuing to criminalize the promotion and purchase of services. However, our experience shows law enforcement’s distinction between people who engage in sex work and people who organize and profit from—or ‘promote’—it is a false binary, as the same people are arrested for either charge. The people who organize sex work are often sex workers. Moreover, the Nordic Model stigmatizes and criminalizes many parts of the sex work industry and continues to put people who engage in sex work at grave risk. Real change means disbanding the Vice Squad, which has engaged in abusive policing for decades, ending arrests for sex work, and ultimately decriminalizing the sale and purchase of sexual services, and it must come now.”

BACKGROUND: Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) provides multi-disciplinary and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration defense, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy for tens of thousands of people in Brooklyn every year. BDS’ Human Trafficking Intervention Unit seeks to protect sex workers and victims of trafficking from the punitive nature of criminal legal system contact and provide meaningful services for those who are criminalized. 

 

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TODOS TOGETHER

Nearly 1 million undocumented immigrants live in New York State. While 70% are essential workers, the majority of them are excluded from Federal COVID-19 emergency assistance funds. We need your help, Todos Together, we can make a difference.

Brooklyn Defender Services provides free legal assistance to immigrants in and out of immigrant detention who cannot afford an attorney. Inside immigrant jails, the safety of the people we serve is neglected. Outside, the immigrant community’s health and economic stability have been disproportionately impacted by COVID19.

With your contribution, Todos Together we can ensure that the immigrants we serve can get the material support they need to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Donate here. 

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NYC PUBLIC DEFENDERS OPPOSE FEDERAL COURT DECISION TO ALLOW THE DANGEROUS RESUMPTION OF IN-PERSON, NON-EMERGENCY COURT PROCEEDINGS

July 28, 2020

 

Redmond Haskins, The Legal Aid Society (RHaskins@legal-aid.org)

Daniel Ball, Brooklyn Defender Services (dball@bds.org)

Esther Kao The Bronx Defenders (estherk@bronxdefenders.org)

Lupe Todd-Medina, New York County Defender Services (LToddmedina@nycds.org)

Sam McCann, The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (SMccann@ndsny.org) 

Hettie Powell, Queens Defenders, (hpowell@queensdefenders.org

 

NYC Public Defenders Oppose Federal Court Decision to Allow the Dangerous Resumption of In-Person, Non-Emergency Court Proceedings

 

(NEW YORK, NY) – A federal judge today denied a request from New York City public defenders to halt the recent resumption of in-person, non-emergency court proceedings in New York City until a thorough and comprehensive re-opening plan can be put in place. 

The Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Legal Aid Society, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, New York County Defender Services, and Queens Defenders issued the following statement in response to the Southern District of New York’s decision to allow the resumption of in-person, non-emergency court proceedings in New York City: 

“On the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we are enormously disappointed that the federal court relied on a technicality to allow the Office of Court Administration (OCA) to resume in-person, non-emergency court proceedings in a manner that violates federal disability law, ignores medical input, and recklessly endangers the health and safety of our clients, our staff, court staff, and New Yorkers. The decision by  the Southern District of New York to allow this unlawful plan to continue violates our clients’ rights and exposes the public to unnecessary risk. We will explore the options available to prevent further harm. 

OCA’s plan to reopen courts for non-emergency, in-person proceedings forces our clients to choose between their health and safety and their freedom, and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act in doing so. Moreover, the cases OCA seeks to schedule are not urgent: the people who are forced to come to court are people already at liberty. They were, like the rest of us, trying to work, care for our families, and stay safe. Their cases have not been indicted. There is no grand jury action. There is no reason to force anyone to pile onto public transit and into courtrooms for cases that are going to be adjourned, when the same result can be achieved over a virtual hearing. 

In fact: the first day that the court demanded in-person appearance, every case on the calendar was adjourned until August or September. Put plainly: OCA’s plan puts our clients – mostly low-income New Yorkers of color – at enormous risk for no compelling reason. We are disappointed that the Southern District of New York allowed OCA to continue down this reckless road. 

We worked with OCA for months to devise a plan that respects the rights of New Yorkers and protects public health, and jointly consulted medical experts to do so. OCA disregarded this input, instead choosing to reopen courts without regard for our clients’ rights and safety. The federal court dismissed the case on a technicality without ruling on the ADA claim, and we believe OCA continues to flagrantly violate the rights of people with disabilities every day its plan goes on. As we consider our next steps, we urge OCA to reconsider this approach, and instead wait for the opinion of medical experts before exposing New Yorkers to unnecessary risk during a pandemic.”

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NYC PUBLIC DEFENDERS FILE FEDERAL LAWSUIT TO HALT OCA’S RUSHED AND DANGEROUS DECISION TO RECONVENE IN-PERSON, NON-EMERGENCY COURT MATTERS

July 14, 2020

Redmond Haskins, The Legal Aid Society (RHaskins@legal-aid.org)
Daniel Ball, Brooklyn Defender Services (dball@bds.org)
Esther Kao, The Bronx Defenders (estherk@bronxdefenders.org)
Lupe Todd-Medina, New York County Defender Services (LToddmedina@nycds.org)
Sam McCann, The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (SMccann@ndsny.org)
Hettie Powell, Queens Defenders, (hpowell@queensdefenders.org)

NYC Public Defenders File Federal Lawsuit to Halt OCA’s Rushed and Dangerous Decision to Reconvene In-Person, Non-Emergency Court Matters
 
OCA’s Proposal Violates the Americans With Disabilities Act, Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and Rehabilitation Act of 1973

(NEW YORK, NY) – The Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders, New York County Defender Services, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem and Queens Defenders filed a lawsuit today in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against the New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA) to prevent the rushed, dangerous, and unilateral decision to reconvene in-person, non-emergency court matters scheduled for Wednesday of this week.

The lawsuit argues that OCA’s proposal violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by depriving thousands of people who have medical vulnerabilities or other disabilities the opportunity to seek and help develop necessary accommodations from the Court. This forces people to choose between their health and their liberty, because if they do not attend court they can have a warrant issued and potentially be incarcerated.

The in-person appearance order implicates fundamental constitutional rights, including, at the least, due process of law, protections against arbitrary action of government, and excessive exercise of government power.

To give but one example, this order has put public defenders in a position of having to advise clients that they might be imminently required to appear in court without knowing for certain which people will actually be affected, the posture of cases that might be selected, or whether the court’s COVID-19 planning will sufficiently protect people in court or will permit requests for reasonable accommodations.

Lastly, OCA’s proposal violates the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which prohibits any entity that receives Federal financial assistance – including New York’s court system – from excluding a person with disabilities from participating in any of their programs or activities.

OCA’s policy does not consider a persons’ disability and does not provide reasonable modifications, including but not limited to virtual court appearances and enough advance notice of their court appearance, that people with disabilities need to participate safely and equally in these court administered programs.

The NYC Defenders stated: “For weeks, under the persistently trying conditions created by the coronavirus pandemic, we have attempted to work with OCA on the complicated task of balancing protection against COVID-19 infections, proceeding with cases, assuring due process, and ensuring access to the courts. OCA’s sudden issuance of an order requiring in-person appearances in criminal courts—without a clear plan to ensure the safety of people attending those proceedings—not only contravenes commitments made by OCA, but also fails to strike an appropriate balance among these compelling and sometimes competing interests. OCA’s proposal is illegal and we look forward to rectifying this situation for our clients and staff in Federal court.”

Background

On Thursday, July 9, 2020, OCA issued an order, which for the first time advised that in-person appearances would commence in New York City criminal courts on Wednesday, July 15, 2020 – less than a week later. This was contrary to OCA’s indications that in-person appearances were not imminent and that OCA would coordinate with health and safety experts retained by the NYC Defenders, as well as the epidemiologist retained by OCA, to assess the safety of court conditions.

This assessment and coordination has begun (with the knowledge, consent, and participation of OCA) but is not yet complete. The in-person appearance order violates this understanding, as well as the commitment of OCA to obtain and consider recommendations of their own epidemiologist who was to confer with experts hired by the defenders.

OCA provided no explanation for the abrupt refocus from maximizing virtual appearances to requiring in-person appearances, even where virtual proceedings remain feasible. Under the new order, people would be required to leave their homes—in communities with high infection rates—to attend non-essential and unnecessary court appearances, thereby increasing risks to people appearing, their families, court personnel, and the community. Throughout the city, people have suffered devastating consequences from COVID-19, consequences that are most severe for low-income people of color. People charged with crimes must appear when summoned to court or face revocation of bail, issuance of a warrant and potential incarceration.

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