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February 19, 2014
Greetings and welcome to the New York County Lawyers’ Association’s Judicial Reception honoring newly elected, appointed, re-elected and re-appointed judges, hosted by our Committee on the Supreme Court. I would like to thank our Reception Co-Chairs, Josh Burns, Morrell Berkowitz, and Tom Smith, and the rest of NYCLA’s Supreme Court Committee for organizing tonight’s special event.
We are very pleased to recognize the judges who are being honored here this evening. You are the backbone of our justice system, and as members of the bar, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to all of you.
NYCLA has an enduring commitment to support the judiciary. As many of you know, we maintain a Rapid Response Task Force, which defends judges when they are unfairly attacked in the media. NYCLA has frequently submitted letters to the editor and otherwise issued statements in defense of the judiciary.
Just a few years ago, NYCLA was a big part of the efforts of the organized bar to address the critical issue of judicial compensation for New York State judges. My predecessor Stewart Aaron was privileged to testify before the 2011 Commission on Judicial Compensation calling for a raise in judicial compensation. During that testimony and elsewhere, NYCLA fully endorsed the Office of Court Administration’s proposal to increase judicial salaries, and in 2012 those long-overdue pay raises, totaling 27% over three years, began to take effect.
More recently, our Task Force on Judicial Budget Cuts, which is co-chaired by Judge Stephen Crane and past NYCLA President Michael Miller, has continued its efforts to ensure adequate budget allocations for both the federal and the New York State courts. Through a day-long public hearing held in December 2013 and a series of reports issued in September 2013 and January 2014—all of which got substantial press attention—NYCLA was able to highlight the real world effects of recent budget cuts on the court system and on the public, which of course depend on that court system to handle criminal prosecutions, family crises, multi-billion dollar commercial disputes and everything in between. Our hearing and our reports, entitled Courts in Crisis, paid equal attention to the state courts, which were battered by a $170 budget cut in 2011 and flat budgets ever since, and the federal courts, reeling from the effects of sequestration.
Thankfully, Congress was able to reach a budget agreement in January that removed the threat of continued sequestration cuts, at least for the immediate future, and provides the federal judiciary, with most of the funding they asked for in FY 2014. We believe that NYCLA’s efforts contributed meaningfully to that result, along with the vigorous efforts of other bar associations and of course the judicial branch itself. We remain nervous about next year, which begins on September 30 for budgetary purposes, and if necessary we will once again join the fray and do our utmost to support our courts.
That is exactly what we have been doing on the state side as well. This year’s judiciary budget is still pending in Albany. On February 5, I submitted testimony to the joint fiscal committees in support of the budget as submitted by the judiciary. In particular, we explained why NYCLA opposes the suggestion of the Governor Cuomo that any increase in the judiciary budget should be limited to an arbitrary 2% cap. NYCLA is also firmly on record calling for the creation of new Family Court judgeships, especially in New York City.
NYCLA is very blessed to have a Judicial Section that is chaired by Justice Joan Madden. NYCLA of course welcomes all of the judges present tonight to join NYCLA (if you are not members already) and to participate in the Judicial Section’s meetings and activities. And for those of you who are practicing lawyers (if you are not already members), we welcome you to join NYCLA and work with us on our important projects and initiatives. For those of you who are on Twitter, you can follow me at my moniker, NYCLAPres.
Now I would like to introduce the Honorable Fern Fisher, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for the New York City Courts and Director of the New York State Courts Access to Justice Program. Judge Fisher asked me to keep her introduction short, and as always I will try to comply with a direct order from the bench, but it is a very difficult task, because Judge Fisher has done so much for and means so much to the administration of justice in New York. Beginning as a legal services attorney in Manhattan Housing Court, Judge Fisher became Deputy Legal Director of Harlem Legal Services, then an Assistant Attorney General, Project Director of the National Conference of Black Lawyers, Judge of the Housing Court, Judge of the Civil Court, Deputy Supervising Judge of the Civil Court, Judge of the Supreme Court, and Administrative Judge of the Civil Court, before being appointed to her current position in March 2009.
In her spare time, Judge Fisher has written a column for the Thomson-West practice guide on landlord tenant law, hosted a public service cable show, taught at CUNY Law School, helped found the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, and served on our board of directors here at NYCLA. She is the recipient of too many awards to mention here without violating her order to me, and throughout her career she has remained a human dynamo who wears more hats, gets more done, and has more friends in more places than anyone else I can think of, on or off the bench.
It is my honor to call up to the podium Judge Fern Fisher.