PLEASE TAKE NOTICE, that to be eligible to vote at the Annual Meeting you must be a Member in Good Standing (have paid your annual dues) by Tuesday, March 24, 2015, thirty (30) days prior to the Thursday, April 23, 2015 meeting.
NOTICE OF ANNUAL
111 Centre Street, Room 107, New York, New York on Thursday, April 23, 2015 at 6:00 p.m.
for the purpose of receiving and considering the following:
· The President’s annual report for the year ending May 31, 2015
· The Treasurer’s annual financial report for the year ending May 31, 2015
· Committee reports for the year ending May 31, 2015
· Election of Officers and Directors
· Voting on proposed amendments and adoption of the PRBA’s Bylaws
· Transacting such further and other business as may properly come before the meeting.
PLEASE TAKE NOTICE, that to be eligible to vote at the Annual Meeting you must be a Member in Good Standing (have paid your annual dues) by Tuesday, March 24, 2015, thirty (30) days prior to the Thursday, April 23, 2015 meeting.
PLEASE TAKE NOTICE, you will not be able to bring your membership dues up-to-date at the Annual Meeting.
PLEASE ALSO NOTE, that to vote you must be in attendance at the Annual Meeting. Proxy votes are not permitted.
Dated: March 5, 2015
-The Officers and Directors of the PRBA-
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
A CALL FOR ACTION
December 5th, 2014,
New York, New York- The Puerto Rican Bar Association, on behalf of its members, makes the following statement concerning the No Bill finding by the Grand Jury in the Eric Garner matter, which dismissed all potential charges against New York City Police Officer Pantaleo.
The Puerto Rican Bar Association, and its members, stand in solidarity with those communities saddened by the senseless loss of life that resulted from the fatal encounter between Eric Garner and New York City Police Officers. It is clear that the legal practices, policies, rules, and procedures applied to circumstances like that of Mr. Garner demand reflection and review of our current criminal justice system with a vision toward comprehensive reform. It is important for law and order that public confidence be restored in our justice system.
Historically, the purpose of the Grand Jury was to preserve “justice” by preventing private individuals in power, such as kings and monarchs, from bringing unsubstantiated and/or falsified charges against their people. The Founding Fathers included the Grand Jury in the American system of jurisprudence to prevent our government from enacting practices similar to those European monarchs.
Under the current Grand Jury system in New York State, prosecutors have enormous power and possess broad discretion when making decisions about whom to, and how to, charge a crime in our criminal justice system. When there is a potential for a conflict of interest to arise, such as when a police officer is the subject of a criminal investigation, this discretion becomes problematic since all felony cases must be presented to the Grand Jury. Consequently, under the circumstances, a Special Prosecutor should have been appointed to preside over the Garner Grand Jury proceeding or a special investigative Grand Jury empaneled in order to have maintained the integrity of the New York State criminal justice process.
The Grand Jury hears evidence presented by prosecutors and takes action regarding the evidence and legal charges they are to consider. An action the Grand Jury can take, among others, is to vote for an indictment, a written statement charging an individual with the commission of a felony. In order to indict, the Grand Jury must determine that the evidence presented is legally sufficient and that it provides reasonable cause to believe that the defendant has committed the crime. Otherwise, the Grand Jury dismisses the matter. A Grand Jury’s deliberation, and the evidence presented therein, and how the evidence is presented is not open to the public and the record is sealed in most instances.
In this day in age when transparency is held at such a high premium, why should the Grand Jury process be kept secret from the public? What is the rationale for keeping the proceedings secret when anyone with a television or mobile device has most likely seen and listened to the video of the arrest, the most pertinent evidence of the interaction between law enforcement officers and Eric Garner? This is an important question when so much anger and frustration is understandably directed at the finding of the Grand Jury for Eric Garner.
The result of such secrecy is public outrage, and justifiably so.
When the leaders in our community are asked by the public, “How could anyone looking at the video not find some ground for which to prosecute the Officer for his actions?” The answer is that we, the public, really don’t know. The process has kept us in the dark, creating not only a loss of trust in our jurisprudence system, but escalating our frustration, increasing our sense of helplessness as individuals, and specifically, as minorities, and instilling a sense of fear of government as well. When someone asks what was the reasoning behind the Grand Jury’s decision, the answer is that no one really knows, which leads the public to speculate as to what transpired in the Grand Jury process. Was it a racially motivated decision? If it was, then shouldn’t the District Attorney’s office have avoided this possibility of injustice by changing the venue? If the venue wasn’t changed, do we look into the appropriateness of the dynamic between the prosecution and the officers who testify routinely on behalf of the State? Should not a special prosecutor have been assigned for the Grand Jury?
All these questions are being asked in our community, and we, as leaders, are unable to provide meaningful answers due to the institutional information barrier called the Grand Jury. And what message does the Grand Jury send law enforcement?
We must bring attention to the current culture of law enforcement in our City and State and ask our representatives and community leaders to investigate and support change in police training policies and arrest practices in an effort to prevent such needles tragedy from occurring again. As such, the Puerto Rican Bar Association calls for the Bar, as a whole, to reevaluate our system of jurisprudence and the policies regarding police procedures and the use of force against its citizens.
The Puerto Rican Bar Association and its members are prepared to assist in reforming the New York State penal statutes as well as the rules, regulations, policies and procedures governing our criminal justice system.
The Puerto Rican Bar Association, as always, will continue to endeavor to ensure that Puerto Ricans, Latinos, and other diverse ethnic and racial groups are adequately represented in our legal profession so that the Latino community will continue to have a voice regarding New York State law and policy.
Respectfully, The Puerto Rican Bar Association
Please join the Puerto Rican Bar Association on Sunday, June 8, 2014 at the 18th Annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade. Our group will be meeting at 11:00 a.m. at 47th Street Between 5th Avenue and Madison Avenue. You should plan to be there early to avoid crowds. Also, we recommend that you dress neatly and comfortably, wear comfortable shoes, hat and sunglasses. Bring water and snacks as there is a wait before we march.
In order to march in the parade, you will need a wristband. We have limited wristbands and will distribute them on a first come, first serve basis. If you are interested in marching please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact:
Carlos Perez-Hall, Esq. (212) 431-1300. Ext 345
Betty Lugo, Esq. (718) 855-3000
Wanda Sanchez Day, Esq. (646) 479-9517
Yolanda Arce, Esq. (718) 851-5048
Que Viva Puerto Rico!
On March 5, 2014, the Senate failed to confirm President Obama’s nominee for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Debo Adegbile. The Senate blocked Mr. Adegbile’s nomination purportedly because the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where Adegbile formerly worked, succeeded in commuting the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who had been convicted of killing a police officer. The Senate’s failure to recognize that Adegbile’s NAACP Legal Defense Fund tenure uniquely qualified him for this position is disturbing; Mr. Adegbile’s prior work for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund should have been an asset, not a liability, in considering his qualifications for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.
As lawyers, we know that one of our most basic rights is that everyone is entitled to legal counsel when liberty is at stake. Because race plays a well-documented role in death penalty cases, it is vital that organizations such as the NAACP LDF vigilantly pursue due process errors. In the case of Abu-Jamal, the NAACP successfully challenged an unconstitutional jury instruction that resulted in his death sentence, and then twice successfully defended the ruling in a federal appeals court.
In the past few weeks, there have been at least a half dozen New York Law Journal cover stories on criminal trial irregularities, resulting in the reversal of convictions and/or scheduling of new trials. Public interest organizations are essential in exposing, challenging, and correcting these mistakes. The Puerto Rican Bar Association is not arguing the merits of any individual case here. Instead, we wish to express our support for the non-profit organizations and individuals who work to research and remedy miscarriages of justice within the criminal defense system. These individuals have a difficult and often unpopular job, but their advocacy protects us all.
Many attorneys with the breadth and depth of criminal defense experience are the subjects of successful appointments (e.g. Chief Justice John Roberts). This begs the question, what perceived threat could possibly have caused the Senators to reject Adegbile and what role did the media play?
The negative momentum from partisan media successfully discredited a potentially outstanding public servant. As media platforms expand and continue to shape and define outcomes, advocates must simultaneously sharpen their ability to respond.
On May 1, 2014, the PRBA will sponsor a CLE entitled “How to Speak to the Media” which will explore ways to interact with the media to advance our client’s and community’s interests. An electronic invitation will follow. We hope you will join us for this timely discussion.
Ordinarily we would not respond to race-baiting. However, Laura Ingraham’s recent remarks about Justice Sonia Sotomayor provide an opportunity to shed light on an important topic.
While addressing a group of law students at Yale University, Justice Sotomayor explained her preference for the word “undocumented” as opposed to “illegal” to denote immigrants who are “out of status.”
The conservative radio host criticized Justice Sotomayor’s use of the term “undocumented,” claiming that it revealed her allegiance to her “immigrant family” rather than the “rule of law” and the US Constitution. Putting aside the fact that neither Justice Sotomayor (born in the Bronx) or her parents (born in Puerto Rico, an unincorporated US territory) are immigrants, the status of being “undocumented” in the US is a civil violation, not criminal offense. In Arizona v. United States, the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision on Arizona’s SB 1070, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said, “It is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States.”
Years of widespread use of the term “illegal” has seeped into our collective vocabulary and consciousness. The word, however, is a misnomer. Undocumented immigrants who are in this country are not committing a crime.
The term “illegal” assigns a state of criminality to a person’s being that reinforces historical views of people as property. It is a judgment, not of a person’s act, but of the person herself. Rather than deviate from the principals of the Constitution, Justice Sotomayor’s use of the word “undocumented” acknowledges that all people are created equal, and that no group can be relegated to a state of lawlessness. Unfortunately, referring to people as “illegal” has shaped this country’s approach to immigration. As a result, undocumented immigrants are often exploited, treated with disdain, and live under the constant threat of family separation.
This reality makes Ingraham’s rant even more ironic: “So we have no rule of law. We are going to pick and choose who has to follow the law in the United States.” Perhaps she is referring to the aristocratic privilege of avoiding or minimizing penalty so significantly under certain circumstances that it is tantamount to a pardon. To the contrary, the immigration bill proposed by the Senate in 2013, entails a long and arduous passage to legalization, which includes heavy fines, processing fees, and a wait of well over a decade. What sort of ‘aristocratic privilege’ is an undocumented immigrant gaining?
The PRBA will host an immigration forum that will discuss the topics of criminalizing immigration, the exercise of sovereign autonomy versus judicial discretion and moral considerations, and what comprises the ideal DREAM Act. This forum will take place in a few months; we hope you will put it on your calendar once the date is announced.
It is not an easy job to police a city of over 8 million. Police officers take on the noble task of keeping us safe every day — they are hard working and honest people. A judge’s acknowledgment of the rigors of police work should not suggest bias. Neither, by extension, should a judge’s recognition of the shortcomings in governmental actions. When systemic policing methods are inconsistent with our constitutional principles, we have a duty to correct them. Unfortunately, the Second Circuit’s unfounded stay of Judge Scheindlin’s rulings in the Floyd and Ligon cases only serves to delay necessary reforms. Moreover, her removal from the cases is particularly troublesome considering the litigants did not request (or brief) it.
The decisions in Floyd and Ligon are well reasoned, substantially documented, and cite to numerous authorities. While some (or most) in federal practice view the Monell standard (the Section 1983 Supreme Court case that recognizes municipalities can be liable for civil rights violations) as almost impossible to meet, Monell and its progeny still represent good law. These laws foster public confidence in a system that ensures checks and balances on governmental action. The fact that Judge Scheindlin found the New York Police Department to be in rare breach of Monell does not mean she was biased. To lawyers familiar with New York’s criminal justice system, her decisions have the uncommon ring of truth and clarity. The Second Circuit, on the other hand, stayed the orders without addressing the merits (“we intimate no view on the substance or merits of the pending appeals”) and, sua sponte, removed Judge Scheindlin from the cases.
Judge Scheindlin recounts in vivid detail the numerous credible witnesses who testified with respect to illegal, and often humiliating, police stops. That she sometimes chose to credit the testimony of the victims of unconstitutional actions over the often inconsistent testimony from the City, does not mean she was predisposed to do so (notwithstanding a system that overwhelmingly credits the testimony of officials). She also considers expert testimony in assessing the mounds of data. The facts and law cited in her decisions do not hint at bias.
Although the Second Circuit does not explain their decision to stay the orders, it cites three of Judge Scheindlin’s press interviews as sources of her impropriety. However, these references raise more questions regarding the judge’s removal, than they answer. In the news articles, Judge Scheindlin does not discuss the pending cases; rather she discusses her judicial philosophy as one that does not automatically bow to governmental actors. It is precisely Judge Scheindlin’s thorough and critical view of the evidence that lend her decisions objectivity, rather than render them pre-judged.
If the Second Circuit has a different view of the cases, they can clarify the law on appeal. What, then, was the purpose of removing Judge Scheindlin and admonishing her for her thoughtful work? Why is there no analysis of the relevant issues in their two-page decision? The Second Circuit’s catch-all citation, “appearance of impropriety,” in support of her removal, lacks both specificity and guidance.
The PRBA, along with other bar associations, will sponsor an ethics CLE this winter where a panel of experts will critically examine the circumstances of Judge Scheindlin’s removal. We extend an invitation to all New York bar associations to participate, particularly those with ethics committees organized for that purpose. We encourage all to attend.
The judicial retirement ages embedded in New York State’s Constitution are a relic of a time when average life expectancy was much shorter than it is today. A sensible proposal on the Nov. 5 ballot,Proposition 6, would modestly extend the age limits for certain state judges and help ease court system backlogs by allowing seasoned judges to stay on past age 70. We urge voters to approve the change.
Under the plan, members of New York’s Supreme Court — comprising the state’s primary trial court and the intermediate appellate court — would be eligible to serve up to five more two-year terms once they reach 70, allowing them to serve until age 80. Now, a State Supreme Court justice may serve three two-year terms beyond the age of 70, so the change would raise the cap by four years.
These five-term extensions would be subject to medical certification of continued fitness, just as the current three-term extensions are. In all, 28 judges would become eligible for the extra extensions in the next four years, according to court officials. This would give court administrators new flexibility to assign judges to family court and other areas where there is a pressing need.
Proposition 6 would also let members of the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, serve past that court’s current mandatory retirement age of 70. Just a few years ago, the state’s former chief judge, Judith Kaye, one of the nation’s most able jurists, was forced to step down because of that rule for no good reason. Under the ballot proposal, Court of Appeals judges would be allowed to serve out any 14-year term on the court begun before they reach age 70, subject to a requirement that they step off the bench by the last day of the year in which they turn 80. Judge Kaye’s successor, Jonathan Lippman, for example, would be allowed to stay on the court until his term ended in early 2023, at age 77. For reasons of continuity, fairness and judicial independence, the reform is overdue.
This November 5th millions of New York State residents will be going to their voting booths to vote in various municipal and county elections. In New York City, for example, there are city-wide elections for mayor, comptroller and public advocate. These are all important races and as with any election we as voters need to make sure we actually go to the polls to vote. When we get to the polls this November, in addition to any candidate elections, New Yorkers will be voting on six proposed constitutional amendments. These items generally appear as wordy paragraphs in really small print on our ballots and we often either forget to vote on them or ignore them. We can’t do that this November.
The first of the six proposed amendments is Proposal One, which will authorize casino gaming. As we approach Election Day over the next few weeks, many voters will get information on this proposal; after all, everyone generally believes in a dollar and a dream. Also on the ballot will be Proposal Six which seeks to increase the age until which certain state court judges can serve. This proposal really matters to the administration of justice throughout the state of New York.
We all have heard the expression that good judges are hard to find. It is very true. Moreover, once we find them we need to be able to keep them on the bench. Proposal Six is designed to do just that. Currently, New York State’s Constitution mandates judicial retirement at age 70. This age limit was fixed in the state’s constitution back in 1869. Today, as a result of medicine, exercise and better living conditions we know that 70 is the new 50, if you will. Additionally, the U.S. Census Bureau data, among other sources has indicated that life expectancy has increased across the population.
Proposal Six will allow Justices of the State Supreme Court, the major trial court, who reach 70 years of age to continue to serve as active justices upon certification for up to five two-year terms expanding on the current limit of three two-year terms. The amendment would thereby allow justices to serve at least until the age of 80. Likewise, for judges of our highest state court, the Court of Appeals, the amendment would allow the judges to serve out any term on the Court commenced before they reach 70, subject only to the requirement that they must step off the bench on the date their 14 year term ends or the last day of the year in which they turn 80, whichever is sooner.
Proposal Six, by the way, does not set up a situation where judges who are not medically fit, are allow to remain in service. Proposal Six will still require that State Supreme Court Judges who reach the age of 70 be certified for medical fitness and necessity. Nor will Proposal Six limit the ability of new judges being elected or appointed to serve. Under the law, once a judge becomes certified, a position as a State Supreme Court Judge becomes available to be filled through the elective process.
Proposal Six likewise, will not affect the growing trends in seeking to diversify the state courts. The Brennan Center for Justice put out a study in 2010 addressing the manner in which states could improve upon diversifying its judiciary. Their report published a set of best practices which the Brennan Center’s Fair Courts Project continues to monitor. More recently, Stephen P. Younger, who had, until June of this year, served as counsel for New York’s Commission on Judicial Nominations indicated in various reports that one of his best achievements was in helping to create a system that allowed for a more diverse candidate pool in filling vacancies on New York’s highest court.
Socrates, the classical Greek philosopher, said, “Four things belong to a judge: to hear courteously, to answer wisely, to consider soberly, and to decide impartially.” Practically speaking these are attributes that come with age. This is one of the reasons why being a judge generally comes later in one’s legal career. To be one of those good judges, you must have the wisdom and patience that only time can achieve. As an old African proverb says, “wisdom does not come overnight.” Equal Justice requires a diverse bench with good Judges who are not forced to stop serving just because they have reached the well-cured age of 70. On Election Day, November 5th, go to the polls, vote and don’t stop voting until you have voted on Proposed Constitutional Amendment Six on the New York State Election Ballot.
Michael A. Hardy, Esq. is General Counsel and Executive Vice-President to National Action Network (NAN). He has been involved in many of this nation’s highest profiled cases involving violations of civil or human rights. He continues to supervise National Action Network’s crisis unit and hosts a monthly free legal clinic at NAN New York City’s House of Justice.