The Annual summer meeting of the New York State Bar Association was held this past June in Cooperstown, New York. The hot topic before the Association’s legislative body, the House of Delegates, centered around the mandatory pro bono reporting requirements.
As previously reported to you, the courts have enacted Section 118.1(e)(14) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator of the Courts, which requires lawyers to state under oath in their biennial registration form the number of hours spent providing voluntary legal services to poor and underserved clients, as well as the amount of voluntary financial contributions made to organizations primarily or substantially engaged in providing legal services to the poor and underserved. This rule was enacted without any input or suggestions from the NYSBA, or any of the county bar associations for that matter.
At the June meeting, a prior resolution of the NYSBA Executive Committee was again brought before the House of Delegates for further debate, and a potential vote. Said resolution states, in relevant part, as follows: “that the Association reiterates and reaffirms its opposition to mandatory reporting of pro bono services and mandatory reporting of financial contributions to organizations engaged in providing legal services to the poor and underserved and shall continue to express its opposition to such mandatory reporting, and shall pursue such other and further actions as may be appropriate for the purpose of achieving the repeal of Rule 118.1(e)(14) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator.”
After further discussion and debate, the vote on the resolution was ultimately postponed until the November 1, 2014 meeting at the urging and request of NYSBA President Glenn Lau-Kee, who informed the delegates that he was engaged in on-going discussions and/or negotiations with Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti, in an attempt to resolve the parties’ impasse on this very sensitive subject matter.
As previously stated, we, as lawyers, truly understand the serious unmet needs of the indigent, and give of ourselves voluntarily on a regular basis, in some form or another. However, our desire to provide volunteer services should not be subject to the pressures of mandatory reporting requirements.
I intend to keep you all informed of any further developments concerning this issue as I become privy to same.
Christopher J. Fitzpatrick
I have been practicing law for 19+ years, and of those years, I have served this Association, either as a Director or Officer, for the past eleven years. I am now entering my 12th year as your President.
I am a member of the law firm of Jacobi, Sieghardt, Bousanti, Piazza & Fitzpatrick, P.C., having started in the firm as an associate in June, 1999. My now partners taught me that our Association is only as powerful as the dedication and efforts of its members, as well as the value of this Association to our role as practicing attorneys.
As President of this Association, I have some big shoes to fill, not only in following our immediate Past President, Thomas Hall, but the Past Presidents that came directly out of my law firm; namely, Sidney Jacobi and Clelia D’Alessandro, the founders of my firm, Judge Pasquale BiFulco, Mordecai J. Jacobi, George A. Sieghardt, Mark Piazza, and Grace Mattei, who became President after she had left the firm to open her own practice, but who worked for the firm of “Jacobi, Sieghardt” as an associate for a number of years.
For those of you that don’t know, the Mission Statement of our Association reads as follows: “The Richmond County Bar Association is dedicated to advancing its members’ professional development, promoting the highest standards of excellence in the practice of law and facilitating access to legal services for the Richmond County community.” It is an Association that was founded by attorneys for promoting the interests and development of attorneys. As such, I am here to work for you, our members. As President, I have no intention of reinventing the proverbial wheel, but instead simply want to keep our Association pointed in the right direction.
My goals for the coming year are simple. First, I will continue to work closely with the NYSBA in opposing the mandatory reporting requirements being imposed by the Office of Court Administration, requiring attorneys to report pro bono services and financial contributions to organizations engaged in providing legal services to the poor and underserved. Instead, I believe it is necessary to explore other alternatives and options. As lawyers, we understand the serious unmet needs of the indigent, and we give of ourselves voluntarily on a regular basis. However, our desire to give volunteer services should not be subject to the pressures of coercive reporting requirements.
Second, I will continue to look to expand the efforts of our Volunteer Lawyers Project, that is spearheaded by our very own Sheila McGinn. This Project assists qualified homeowners in defending foreclosure actions, and helps many of these individuals procure loan modifications, enabling them to remain in their homes.
Third, I will seek to involve all of our members, both young and old, in our various committees, activities and Bar functions. I want all of our members involved, and I want everyone in our Association to have a voice.
Next, I look forward to working with the Judiciary to ensure a smooth transition into the new Richmond County Courthouse, which is slated to open sometime in September. As with every new venture or beginning, there are always growing pains and kinks that need to be ironed out. At that time, if you, our members, have any comments or concerns, I want to hear them, so that we can properly address them with the Judiciary.
Finally, with the assistance of the other Officers, as well as our capable Board of Directors, we are ready to tackle any new issues that are expected to arise in the coming year.
I would like to thank Thomas Hall, our immediate Past President, for his hard work and dedication this past year. You are a true professional in every sense of the word, and you always had the best interests of our members in mind during your Presidency.
Finally, I look forward to working for you, our members, and look forward to working with the Judiciary to accomplish all of our intended goals.
I find it hard to believe that this is already my fourth President’s message that I have written for the RCBA Journal. This means that my time as President is speeding by quickly and will be over before I know it. It continues to be an interesting and fun ride!
Our Board has been busy with a number of activities. As we have done over the past few years, in January the Richmond County Bar Association sponsored a reception with the President of the New York State Bar Association, David Schraver and the President Elect, Glenn Lau-Kee. We have found these annual receptions to be quite beneficial on the State Bar level as it gives our Board, and our Delegates to the State Bar, greater visibility and access to key decision makers in the State Bar when addressing issues of concern to our members. This year we were also honored to have in attendance the President of the American Bar Association, James Silkenat. Having an ABA President at an RCBA function was truly a “first”. I am quite grateful that Jim Silkenat took the time from his busy schedule to meet with us.
Also in January, Judge McMahon held her annual outreach program in which local high school students experience, first hand, the devastating effects that drunk driving and substance abuse have on both the criminals and the innocent victims. Among other things, the students got to sit in on arraignments before Judge Rienzi where they saw how substance abuse irrevocably destroys numerous lives.
We are busy working on our Law Day celebration which will take place on May 1st in Judge McMahon’s Courtroom. This year’s theme is “American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Counts.” All are welcome and encouraged to participate.
We are also busy planning our Annual Dinner, which will be held on May 8th at the Staten Island Hilton. This year’s Honoree is the Hon. Barbara I. Panepinto. We will also be recognizing Pete Sipp with the Richard D. Lasher Meritorious Service Award.
Finally, this is also the time of year when the RCBA is planning its annual meeting where we have elections for Officers and Directors. I strongly encourage all interested and qualified attorneys to run for office. This is YOUR Bar Association - I urge you all to be active and make a positive impact on the practice of law in our community. If you are not ready to run for an elected position, join a committee, volunteer to help out at an event or find another way to get involved. I think that you will find that when you get involved in the Bar Association, you get much more out of it than you put into it.
The New Year is upon us and I hope that 2014 is a happy, healthy and fulfilling year for each and every one of our members. One thing I would like to see in the New Year is for the mandatory pro bono reporting requirements to be eliminated in their entirety. As most of you are probably aware (although I have, at times, been surprised to find out how many are not), as part of the biennial attorney registration, you must now report two things regarding your pro bono activities to OCA: (a) the number of voluntary unpaid pro bono hours you have performed and (b) the dollar amount of voluntary financial contributions you made to organizations primarily or substantially engaged in the provision of legal services to the underserved and to the poor.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against lawyers voluntarily performing pro bono work or donating money to organizations that provide legal services. In fact, lawyers have a long and honorable tradition of doing such things voluntarily. Indeed our Rules of Professional Conduct contain an aspirational goal of providing pro bono legal services to the needy. However, the mandatory pro bono reporting requirements are just wrong on a number of levels.
First, there is no denying that the mandatory reporting requirements are coercive. Once the hours and financial contributions are reported on the biennial registration form, they become available for the public and the media to obtain and publicize or use as they see fit. This certainly makes “voluntary” pro bono not so voluntary any more. Will attorneys seeking political office or judgeships feel compelled to perform more pro bono hours and make more financial donations to legal service organizations so that they will look like “better” candidates? If so, haven’t we, to some degree, crossed the line from “voluntary” to “mandatory”?
Second, in my view, the reporting of financial contributions is an invasion of privacy and certainly none of OCA’s business. Whether an attorney chooses to contribute to his or her church, synagogue, law school, college or a charitable organization the provides legal services is, quite frankly, nobody’s business. Moreover if an attorney cannot make such contributions in a particular year because of personal reasons (e.g having a sick child, three kids in college or just not making enough money to get by) why should this "failure" to make charitable contributions be reported to OCA and potentially published to the world? How does the amount of financial contributions have any bearing on an attorney’s fitness or competence to practice law?
Third, this focus on reporting pro bono activities ignores and therefore minimizes the numerous other things that lawyers do without compensation that benefit society and the administration of justice. For example, many lawyers donate their time to serve on boards of charitable organizations, perform bar association activities, act as arbitrators in small claims court and engage in many similar charitable and civic activities which do not qualify as pro bono.
Finally, one has to wonder why these new rules were passed without any notice to any organized bar, including the New York State Bar Association, and therefore there was no opportunity to comment on the rules before they were imposed on attorneys.
Turning to another topic, the end of 2013 also marked the retirement of the Hon John A. Fusco from a long and distinguished career on the Bench. He will be sorely missed. After many years as a private practitioner, he has ably served Staten Island in many positions including as member of the City Council, Surrogate and Supreme Court Justice. His tireless work ethic, professional demeanor and desire to simply do what is right and just in all cases that have come before him provide a great example for all of us. He leaves some big shoes to fill. I wish him many happy and healthy years in his “retirement.” However, not surprisingly, Judge Fusco will continue to serve the citizens of Staten Island in his new position as Counsel to the Boro President. The judicial system’s loss will certainly be the Boro President’s gain.
Exciting things are happening this Fall!
Summer is over, vacations are finished, the kids are back in school and businesses of all types seem to get a burst of additional activity as everyone gets back to full swing. The practice of law is no different. There is an undeniable increase in the flurry of activity as one walks through the Court House. While there is a collective pang of regret as everyone laments another summer having flown by way too quickly, there is also a palpable feeling of renewed energy and vigor.
I noticed this feeling of renewed energy and vigor being present the other day when I was in the Supreme Court parts at 130 Stuyvesant Place. I also noticed how terribly inadequate theses Court facilities are for the volume of cases being handled by our Judges. There were Attorneys standing in the hallway while calendars were being called, straining to hear when their cases were called. I noticed one elderly attorney in particular who, although he was lucky enough to get into the Courtroom, had to stand through the entire calendar call. He looked quite fatigued as he left the Courtroom after arguing his motions. I also noticed a pro se litigant who was unsure about what to do about his case when he saw the crowd of attorneys standing in the doorway trying to hear the calendar call. He was confused about what was going on and was about to leave when a Court Officer happened to come by and assisted him. It is a testament to our Judges, Court Personnel and Attorneys, that these inadequate facilities are tolerated day in and day out.
The first exciting thing that is predicted to happen this Fall is the (scheduled) completion of the new Court House. The most recent official word that I have heard, is that the new Court House is still scheduled to be completed in “late Fall.” The work certainly seems to be progressing, but knowing the vagaries of construction schedules, I am cautiously optimistic. Whether it actually happens in the Fall, or later, I am sure we are all looking forward to the day when the new Court House opens. The new Court House will undoubtedly go a long way to enhancing the efficient administration of justice on Staten Island. This, of course, benefits everyone - Judges, Court Personnel, Attorneys and our clients.
The second exciting thing that will happen this Fall is that our Bar Association will be having a CLE program at The Palms in Las Vegas! While our Association regularly conducts excellent CLE programs on Staten Island, this is the first “destination CLE” offered in many, many years. There has been a strong response so far and I would encourage everyone who can make it to do so. This “destination CLE” will be a great opportunity to learn, earn some CLE credits, socialize with your colleagues and have lots of fun. I am looking forward to a great time! I hope to see you in Vegas!
I truly feel privileged, humbled and honored to be the President of the Richmond County Bar Association. I am very excited about the upcoming year. I want to express my personal thanks to Tom Sipp, our Immediate Past President, for his outstanding dedication, hard work and overall fine job that he did in leading our Association.
Attorneys and Bar Associations all over this state do good things for the public day in and day out. These good deeds typically go largely unnoticed and are often unappreciated. One small example of a good deed that is done year in and year out by the RCBA is the Summer Law Intern program where the RCBA provides a stipend to law students who work for the Court System. Although the stipend is unquestionably modest, the program provides a valuable opportunity for law students to gain first hand experience in the judicial system. Another example of ongoing good deeds is the RCBA Volunteer Lawyer Project (“VLP”). As most of you know, the VLP provides pro bono legal services to indigent homeowners faced with foreclosure of their home mortgages. Finally, individual attorneys, in all types of practices, frequently provide pro bono legal services without any fanfare.
In fact, the American Bar Association released a comprehensive report in March of this year which concluded that, on average, practicing attorneys perform nearly 60 hours per year of pro bono legal services. I think most people would agree, that this is a truly remarkable statistic. The ABA model Rules of Professional Conduct contain an aspirational goal that every lawyer should provide 50 hours of pro bono service each year. The ABA study is empirical proof that most attorneys voluntarily adhere to the aspirational goal of providing significant amounts of pro bono.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, as most of you probably know, new law school graduates will soon be required to perform fifty (50) hours of mandatory pro bono legal service as condition to their admission to practice law in New York State. While I understand the importance of providing adequate legal services to the poor, this is a societal obligation, and not something that should be foisted upon the shoulders of lawyers or, worse yet, upon graduating law students (many of whom are already saddled with a staggering amount of student loan debt). Moreover, making pro bono “mandatory” takes the aspirational aspect out pro bono. I can’t help but think that mandatory pro bono may be resented by many incoming attorneys - making it less likely that they will voluntarily perform pro bono in their future years. Only time will tell.
Whatever one’s personal feelings are on the mandatory pro bono topic, as a Bar Association, we should provide a vehicle for Staten Island residents to provide their pro bono service in their home community. The RCBA Volunteer Lawyer Project is the perfect conduit for providing law students and law graduates with an opportunity to fulfill their pro bono requirements on Staten Island. Accordingly, I would like to see the VLP partner with the New York law schools and provide an opportunity for Staten Island law students, in particular, to perform their pro bono work in their own community. This is one goal that I am looking forward to accomplishing in the upcoming year. I am sure that we will be able to do so.
On a lighter note, the summer season is upon us!! I hope that you all have a healthy, safe and enjoyable summer.
The Richmond County Bar Association (RCBA) sponsored a Welcoming reception for New York. State Bar Association (NYSBA) President Seymour .lames on February 27, 2013. President James detailed the efforts of the RCBA and the NYSBA in assisting "the victims of Superstorm Sandy. " I further advised that a great deal of work will be required in the not. to distant future as insurance claims and foreclosures were likely to increase as a result of the storm.
At the reception, the NYSBA Delegates from the Thirteenth Judicial District and the NYSBA Delegates from the RCBA advised the RCBA Board of Directors that since the formation of the Thirteenth Judicial District Richmond County has received a greater number of "NYSBA Delegates. As a direct result, Richmond County has an increased profile at the NYSBA meetings and has played a larger role in expressing the concerns of attorneys and litigants from Richmond County.
On January 17, 2013, The Honorable Judith McMahon, the RCBA, the Staten Island Trial Lawyers and the Staten Island Women’s Bar Association, held a forum for local high schools. At the forum, the students were able to View an arraignment calendar, listen to a victim's impact statement, and be advised of the legal ramifications of drunken driving and cyber-bullying.
As we look forward, the next few months will be busy as We are in the process of planning Law Day on Wednesday, May I, 2013 with the program lo be held in Judge McMahon’s Courtroom. Anthony Bisignano, Esq. will serve as Chairman of the event as he has for many years. Members of the RCBA are welcomed to attend! The RCBA will be holding the Annual Banquet at the Staten Island Hilton on Thursday, May 9, 2013. This year we will Honor Justice William F. Mastro, Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department, as the Honoree of the Year and We also will acknowledge James L. Kelley, Esq. with the Richard D. Lasher Meritorious Service Award.
As this is the last President’s message of the RCBA calendar year, much appreciation is extended to the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee for their efforts in meeting our goals of increasing our membership and in Continuing to strengthen the RCBAÜS financial Standing.
Thomas A. Sipp, Esq.
The last month has been a difficult time for Staten Island and other areas affected by Super Storm Sandy. 1 hope this correspondence finds the members of the RCBA and their families healthy and safe.
The RCBA acted immediately to assist members and the local community. The RCBA established a service for members whose offices had been displaced or whose business had been disrupted. Through the New York State Bar Association, the RCBA offered members the opportunity to provide pro bono services. The RCBA assisted in representing and advising families and business owners in need by working with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York at a forum held at the Staten Island Hilton. NYSBA President Seymour James has hosted numerous telephone conferences with the Bar Association Presidents from all five boroughs and Long Island. I can report that Staten Island has been a focus of these conferences. The RCBA and the Staten Island Trial Lawyers’ are working on hosting a free CLE to provide the necessary education for post disaster relief representation
In addition to the work regarding Super Storm Sandy, the Association will continue to provide monthly CLE programs. In January, Judge McMahon and Judge Rienzi with the RCBA, the Staten Island Trial Lawyers, and the Staten Island Women’s Bar Association will host representatives from all of Staten Island’s High Schools to advise them of the long term personal and legal affects of drunken driving and bullying.
The RCBA also held the Holiday Party to gather for holiday cheer and to thank all court personnel. The party was well attended with over 200 attendees. I would like to thank Carol Wojtowicz, Matthew Santomauro and John P. Connors, Jr. for Chairing the Holiday Party Committee.
In closing, The Honorable Anthony I. Giacobbe will be retiring (mandatorily) as of December 31, 2012. Judge Giacobbe has been a member of the RCBA for over 50 years. We wish Judge Giacobbe many future successes and much happiness.
Thomas Sipp, Esq., President
The Richmond County Bar Association's Executive Board and Board of Directors held meetings during the months of July and August to ensure that the 2012-2013 term was enjoyable and successful.
As a brief recap, Carol Wojtovvicz, Esq. and the young lawyer's committee organized and coached the RCBA bowling team which competed every Wednesday night in June and July. On September 6, former President John Z. Marangos, Esq. sponsored a CLE at the McGinn Center on the grounds of Staten Island University Hospital. We look forward to having future CLE's at the McGinn Center and thank Staten Island University Hospital for its generosity. On September 13, Jack Stern, Esq., former President James Birch, Esq., Graig Martin, Esq. and Peter Martin, Esq. co-chaired the golf and tennis outing which not only resulted in a net profit but also provided attorneys, judges, real estate brokers, and members of the banking community with an opportunity to compete and enjoy a beautiful day.
On the fall schedule, Ray Liebman, Esq. and the Tax Committee will present a CLE on September 2 sponsored by Duane C. Felton, Esq., Judge McMahon will host a Guardianship CLE in the Supreme Court on October 4, Joseph Canepa, Esq. will moderate an Immigration CLE on [Immigration Consequences of Criminal Dispositions in NYS after Padilla v. Kentucky and C.P.L. 440, Post conviction Relief Practice] act on October 18 and as usual the Surrogate's Court Committee and Surrogate Gigante will offer a CLE at the Surrogate's Court in November.
In addition, to the CLE's Joseph O'Shea, Esq. will provide a great night of laughter and memories at the annual Night of Nostalgia and the holiday party plans are already underway. Your attendance and participation in these events affords you a wonderful opportunity to network, meet with old friends and colleagues and support the RCBA. We look forward to seeing you soon!
Over the last ten to fifteen years, Staten Island’s legal community has experienced many advancements that impact the way in which we practice law.
The County Clerk’s office moved from the basement of 18 Richmond Terrace to its present home at 130 Stuyvesant Place. A new Article 81 part was established abolishing the need for attorneys, family members, and disabled persons to travel to Kings County for what is an extremely delicate and at times emotionally draining proceeding. Through the efforts of Senator Andrew J. Lanza and Assemblyman Michael J. Cusick, Staten Island became the Thirteenth Judicial District. The creation of the Thirteenth Judicial District resulted in judicial independence for Staten Island and the creation of an Administrative Judge’s position where Judith N. McMahon, Staten Island first elected Supreme Court Justice, now serves. Finally, in the coming months the new Courthouse will be completed and ready for business.
These advancements have improved the practice of law on Staten Island and the Richmond County Bar Association has been an integral part in working to make these advancements happen. The RCBA has hosted legislative breakfasts, welcomed Office of Court Administration officials to the RCBA’s membership meetings and met with members of the Judiciary.
In order for the RCBA to continue to remain active in improving the legal system we must continue to grow our membership and secure our financial stability for the future. The Young Lawyer’s Committee, revived by Denise Marangos, Esq., and now led by Jeffrey Alfano, Esq. and Carol Wojtowicz, Esq. has been successful in recruiting young lawyers. The Volunteer Lawyers Project has also brought new members to the RCBA. In regard to financial stability, the Executive Board has established relationships that have resulted in sponsorships for our CLE Seminars, Annual Meetings, General Membership meetings and other RCBA sponsored events.
I look forward to a prosperous 2012-2013 year in which the RCBA continues to grow in numbers and secures financial stability for years to come.
THOMAS A. SIPP