Check back for upcoming events.
Each year on May 1st, the United States of America observes Law Day to celebrate our legal system and the freedoms we enjoy. This year, the Division of Access to Justice and the Historical Society of the New York State Courts, joined together to invite high school students to participate in an art contest and share their creative interpretation of this year’s theme Cornerstones of Democracy: Civics, Civility and Collaboration. The 2023 Law Day Art Contest winners are Liane Jackson, Molly Giordano and Chanely Herrara. Congratulations! This year’s winners are from Tompkins County in the 6th Judicial District, Suffolk County in the 10th Judicial District and Nassau County, in the 10th Judicial District, respectively.
First Prize, “The Threads of Our Nation” by Liane Jackson
Artist’s description: Three individuals meant to represent each of the three cornerstones of democracy work in unison to form the Star-Spangled Banner. It is incomplete to show the work still being done to improve an ever-evolving nation as efficient progress is made by working together. Purple, as used for the person at the top of the piece, represents the citizenship associated with Civics. Pink is the sense of politeness that comes with Civility. Finally, yellow, the ideal color for modern workspaces as it encourages teamwork and optimism, is used for Collaboration.
Second Prize, “Unity” by Molly Giordano
Artist’s description: While creating this piece I was inspired to express how we as citizens are unified through democracy. As well as the three branches of government, the three cornerstones of democracy are also very important. Civics is the study of our rights as citizens, Civility is politeness, and courtesy in behavior, and Collaboration is the action of working together. These cornerstones help unify our people and improve our daily lives. In the piece I created I showed the capitol building with three pillars and each one represents a different cornerstone.
Third Prize, “We Work Together as One” by Chanely Herrera
Artist’s description: Everyone should work together to complete an assignment faster. When we work together, we create more bright and wonderful memories together.
Opportunity Youth Court Part Celebrates Two Year Anniversary
Left to Right: Sara Kaye, City Council Member; Hon. Anne E. Minihan, AJSC, 9th Judicial District Administrative Judge; Hon. Jared R. Rice, Mayor Noam Bramson of New Rochelle, NY; Charles B. Strome III, New Rochelle City Manager
On November 4, 2022, the New Rochelle Opportunity Youth Part (OYP) celebrated its second anniversary by hosting a hybrid (in-person/virtual) graduation for program participants. There were twelve participants selected as All-Stars and one selected as the MVP - Most Valuable Participant. The thirteen participants completed all aspects of the program and went above and beyond the set expectations. As they each accepted their certificate, they expressed deep gratitude for the support they received while sharing a brief snapshot of where they are headed and the future, they now see for themselves. During his speech, one participant encouraged his colleagues to “keep grinding and trust the process.”
OYP was created in Fall 2020 to provide young people disconnected from forms of social support, with criminal cases in the New Rochelle City Court with a chance to have a more favorable legal outcome and to connect them with positive resources in the community. This part, designated for emerging adults 16 to 24 years old, matches individuals facing misdemeanor or felony charges with community organizations that provide critical, immediate interventions needed to steer these individuals to a better path. These justice-involved emerging adults often have little school or family support, are often unemployed or underemployed, and have the highest rate of re-arrest than any other age group.
Pro Bono Awards Night
The NYS Unified Court System Office for Justice Initiatives, the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), and the New York County Lawyers Association (NYCLA) co-sponsored a virtual pro bono volunteer recognition event on Tuesday, October 25th. The annual awards ceremony joined events across the country to promote and recognize pro bono service and spotlight the difference lawyers can make in their communities. The Honorable Edwina G. Richardson-Mendelson, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives, Sherry Levin Wallach, President of the New York State Bar Association, and Vincent T. Chang, President of the New York County Lawyers Association, presented the awards.
The event honored 23 volunteers who received plaque awards for their outstanding pro bono service. Additionally, 105 volunteers received certificates recognizing their distinguished service in the New York State Courts Office for Justice Initiatives' Access to Justice and Attorney Emeritus programs.
Special recognition and Certificates of Excellence were awarded to those individuals who were instrumental in developing the Special COVID Intervention Parts (SCIP) in the 7th Judicial District. Judges and court staff joined with community partners in the district to ensure tenants with dire needs that were hit particularly hard by the pandemic would have access to courts and related legal and social services in their eviction cases. Especially in Town and Village Courts where COVID restrictions presented additional challenges to hearing cases and accessing legal assistance. This collaborative partnership was honored for its extraordinary efforts in creating this unique model and providing access to vital services when they were essential.
For more information about this year's award ceremony and to view the program brochure and video featuring all honorees, visit the National Pro Bono Celebration Week 2022 page.
VCAN (Virtual Court Access Network) Redhook Community Justice Center
The Office for Justice Initiatives, in collaboration with the Center for Court Innovation and the Unified Court System Division of Technology, is proud to announce that the Red Hook Community Justice Center now offers direct access to Brooklyn Civil/Housing and Family Court! At computer centers called Virtual Court Access Network (VCAN) sites, you can get help filing a family offense petition, ask questions to court clerks, respond to papers, seek orders of protection, and get helpful information and resources.
The Red Hook VCAN is free and open to the public. The Red Hook Community Justice Center is located at 88 Visitation Place, Brooklyn, NY 11231. Hours are listed below.
Family Court cases or questions: Mondays and Tuesdays from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM.
Civil and Housing cases or questions: Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM.
This information is also available on the program flyer.
Free CLE on Civility in the Courts: Sexual Harassment, Bias & Ethical Implications
On July 28, 2022, the Office for Justice Initiatives co-sponsored a free CLE in cooperation with the Kings County Housing Court CLE Committee, on Civility in the Courts: Sexual Harassment, Bias & Ethical Implications. The online CLE program offered 1 CLE credit in diversity, inclusion and elimination of bias. Program speakers were Hon. Cheryl Gonzales, Supervising Judge, Kings County Housing Court, Kay-Ann Porter Campbell, Esq. Managing Inspector General for Bias Matters for the New York State Unified Court System and Carol M. Hamm, Esq. Deputy Inspector General in the Office of the Inspector General for the New York State Unified Court System. Over 150 attorneys and judges attended the program. The program was recorded and will be made available for future viewing.
Virtual Court Navigator Program
On June 6, 2022, the Office for Justice Initiatives launched Phase II, of the Virtual Court Navigator Pilot Program. Virtual Court Navigators are specially trained, supervised, and available to help court users prepare for court appearances, find court forms, get answers to general questions, find community programs and services, refer people to legal service providers, navigate the court’s website, and more. Virtual Court Navigators are not attorneys and cannot provide legal advice.
The program will operate on a limited basis from June 2022 to August 2022, in Albany, Columbia, Rensselaer, Ulster, Broome, Tompkins, and Chemung Counties as well as Erie County Surrogate’s Court. Unrepresented court users can schedule a time to meet with a virtual court navigator by completing an online intake form.
For more information visit the Virtual Court Navigator Program webpage.
Each year on May 1st, the United States of America observes Law Day to celebrate our legal system and the freedoms we enjoy. In celebration of Law Day, the Office for Justice Initiatives’ Division of Access to Justice invited high school students in New York state to participate in an art contest. The contest sought original artwork inspired by this year’s Law Day theme, “Toward a More Perfect Union: The Constitution in Times of Change.” The winner of the NYS Unified Court System’s Office for Justice Initiatives Division of Access to Justice’s 2022 Law Day Art Contest is Julianna, a tenth-grade student in New York State. Congratulations Julianna!
For a limited time, the artwork will travel to courts within the 5th Judicial District and will be on display for the public to enjoy. See the dates and locations below.
|September 2022||Manlius Town Court
301 Brooklea Drive
Fayetteville, NY 13066
|October 2022||Manlius Village Court
One Arkie Albanese Avenue
Manlius, NY 13104
Onondaga County Courthouse
|December 2022||Oneida County Courthouse
200 Elizabeth Street
Utica, NY 13501
|January 2023||Herkimer County Office & Court Facility
301 N. Washington Street
Herkimer, NY 13350
|February 2023||Lewis County Courthouse
7660 N. State Street
Lowville, NY 13367
|March 2023||Jefferson County Court Complex
163 Arsenal Street
Watertown, NY 13601
|April 2023||Oswego Court Complex-Public Safety Center
39 Churchill Road
Oswego, NY 13126
Julianna’s artwork is titled “Be Fierce and Pierce.”
Artist’s description: The bald eagle represents the U.S. Its talons are piercing the [U.S.] Constitution to show the power of change. Uncle Sam is smiling as he melts away with the old. He is happy and accepting of change.
Know Your Rights WorkshopThe Office for Justice Initiatives has partnered with the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) to provide the public with a series of Know Your Rights workshops. On Thursday, April 7, 2022, the event focused on Child Support in New York City and was facilitated by Jane Matchak, from Brooklyn Public Library’s Justice Initiatives team. Presenters included Tracy Woods-Trudden, Assistant Deputy Chief Clerk, Queens Family Court and Jessica Stadmeyer, Director of Legal Resources and Community Engagement at LIFT (Legal Information for Families Today). The presenters discussed current protocols and procedures for court hearings and described how to navigate the child support process without an attorney. The workshop was livestreamed on BPL’s YouTube Channel and is available at: Know Your Rights: Child Support.
Know Your Rights Workshop
The Office for Justice Initiatives has partnered with the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) to provide the public with a series of Know Your Rights workshops. On Thursday, January 6, 2022, the event focused on Tenant’s Rights and Evictions in New York City in 2022. The virtual event provided updated information from a November 2020 workshop provided on the same topic. This month’s event was facilitated by Jane Matchak, from Brooklyn Public Library’s Justice Initiatives team. Presenters included Hon. Cheryl Gonzales, Supervising Judge, Housing Court, NYC Civil Court, Kings County; Kristie Ortiz-Lam, Director of the Preserving Affordable Housing Program at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A; and Katie Brennan, Senior Supervising Attorney, Tenant Rights Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG). The presenters discussed current protocols and procedures for court hearings, and the eviction moratorium. The event was livestreamed on BPL’s YouTube Channel and is available at: Know Your Tenant’s Rights.
Pro Bono Awards Night
On Tuesday, October 26, 2021, the NYS Unified Court System Office for Justice Initiatives, the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), and the New York County Lawyers Association (NYCLA) co-sponsored a virtual pro bono volunteer recognition event. The annual awards ceremony in celebration of National Pro Bono week occurred on Zoom. The Honorable Edwina G. Mendelson, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives, Sherry Levin Wallach, President-elect of the New York State Bar Association, and Anthe Maria Bova, General Counsel and Pro Bono Director of the New York County Lawyers Association presented the awards. The event honored 22 volunteers who received plaque awards for their outstanding pro bono service. Additionally, 98 volunteers received certificates recognizing their distinguished service in the New York State Courts Office for Justice Initiatives' programs. Guardians Ad litem received special recognition for their outstanding service on behalf of vulnerable litigants in New York City Housing Court during the COVID-19 public health crisis.
Training on Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) Appointments in Landlord/Tenant Matters
On Friday, August 6, 2021, Westchester City Court Judges and Town and Village Court Judges were offered the opportunity to participate in a training on Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) appointments in Landlord/Tenant matters. The Office for Justice Initiatives facilitated the training, in collaboration with the Honorable Sam Walker, the 9th Judicial District GAL Committee and the Judicial Institute. NYC Supervising Housing Court Judge Jean T. Schneider, Judge Marc Finkelstein, and Judge Malaika Scott-McLaughlin presented on the GAL role and expectations, how such an appointment can promote court efficiency, safeguard the rights of impaired litigants facing eviction, and enable landlords to negotiate effective solutions. This will support the expansion of a GAL Pilot Program similar to the existing NYC Civil Court, Housing Part GAL Program to Westchester County in the fall.
New Video on Jury Service and Fairness
"The court’s goal in every jury trial is to seat jurors who will be fair and impartial. That means finding jurors who will put aside any preconceptions they may have and decide a case after weighing all of the evidence fairly, evaluating the credibility of every witness fairly, and applying the law presented by the judge fairly." - Chief Judge Janet DiFiore
All NY jurors are being shown a new video addressing the issue of #implicitbias. The video was produced through a collaboration between the New York State Unified Court System’s Office for Justice Initiatives and the Perception Institute.”
Office for Justice Initiatives spearheaded the development of this video as part of the Equal Justice in the Courts initiative.The video and the transcript are available at: Video | Transcript
Sixth Judicial District Opens Three Help Centers in Broome, Chemung and Tompkins Counties.
Left to Right: Amanda Whalen-Garnar, Deputy District Executive; Sadie Harrison, Senior Court Analyst/Access to Justice Liaison; Porter L. Kirkwood, Esq., District Executive; Hon. Eugene D. Faughnan, Sixth Judicial District Administrative Judge; Hon. Edwina Mendelson, DCAJ for Justice Initiatives; Dan Fitzsimmons, Esq., Court Attorney Referee; Christopher Lund, Esq., District Law Librarian; Jason Carlton, Esq., Broome County Bar Association President
On Thursday, August 5, 2021, the 6th Judicial District celebrated the grand opening of three Help Centers located in Broome, Chemung and Tompkins counties. Hon. Edwina Mendelson, DCAJ for Justice Initiatives, Hon. Eugene D. Faughnan, Sixth Judicial District Administrative Judge, Porter L. Kirkwood, Esq., Sixth Judicial District Executive, and Christopher Lund, Esq., Sixth Judicial District Librarian discussed and reflected on, how the new Help Centers will advance meaningful access to justice in the courts. The Help Centers will provide free information about the law and court procedure to people without an attorney. In addition, court forms, sample documents and referrals will be available. The address, telephone number and hours of operation for each Help Center is listed in the Help Center directory on CourtHelp
New York City Civil Court Virtual Volunteer Attorney Program
In collaboration with the City Bar Justice Center’s Civil Court Project, the NYS Courts Office for Justice Initiatives offers free online and phone consultations to people who do not have an attorney representing them in New York City Civil Court. Civil Court Project volunteer attorneys provide legal advice and guidance on a wide range of Civil Court matters, including small claims, name change, security deposits, warranty of habitability, consumer debt, judgment collection/payment, and service of papers. For help, fill out the NYC Civil Court Virtual Volunteer Attorney Program form.
Virtual Court Navigator Pilot Program
The Office for Justice Initiatives launched the Virtual Court Navigator Pilot Program on June 7, 2021. It ended on July 29, 2021. The program was free and was designed to help people without an attorney who either had or wanted to start a court case in Erie County Surrogate’s Court, Civil Supreme, or Surrogate’s Courts in Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester Counties.
Virtual Court Navigators received specialized training and supervision and were available to help court users prepare for virtual appearances, file court forms, organize court papers, get answers to general questions, find community programs and services, refer people to legal service providers, navigate the court’s website, and more. Virtual Court Navigators were not attorneys and did not provide legal advice.
Stay tuned for more information about the Virtual Court Navigator Program.
Law Day Report - "Advancing the Rule of Law Now"
Law Day, celebrated every year on the first of May, offers us the opportunity to celebrate the role of law in our society in protecting our liberties and pursuing justice. In celebration of Law Day, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives Hon. Edwina G. Mendelson and the Office for Justice Initiatives (OJI) are issuing the attached inaugural Law Day Report. This report, the first in a series of planned annual issues, reflects this year’s Law Day theme of “Advancing the Rule of Law Now” and the Office for Justice Initiatives’ mission to ensure meaningful access to justice for all those who pass through the doors of every New York State courthouse. The report is principally comprised of two sections: “The Landscape of Office for Justice Initiatives Programs,” detailing the existing programs and projects of the OJI as they have operated over the past several years, and “Reimagining Justice,” describing those programs and initiatives that have been developed over the unprecedented events of the past year or are scheduled for release in the near future.
New York City Family Court Volunteer Attorney Program
The NYS Unified Courts Office for Justice Initiatives is pleased to announce that effective May 24, 2021, the New York City Family Court Volunteer Attorney Program (VAP) resumed services. The program’s volunteer attorneys provide remote (video and telephonic) consultations to people who do not have an attorney already representing them in a custody/visitation, support, guardianship, and/or family offense case. To speak with a volunteer attorney for free, complete the Family Court Volunteer Attorney Program intake form.
In June 2020, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore commissioned former President Obama Administration Cabinet member Jeh Johnson to conduct a thorough review on issues of racial bias and discrimination within the New York State court system. The ensuing report from Secretary Johnson and his team at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison set forth 13 distinct recommendations on how we can combat racism within the courts and promote a more fair and equitable justice system for all. Deputy Chief Administrative Judge (DCAJ) for Justice Initiatives Edwina G. Mendelson, who oversees the Office for Justice Initiatives (OJI), has been appointed to lead the implementation of these recommendations. DCAJ Mendelson provides detailed information on the Equal Justice in the Courts initiative and work of OJI in her recently released A Call to Action: Advancing Equal Justice in New York’s Courts. The message is being distributed to local affinity groups and judicial and bar associations, as well as internally within the New York State court system. “We welcome all input going forward on our efforts to realize equal justice within the court system.”
Court User Survey
In February 2021, the Office for Justice Initiatives launched a brand new webpage on www.nycourthelp.gov dedicated to providing unrepresented court users with access to a survey created by the NYS Permanent Commission on Access to Justice, Reimagining the Future of the Courts Committee. The survey asked unrepresented court users, about experiences they had with virtual hearings, technology, understanding the court process, feelings about the outcome of the interaction with the court, and more. The survey was optional, anonymous, and was not connected to current or future cases that a person may have had. The survey was closed in July 2022. The answers provided will be used by the Permanent Commission to make recommendations to improve future court experiences.
DECEMBER FREE Virtual Uncontested Divorce Volunteer Lawyer Program
A volunteer lawyer program offering virtual assistance with Uncontested Divorces in NYC was launched in December 2020. This free program prepares divorce papers through video conferences for people with no children under 21 whose marriage has been over for at least six months, who have agreed to an uncontested divorce, and who know where their spouse lives. A stable internet connection, a computer, smartphone, or tablet are required to access the program. See the Virtual Uncontested Divorce Volunteer Lawyer Program flyer for more information and to learn how to apply for help.
In celebration of National Pro Bono Week, on October 26, 2020, the Office for Justice Initiatives released an informational webinar titled Accessing Justice During Covid-19.
Content for the pre-recorded webinar was provided by the Bronx County, Erie County, and New York County Surrogates Court Help Centers, the Nassau County Supreme Court Help Center, and the Office for Justice Initiatives. The webinar provided information on Surrogate’s Court proceedings including Small Estates and Administration proceedings, Supreme Court matters including Adult Name Changes and Uncontested Divorces as well as free online resources. A registration link was provided to enable attendees to receive information about future events directly and to obtain viewer feedback. This project was developed to continue the tradition of Help Centers providing information to court users during National Pro Bono Week, in a safe way in response to the Covid-19 health crisis.
The video is available at http://wowza.nycourts.gov/vod/wowzaplayer.php?source=oca&video=2020-AccessingJusticeDuringCovid-19.mp4