Following is the testimony of Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany at a hearing on Tuesday, October 13, 2015, on the issue of civil legal services for the poor. The hearing was held at the NYS Court of Appeals by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman; Karen Peters, the presiding justice of the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, Third Department; the state’s chief administrative judge, Lawrence Marks; and incoming New York State Bar Association President Claire Gutekunst.
Good morning Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, Hon. Karen Peters, Hon. Lawrence Marks, and New York State Bar Association President-Elect Claire Gutekunst. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to speak with you about a cause that we all care about deeply: justice for ALL New Yorkers. I am honored to join Rabbi Dennis S. Ross and Rev. David Traynham in sharing with you the support of the local religious communities for this cause.
Indeed, providing social justice for all, regardless of income, race, or any other difference, is based on God’s call to us all to help the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the hungry and the homeless.
As the Bishop of the Diocese of Albany, I know firsthand that many Catholics in the Capital District need the services that you have worked so hard to provide for the poor and needy throughout New York.
Thanks to the funding that the Judiciary has so wisely provided, the Capital District is blessed to have several civil legal services providers that ensure that the poor, the disabled and victims of domestic violence can access the legal services they need to obtain justice. Our social services organization, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany, works closely with the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York in serving the homeless as leaders in the Albany County Homeless Coalition.
Together we provide housing, social services and essential civil legal services to those who are without a home. We are also familiar with the good works of The Legal Project, the Empire Justice Center and the Albany County Bar Association, all of whom provide much-needed civil legal services to the poor and vulnerable in Albany. We are indeed blessed here in the Capital District to have such choices to help our neighbors meet their essential legal needs.
However, hearing as I do of the remaining unmet need for civil legal services from our parishioners, clergy and parish leaders, we know that more must be done. Given the cost effectiveness of an investment in civil legal services – $6 return to New Yorkers for every $1 invested – it makes great sense to work together to meet the unmet need for civil legal services.
I agree wholeheartedly with His Eminence, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who told you some years ago that the very “core of the call to the legal profession is a call to noble service…”. Your leadership in making this noble service for our low income sisters and brothers a reality is a gift indeed. Thank you for supporting the poor and needy of the Capital District, and, indeed, of all of New York.