Albany Times Union. January 11, 2023.

Editorial: A civil legal right

Even when civil legal matters threaten one’s home or livelihood, there is no right to counsel. That’s changing in Albany – and it should in New York state.

One statistic says it all about the imbalance low-income people face when they’re threatened with losing their home: According to city data, 90% of the time, landlords in eviction cases in Albany show up with a lawyer. Only 1.3% of tenants do.

Now, the city and county of Albany are trying to address that disadvantage. Just up State Street, the state Legislature ought to do the same.

For people accused of a crime, the right to an attorney is guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth and Sixth amendments. But no such inherent right to an attorney exists on a statewide or national basis for people in civil cases. That is, you’re guaranteed a lawyer when your freedom is threatened, but not when you’re at risk of eviction or a potentially life-changing civil action.

Albany city and county officials are trying to address that, at least in part, with an eviction-prevention pilot program that will provide low-income people with representation by attorneys at the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York. The initiative will also connect tenants with an eviction-intervention specialist through United Tenants Association, and help pay for Albany Law School to train court advocates and represent tenants. Costs for the $320,000 pilot are being shared by the city, county, and CARES of NY, a nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness.

For years, at least some voices in state government have been calling for a more level playing field statewide when it comes to civil justice. Jonathan Lippman, a retired chief judge, long advocated for the state to create a system of assigned counsel in civil cases. One bill proposed in the Legislature’s last session by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal and Sen. Brad Hoylman, both Manhattan Democrats, would have required counties or cities to establish an assigned counsel program in eviction and foreclosure cases for people whose income is at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty rate. The bill never received a vote in either chamber.

A more expansive measure proposed in the new legislative session is the New York Civil Gideon Act, sponsored by Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, D-Brooklyn, and named after the landmark Gideon v. Wainwright case that established the right to counsel in criminal cases. It would establish a right to civil representation in this state for certain housing, family court, and motor vehicle issues as well as other noncriminal matters, and would create a fund to help pay for it through a $75 surcharge on lawyers’ $375 biennial registration fees. It would also establish a commission to report annually on how the system of assigned counsel in civil matters is working.

Ms. Walker, whose bill is yet to find a Senate sponsor, acknowledges in the legislation that the need for civil representation is far greater than this initial measure could provide. But it would, at least, be a start toward doing across New York what the city and county of Albany are trying to do in the shadow of the state Capitol: make our system of justice a little more just for all. Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Legislature should not let this issue – this right – languish another year.


Advance Media New York. January 8, 2023.

Editorial: NY’s rollout of legal cannabis needs more speed, transparency, oversight

Reporters at NY Cannabis Insider, our sister publication, are putting on a clinic in accountability journalism as they scrutinize the slow, opaque and often chaotic rollout of New York state’s legal marijuana industry.

State government leaders convening in Albany this week need to exert some oversight and leadership to figure out what’s going wrong — and then fix it.

NY Cannabis Insider’s latest is a blockbuster story published Dec. 1 about the investment group New York state hired to raise $150 million in private money for the buildout of retail marijuana dispensaries across the state. The idea is to hand 150 turnkey locations over to the entrepreneurs who are first in line for conditional licenses to sell legal weed because they or their families were harmed by the state’s war on drugs.

The state hired Social Equity Impact Ventures, comprised of NBA Hall of Famer Chris Webber, his business partner, entrepreneur Lavetta Willis, and a team from the investment banking firm Siebert Williams Shank. The group appears to have missed a Sept. 1 deadline to raise the $150 million. With only $50 million in state money to draw on for leasing and outfitting dispensaries, the state Office of Cannabis Management changed the rules and will allow licensees to secure their own locations.

Reporters Brad Racino and Sean Teehan dug into previous business dealings of Webber and Willis. They found the pair often failed to deliver on their bold claims, including constructing a nine-acre cannabis “compound” in Detroit and investing in entrepreneurs of color with a $100 million fund. The investigation also found that Webber and Willis made several misleading or outright false statements about their accomplishments in the press, displayed evidence of financial mismanagement, and have a relationship with a big player in the cannabis industry that may pose a conflict of interest with their work for New York state.

Did the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York know any of this before hiring Impact Ventures? We can’t say. DASNY has yet to fulfill a Freedom of Information Law request for documents that would show how it chose the Webber group and what his team put down as their qualifications. Friday marked 100 days since NY Cannabis Insider requested the documents. (If you’re wondering what dormitories have to do with cannabis, DASNY is a catch-all agency for financing state projects.)

After several delays, the agency has promised to respond to the FOIL sometime this month. Enough of the stonewalling. We expect the Hochul administration to be more open and transparent than the one it replaced.

Racino also reported the Office of Cannabis Management missed a Jan. 1 deadline to produce a social and economic equity plan, which is meant to guide the rollout of the state’s emerging marijuana industry. OCM said it will deliver the plan before the end of the first quarter.

To be fair, the state’s cannabis program has been plagued by delays from the start. The legislature legalized marijuana in March 2021. Then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo — no fan of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes — dragged his feet on appointing the Cannabis Control Board, the group making policy, and a person to lead OCM, the new state agency implementing that policy. After Cuomo resigned under a cloud in August 2021, Gov. Kathy Hochul quickly made the necessary appointments. It took some time to stand up (and staff up) the agency and to formulate the rules.

This past October, Hochul told the editorial board the state would have 20 retail dispensaries open by the end of the year. That didn’t happen. The state’s first legal cannabis sale occurred Dec. 29, so the governor can say she met her deadline of opening the market in 2022.

Let’s give credit where it is due to OCM, which has “built the plane while flying it,” as Executive Director Chris Alexander said. According to the agency’s annual report, more than 400,000 criminal records related to marijuana convictions have been expunged; access to medical marijuana has been expanded by authorizing more providers to prescribe it; and 36 conditional retail licenses have been approved out of more than 900 applications.

Still, the state’s slow rollout has frustrated social justice advocates, entrepreneurs and growers waiting to cash in on legal weed.

Law enforcement also is frustrated. The decriminalization of marijuana is out of sync with consumers’ ability to buy it legally. A flourishing marijuana “gray market” filled the vacuum. In the absence of any guidance from OCM, Syracuse is cracking down on illegal pop-up retailers through stiff fines and code enforcement.

2023 is the year New York’s legal weed market will ramp up in earnest. Hochul and the state Legislature need to take stock of the cannabis program they created and listen to the people trying to find their place in it. The industry is ready to take off — if only the state would get out of its way.


Auburn Citizen. January 11, 2023.

Editorial: Time for Albany to address public safety

We heard over and over during the fall campaign season that New Yorkers are concerned about crime — and also that many not only believe Democrats in Albany aren’t doing enough about it but actually helped foster it with the elimination of bail for most crimes.

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday demonstrated that she’s been listening, opening her State of State address by declaring public safety her No. 1 priority and pledging to work with members of the Legislature on a variety of crime-related issues.

One of the main goals of bail reform — and one that we agree with — is that a person’s wealth should not be the determining factor of whether or not they remain in jail after being charged with a crime. But if people who pose a threat to the public are routinely being released, there is a strong argument to be made that the state has gone too far.

There are a lot of factors in play in the increase in crime in New York, and while Hochul insisted Tuesday the bail reform has not been the primary driver, she acknowledged that the implementation of the new law “leaves room for improvement.”

It’s good that Hochul wants to prioritize the issue, because it continues to receive widespread criticism from everyday New Yorkers, and Hochul’s surprisingly close election victory revealed just how important crime and public safety issues are to voters.

Talking about bail reform in a speech is one thing. Reworking the law will be quite another, so reasonable compromise from members of the Democratic majority is going to be key.

To that end, we urge our new state senator, Rachel May, to separate herself from the most liberal members of her party and get behind some of this work the governor wants to do on bail reform. As well-intentioned as bail reform was, it has been found to be flawed, and New Yorkers deserve to have it repaired.


Dunkirk Evening Observer. January 11, 2023.

Editorial: STATE STUDY Cost a real factor in turbine debate

It was a surprise when the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority released a study saying the economics don’t support putting wind turbines in the Great Lakes of Erie and Ontario.

The Great Lakes Wind project as proposed doesn’t offer the same benefits to the electric grid as other offshore wind projects while relying on unproven technologies that call the project’s effectiveness into doubt. In creating the analysis, the authority took into consideration a number of factors that included: physical siting, geophysical and geohazards characterization, fixed and floating technology options, interconnection, environmental risk and benefit as well as public feedback. In reaching its conclusion, NYSERDA found that overall “Great Lakes Wind does not provide the same electric and reliability benefits that offshore wind offers” in downstate locations. The study analyzed physical characteristics of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario to determine the waters would require a combination of fixed offshore wind foundations in Lake Erie and floating offshore wind foundations in Lake Ontario.

In other words, putting wind turbines in Lake Erie right now isn’t worth the hassle.

The news is surely welcomed by those in the area who opposed putting wind turbines on Lake Erie. It shouldn’t, however, cause those who question state regulatory authorities’ ability to make rational decisions about how to cost-effective electric reliability in New York state to reconsider their position. What happened with the Great Lakes Wind study is an island of rationality in a stormy sea of state energy policy that is too often chaotic and ill-thought.


Wall Street Journal. January 10, 2023.

Editorial: Kathy Hochul’s Latest Brainstorm

The Governor wants to ban natural gas in all New York buildings.

Governor Kathy Hochul recently lamented that too many people are leaving New York, and the state had to do more to get them back. The latest evidence that she has no idea how to do it is her proposal on Tuesday to ban the use of fossil fuels in all new buildings.

She’d ban the use of fossil fuels for heating and in appliances in all new small structures as early as 2025, and in larger buildings by 2028. You won’t be able to buy a natural-gas heating system in the state starting in 2030.

She said in her State of the State address Tuesday that this will combat climate change, which is nonsense. What New York does to limit CO2 emissions will be dwarfed by emissions from China, India and Africa.

Meanwhile, she will make New Yorkers even more dependent on an electrical-power grid that is increasingly unreliable. The state has closed a large nuclear plant, has blocked natural gas pipelines through the state, and is making itself more dependent on offshore wind power that may not be developed.

Electricity costs will inevitably rise, which along with the already high cost of living will be one more reason for people to head for warmer states with a sane political culture.


New York Post. January 11, 2023.

Editorial: The anti-LaSalle fight is rank hypocrisy as well a power grab

State Sen. Mike Gianaris’ craven campaign to sandbag the nomination of Hector LaSalle to be New York’s first Puerto Rican chief judge looks even worse if you consider recent history.

Not a year ago, April 5, 2022, brought the formal investiture of the three newest members of the same Court of Appeals — Madeline Singas, Anthony Cannataro and Shirley Troutman: a Greek-American woman, an Italian-American gay man and an African-American woman. All confirmed without a fuss, all with Gianaris’ vote.

Now hyperprogressives smear Singas and Cannataro as dangerous conservatives, along with LaSalle and Judge Michael Garcia (who also got Gianaris’ vote, in 2016), because the left wants a court that will impose its agenda with no regard for what the law or state Constitution says.

But (though he denied it to The Post) Gianaris surely felt Hellenic pride when Singas became the first Greek-American to sit on the state high court. You can bet he fund-raised on it in the Greek community, too.

Yet she’s a former prosecutor, which is now cited as disqualifying LaSalle, and Gianaris tells reporters that he regrets supporting her. The fact remains: This objection just got made up yesterday. And apparently Puerto Rican pride doesn’t matter, either.

All of which has both top legal minds and Latino leaders furious.

Former US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, ex-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and former city homeless czar Steven Banks are among 64 lawyers from 19 prominent firms who signed onto a letter calling out the far-left drive to sink LaSalle.

Freddy Ferrer, former Bronx borough president, told New York magazine’s Errol Louis: “There has never been an attempt that I’ve seen like this, that called upon the governor to withdraw her nomination.”

If Gianaris and his Gang of Nyet pull off their assassination, Gov. Hochul needs to tap another “conservative” — and keep on doing it. In the meantime, the high court’s docket remains under “conservative” control as Cannataro remains acting chief judge.

This bid to utterly politicize the Court of Appeals must fail.

END

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