Recent Developments at the Association
 
Among the most important committees of the Association is the Judiciary Committee, which performs a vital role for the public, and the Lawyers Assistance Program, which performs a vital role for our members. Both had significant events recently.

Judiciary Committee

The Judiciary Committee determines the suitability of prospective candidates for judicial office. It comprises 21 members, ten Republican, ten Democratic, and one not affiliated with any political party. Members may not contribute to or otherwise support candidates for judicial office. It is led by Chair Rosalia Baiamonte and Vice-Chair Marian Rice.

Prospective candidates must fill out a detailed questionnaire and submit to an interview by the Committee. For each candidate, one Committee member is assigned to conduct an interview of each reference provided by the applicant in his/her questionnaire response, and reviews the applicant's writing samples, while another member is assigned to learn as much as possible about the candidate from sources not provided by the candidate. This may include interviewing attorneys and court staff, reviewing comments from the Association membership, performing independent research, and even observing a candidate in the courtroom.
 
The candidate is then interviewed before the entire Committee. At the conclusion of the interview, the Committee deliberates and then votes whether the candidate is "Well Qualified" or "Not Approved at This Time." The candidate and the candidate's political party are notified immediately of the determination. Candidates not approved may seek reconsideration by the Committee. If, after reconsideration, the candidate remains unapproved, the candidate may appeal to the Board of Directors.
 
In a tradition, if not agreement, that some say has existed for more than thirty years, both major political parties have refrained from nominating for judicial office candidates not found qualified by the Judiciary Committee. That tradition ended this year.
 
On September 18, the Association learned that the Republican and Democratic parties had cross-endorsed a candidate for Supreme Court Justice not approved by the Judiciary Committee. Although the Association's by-laws mandate the issuance of a press release disclosing the Committee's findings, they vest the President with discretion regarding the timing of the release and what information is disclosed to explain the Committee's determinations. After consultation with the Board of Directors, I elected to issue a restrained press release that noted the vital role of the Committee in educating the public about the qualifications of candidates for judicial office and expressed the Association's disappointment about the endorsement, but did not disclose details about the reasons for the Committee's determination.
 
On October 8, Newsday ran a story reporting the Association's disappointment with the crossendorsement of an unqualified candidate. On October 18, it ran a further story where the head of the Republican Party alleged the Committee was "playing games," while unnamed Repub - lican "sources" alleged the Committee found the candidate unqualified because it is "heavily Democratic," even though it is comprised equally of Republicans and Democrats, and was retribution for her husband's affiliation with the Republican Party as a labor union official, even though this fact was not disclosed to or discussed by the Committee.
 
The Executive Committee then determined a letter to the Editor of Newsday was necessary to address the unfounded allegations. The letter, published on October 23 and reproduced on page 6, put an end to the chapter involving this candidate but does not resolve what the Association should do if this year's event was not an aberration driven by unique political considerations but rather a change in policy by the parties. The Association will explore this issue in the coming months.
 
The Executive Committee then determined a letter to the Editor of Newsday was necessary to address the unfounded allegations. The letter, published on October 23 and reproduced on page 6, put an end to the chapter involving this candidate but does not resolve what the Association should do if this year's event was not an aberration driven by unique political considerations but rather a change in policy by the parties. The Association will explore this issue in the coming months.
 
Lawyer's Assistance Program
 
The Association's Lawyers Assistance Program, or LAP, provides support and counseling to attorneys struggling with emotional, physical, and mental challenges. Led by Chair Thomas Bucaria and Vice-Chair Mark Goidell, it comprises volunteer attorneys who attend monthly meetings, staff the confidential, toll-free, 24-hour hotline (888-408- 6222), monitor referred attorneys, aid and counsel in the closing of law offices, and provide peer support on an individualized basis. Its Director is Peter Schweitzer, CEAP (Certified Employee Assistance Professional), who administers and manages the program. LAP provides assessment, referrals, professional and individual support, mentoring, monitoring upon request, and on-going support facilitated through, among other things, monthly 12-step meetings.
 
LAP has been traditionally funded through the New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA). That funding was lost several years ago due to budget cuts, leaving the Association scrambling to find funds to pay for a scaled-down program. During the past year the We Care Fund has stepped forward to provide annual funding for LAP of $40,000, which, combined with funds from the Association, has allowed LAP to provide services on a reduced basis.
 
This year, OCA set aside $250,000 in its budget for Lawyers Assistance Programs throughout the state, and invited grant applications for a share of these moneys. A group comprising Kate Meng, Henry Kruman, Peter Schweitzer, Tom Bucaria, Mark Goidell, Keith Soressi, and Justice Peter Skelos worked hard to prepare a grant request for moneys that, combined with the financial support of We Care and the Association, would allow LAP to offer a robust range of services to our members.
 
I am pleased to say that these efforts succeeded, as the Association was recently awarded a grant of $61,387 for 2014-15, representing almost one-quarter of the available funds. By comparison, the New York State Bar Association was awarded $52,068, while the Erie County Bar Association was awarded $22,164. This grant will allow the Association to restore and expand the availability of the vital services LAP provides to our members. I am appreciative of the entire LAP grant working group for all of their hard work.
 
hard work. I am particularly thankful for the work of Justice Skelos on the issue of LAP funding. During the past few years, I have seen him work tirelessly for a solution to the lost LAP funding. As a leader of the We Care Fund, he worked to craft an agreement for We Care funding of LAP. As an Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, he was instrumental in the restoration of OCA funding. And, as a member of the LAP grant working group, he was not content to merely offer encouragement but instead worked personally on successive drafts of the successful grant application.
 
There is no question in my mind that LAP would not be in a position to provide its invaluable assistance but for the quiet yet effective leadership of Justice Skelos. And so, while the families of the lawyers helped will likely never know it was through his leadership that resources were provided allowing their loved ones to get the help they need, I and others at the Association know. And we are grateful.

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