Judiciary cuts

Budget slices support for lawyers facing drug, alcohol abuse

The court system has eliminated all funding for a program that helps lawyers cope with alcohol and drug abuse problems.

According to its website, the New York State Lawyer Assistance Trust was established in 2001 by chief judge Judith Kaye and chief administrative judge Jonathan Lippman as "a permanent entity that brings statewide resources and awareness to the prevention and treatment of alcohol and substance abuse among lawyers, judges and law students."

The courts have appropriated money for the trust in every year since, for a total of $1.3m. Its grants are funneled through the New York City Bar and other local bar groups.

But the program has come to seem less "permanent" with the court system facing substantial budget cuts. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the state Legislature have ordered the Judiciary to reduce the 2011-12 budget by $170m, $70m more than the Judiciary had proposed.

Court administrators have cut or suspended a whole range of programs from children's centers in the courts to judicial hearing officers. And they are preparing to announce another round of layoffs on May 18.

The trust's website now includes the following notice: "As of May 2011, the NYLAT Grant Program has been suspended, as no funding has been made available in the state budgeting process. Check back on this site in April 2012 to learn whether the program has been re-activated."

Patricia Spataro of the New York State Bar Association, a member of the trust, said in an interview on Friday that her group and others hope to make up the state funding to continue to provide the services.

The Office of Court Administration had no comment on the elimination of the program.

Ms. Spataro said the state bar will continue to run a confidential toll-free line for lawyers in distress at 1-800-244-0569 / 1-800-244-0569.

Impetus for establishment of the trust came from a task force appointed by judge Kaye in 1999, which officials called the first systematic effort by the court system to gauge the extent of the problem within the legal profession.

That group, which was chaired by former Court of Appeals judge Joseph W. Bellacosa, cited a study showing that 18% to 25% of the lawyers studied were dependent on alcohol.

Various studies, including one by the state bar, have shown that lawyers are among the professionals with the highest risk of developing dependence on alcohol or drugs due to work-life pressures (NYLJ, April 9, 2009).

Supreme Court justice Vincent J. Reilly Jr. of Schenectady County, the current chair of the trust, did not return a call for comment.

(Published by Law - May 2, 2011)

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