The bar

“Sunset and evening star, but one clear call for me. Let there be no moaning at the bar when I put out to sea.”

So began a new admiralty judge when he first took the bench. The courtroom bar keeps the public outside side the “well” of the courtroom where court business is done. Lawyers are not licensed but “admitted to the bar” by fellow lawyers. When one passes a state’s bar exam, one can practice law in that state’s courts unless suspended or “disbarred” for bad behavior.

In New York, a lawyer must take 12 hours of Continuing Legal Education annually. CLE is offered by law schools and state and local bar associations. A recent CLE covered cannabis (pot), appeals and civil practice.

The feds still outlaw pot, but some states don’t. Appeals courts review trial court cases. Appeals judges have different views on standing (stake) and justice (fairness). Recent appellate cases involved an adoption of an adult incapable of consent (use best interest standard) and contradictory testimony by an expert witness in different cases (can be used to discredit the expert).

The session on civil (non-criminal) procedure included e-filing pleadings (better send paper copies to the judge), venue (which is the best county for your client’s case to be heard) and how arbitration by one defendant affects the other defendants. The other defendants may still have rights against the arbitrated defendant. (Arbitration is where parties use an arbitrator to settle a lawsuit.)

Venue is different than jurisdiction. The latter is whether a court can hear a case. Can one sue a foreign defendant in a U.S. court for a wrong done in a foreign country? The Supreme Court of the United States recently held that the foreign defendant must have “substantial contacts” with the state where the suit is brought.

Many lawyers prefer working for government. Another recent CLE session covered state contracts, new laws and public access to government records. State contracts must be put out to bid if more than $50,000 and may not be split. The state agency must pick the bid that is lowest or best value.

New state law made the land tax cap permanent and extended mandatory wage arbitration with local police departments. The plastic bag ban (with multiple exceptions) will take effect on March 1, 2020. There is a new 1% sales tax on internet sales. Entities (except schools and hospitals) that produce more than two tons annually of organic waste (food scraps) must compost starting Jan. 1, 2022.

Bail can no longer be required for misdemeanors and Class E felonies if the defendant can provide contact information. Exceptions are sex offenses, orders of protection and Department of Motor Vehicles suspensions. Defendants can be released under probation department supervision or jailed if a substantial flight risk.

District attorneys must be actually “ready for trial” when they tell the court and must turn over evidence to the defense within 15 days. Cops must get “use of force” training. Traffic congestion pricing may go into effect below 60th Street in Manhattan on Jan. 1, 2021.

SCOTUS has authorized municipalities to set up escrow accounts for civil asset forfeitures.

Employers must give workers three hours off for elections (not school) and primaries, which are all 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eligible voters may register online, and there will be early voting at the Board of Elections 10 days ahead. Gender identity discrimination is outlawed.

The civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse suits is extended to 23 years of age. New firearms laws include extreme risk orders of protection and extension to 30 days for background checks. Safe storage of guns is required if there are children under 16 in the home.

The Commission on Prosecutor Misconduct is established.

Bob Freeman has headed the Committee on Open Government since 1973. COG is a three-lawyer state agency that answers questions about the state’s Freedom of Information (FOIL) and Open Meetings laws. FOIL is actually the public access to state and local government records law. It applies to any information (with exceptions) kept in any form by a public agency.

E911 recordings are confidential but accessible for court cases. Agencies can charge for copies but not for redacting. Attendance records for public employees are accessible. Records compiled for law enforcement purposes are not open to the public if it would harm the case. Agency communications with consultants are not accessible except for factual and statistical data.

Paul J. Herrmann lives in Saranac Lake.


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