Local Information and Training Event Scheduled for Women’s D.C. March

An information and training session covering what to expect at the January 21 Women’s March on Washington will be held in Albany on January 10, 2017. The event will take place at the Albany Law School, 80 New Scotland Avenue,1928 Building, Room 425 at 6:30 p.m. A repeat session is scheduled for January 17 at the same time and place.

Trainers will provide information on how to serve as a legal observer, ensuring that the marchers’ rights are protected, and will also pass along helpful tips on how to say safe and comfortable throughout the day of the march.

For more information or to register, contact: samantha.barnhart22@gmail.com.

The Capital Region Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union is co-sponsoring the event with the Albany Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

Capital Region Chapter Honors Gradess and DeFrancisco; Remembers Peter Henner

At its annual awards ceremony, the Capital Region Chapter honored New York State Sen. John De Francisco and Jonathan Gradess, head of the New York State Defenders Association, for their efforts at ensuring that the poor receive constitutionally mandated legal defense.

DeFrancisco, who represents the 50th District in the State Senate where he serves as Deputy Majority Leader, sponsored the statewide indigent defense bill in the upper chamber where it passed unanimously--as it also did in the Assembly. The legislation grew out of the landmark NYCLU Hurrell-Harring settlement with the state covering indigent defense reforms in five counties. The new bill requires the state to assume public defender costs and provide competent indigent defense throughout the state. It relieves the counties of a large unfunded mandate which they have often shirked.

Gradess has been executive director of the New York State Defenders Association since 1978. The association provides training, legal research, consultation, advice and technical assistance to more than 100 county-based public defense offices, to counties and to more than 5000 public defense attorneys throughout New York State. He says, “The state’s job is not done until every person who cannot afford a lawyer in every county has access to a fair trial and a competent lawyer.”

Those gathered at the event also recalled the life of Peter Henner, who died at his Clarksville home on September 29, after being unexpectedly diagnosed with metastatic melanoma a few months before. Peter was a decades’ long friend of the Capital Region Chapter who served on its board and legal committee.

Peter’s strategic mind, ferocious energy and rugged persistence made a lasting difference in the many legal challenges he undertook, such as opposing Albany County redistricting that would have short-changed minority communities; representing Save the Pine Bush when it was threatened by landfill expansion, and undertaking the case against fracking in Otsego County.

The annual awards ceremony was held at the 90 State Street event venue on November 17, 2016.

Settlement Ensures Refugee Children Can Go to High School in Utica

Plaintiff Patrick Tuyizere.
Plaintiff Patrick Tuyizere.

May 19, 2016 — The New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Central New York today announced a settlement agreement that protects immigrant students’ right to equal educational opportunities in Utica and provides a model for how New York school districts can ensure that English language learners are not segregated into inferior alternative programs without their full knowledge and consent.

“Today’s agreement recognizes that no child in New York should be shortchanged on their education,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “No one benefits when kids who have come to New York fleeing violence or poverty are denied their shot at the American dream. We hope the new policies for Utica will serve as a model for change for other districts that discriminate against immigrant children.”

Click here to read more.

Victory: Wedding Venue Cannot Discriminate Against Same-Sex Couples

Jennifer and Melisa McCarthy pictured above. Photo by Kelly Pfeister.
Jennifer and Melisa McCarthy pictured above. Photo by Kelly Pfeister.

January 14, 2016 — The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court today affirmed that it is illegal for businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation. The New York Civil Liberties Union victory came in the case of Melisa and Jennifer McCarthy, who were turned away by the Albany wedding venue they chose after the venue owners found out that they were a same-sex couple.

“The McCarthys were denied the opportunity to celebrate their marriage at Liberty Ridge, but today we can join them in celebrating the court’s affirmation that all New Yorkers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman.

Click here to read more.

Wedding Venue’s Ongoing Battle to Discriminate Against Same-Sex Couples Must End

November 23, 2015 — Commercial wedding venues cannot discriminate against same-sex couples, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union will argue today, asking the Appellate Division to affirm the State Division of Human Rights holding that Albany’s Liberty Ridge Farm illegally rejected Melisa and Jennifer McCarthy because of their sexual orientation.

“We were so excited when we found Liberty Ridge that we called our mothers and told them we knew where we were getting married,” said Jennifer McCarthy. “When we were rejected for being a same-sex couple, beyond losing what we thought was the perfect venue, I felt judged and dismissed for who I was and for my relationship. Nobody should feel like that.”

Click here to read more.

NYCLU Celebrates Freedom to Read with Banned Book Events in Schenectady, Albany and Troy

The Capital Region Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union will celebrate our constitutional right to read what we want with events in Albany, Schenectady and Troy during National Banned Books Week at the end of September. Three “Read Outs” will feature regional notables — actors, writers, politicians, poets, and activists of all types — reading from their favorite books that have, at one time or another, been banned or challenged in the United States.

The schedule of this year’s events:

•  Troy, Market Block Books, 290 River Street, Friday, September 25 at 7 pm.

•  Schenectady Public Library, Central Branch, 99 Clinton Street, Sunday, September 27 at 2 pm.

•  Albany Public Library, Main Branch, 161 Washington Avenue, Wednesday, September 30 at 6 pm.

This year, Banned Book Week focuses particularly on young adult books, which are among the most frequently challenged items in public libraries and schools. Six of the 10 most challenged books currently are young adult titles.

Melanie Trimble, Director of the NYCLU Capital Region Chapter, said, “We urge everybody who loves books to come out to these events. Freedom to read is as important for young people as it is for adults. Books allow kids to safely confront difficult issues that they may ultimately face in the real world. Banning books from libraries and schools doesn’t protect children; ignorance isn’t a successful coping mechanism.”

Light snacks will be provided at the events.

The current list of the most banned and challenged books in the U.S. includes: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris, Saga by Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard, and Drama by Raina Telgemeier.

Banned Books Week was launched in 1982. Since then, more than 11,300 individual titles have been challenged in this country. And, given that most banning attempts do not get widely reported, the American Library Association estimates that this number represents no more than a quarter of the real number of attempts to suppress books.

Many of America’s greatest novels have been the most consistently challenged works, among them: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, Ulysses, Invisible Man, The Call of the Wild, Native Son, Rabbit, Run and An American Tragedy.

National sponsors of Banned Books Week are the American Booksellers Association, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Library Association, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of American Publishers, Freedom to Read Foundation, National Association of College Stores, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, National Coalition against Censorship, National Council of Teachers of English, PEN American Center, People for the American Way Foundation, Project Censored. Banned Books Week is also endorsed by the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress.

Victory: Landmark State Policy Promises Transgender Students an Equal Education

July 20, 2015 — The New York State Education Department today released official guidance for school districts across the state, a major step toward ensuring that transgender and gender nonconforming youth can access their right to an education. The announcement is the result of years of advocacy by transgender advocates and supporters across the state, most recently a New York Civil Liberties Union report that documented the pervasive harassment faced by transgender students and prompted Governor Cuomo to demand the Education Department take immediate action to address the concerns.

“We applaud the State Education Department for providing guidance so every school in the state knows how to follow the law and protect the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming youth,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Too many New York youth have faced relentless harassment and discrimination in the schools that should have nurtured them just for being who they are. We look forward to working with the state to ensure that transgender students have the same rights to an education that all kids are entitled to in New York.”

Click here to read more.

Report Exposes Illegal Treatment of Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students in New York Public Schools

June 24, 2015 — The New York Civil Liberties Union today released a report revealing the serious and pervasive discrimination and harassment faced by transgender and gender nonconforming youth in New York public schools across the state. Despite New York’s reputation as a progressive leader, the state is failing to protect the right to an education of one of its most vulnerable student populations.

“In public schools across New York, transgender and gender nonconforming children as young as five face relentless harassment, threats and even violence for trying to access their right to an education,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “And instead of supporting kids, too many schools are magnifying the problem by imposing discriminatory and even illegal policies.”

Click here to read more.

State Legislative Leaders Fail to Agree to Any Major Criminal Justice Reforms

June 24, 2015 — Despite countless protests, the deaths of Eric Garner, Kalief Browder and too many others, and growing distrust between communities and law enforcement agencies, New York State’s legislative leaders announced they have failed to agree to any major criminal justice reforms, inaction denounced by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“Our leaders have turned their backs on the thousands of New Yorkers who took to the streets over the last year to demand justice and proof that black lives matter,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “By going on summer vacation without taking any meaningful steps toward criminal justice reform, they have failed New Yorkers and they have failed to promote basic justice and fairness.”

Click here to read more.

Leading Judge Calls for Grand Jury Transparency at Capital Region Chapter Annual Meeting; New Board Members Also Elected

May 25, 2015 — Judge Lawrence K. Marks, New York State’s first deputy chief administrative judge, told the annual meeting of the Capital Region Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union that current grand jury secrecy has “a pernicious effect that shuts down debate and discussion,” and that “we need to change the law” to inject transparency into the grand jury process.

The annual meeting was held at the Albany Law School on Thursday, May 21.

Marks called for a two-part reform: the addition of a judge to any grand jury proceeding that was examining excessive police use of force, and public release of properly redacted witness testimony in all cases that do not result in an indictment.

Click here to read more.

NY Sheriffs Stop Unlawfully Jailing Immigrants Thanks to NYCLU Advocacy

July 31, 2014 — Thanks to advocacy by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York State Sheriffs’ Association has advised all sheriffs across the state to stop imprisoning people without a warrant just so federal agencies can investigate them for immigration purposes. In response to the Sheriffs’ Association guidance, at least 10 counties have stopped honoring federal government requests that they jail people who have been arrested after they would have otherwise been released.

“A foundational principle of our country is the right to due process. No New Yorker should ever be imprisoned unless there is a warrant for his arrest or a judge has reviewed his case,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “But President Obama has asked New York law enforcement agencies to forget the Fourth Amendment and hold thousands of New Yorkers just so their immigration status can be checked. We applaud the state Sheriffs’ Association for recognizing that you can’t violate the law to enforce the law. Nobody should be imprisoned based on a hunch.”

Click here to read more.

Join NYCLU to Spin the Wheel of Justice at the Capitol!

Homeless. Unemployed. Kids taken. Locked up. Guilty.

In the United States, you have the RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY – even if you cannot afford one. But across New York State, if you’re poor and you enter the broken criminal justice system, justice is a gamble.

What misfortune might await you? Spin the #WheelofJusticeNY at the New York State Capitol to find out.

Across parts of New York, people who have never been convicted of a crime languish in jail. They go before judges without lawyers by their sides. And they plead not guilty or guilty without understanding what it means for them and their families. Innocent or guilty, New Yorkers are too often undefended and alone. And the state has been ignoring its responsibility and allowing this injustice to perpetuate for more than 50 years.

That’s why we need you to stand up and spin the #WheelofJusticeNY – the NYCLU’s Wheel of Fortune-style game that has been traveling across the state and shows what can happen if you’re poor and accused of a crime in New York. We’re demanding that state leaders fix the problem, or join us to spin the wheel themselves.

11:30 to 1:30 on Thurs, Sept. 25
New York State Capitol, Swan & Washington Streets
West Capitol Park, Swan Street Steps

Email mtrimble@nyclu.org for details or to RSVP.

New York to Weigh Constitutional Obligations to Indigent Defendants: Class-Action Lawsuit to Proceed to Trial

December 17, 2013 — A State Supreme Court in Albany has ruled that a class-action lawsuit challenging New York State’s failure to provide effective counsel to poor New Yorkers accused of crimes will proceed to trial. The trial, expected to start this spring, will be the first of its kind in the nation. The lawsuit was filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the law firm of Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP.

Testimony so far presented in the case shows that “on a consistent basis, indigent criminal defendants are being arraigned without being afforded their right to counsel," wrote Justice Eugene Devine.

The decision came late Monday and was in response to requests both by the NYCLU and New York State to resolve some or all of the case without trial.

The lawsuit, Hurrell-Harring, et al., v. State of New York, was filed in 2007 on behalf of 20 defendants in Onondaga, Ontario, Schuyler and Washington counties. It charges New York with persistently failing its constitutional obligations to provide effective counsel to indigent New Yorkers charged in criminal court. The upcoming trial will be the first to take on an entire state’s system of indigent defense.

“There are substantial issues of fact to be resolved at trial," Devine wrote in his decision. "The Court has observed that the reputation of the public defense system in this State has deteriorated. This case shall determine whether there are systemic deficiencies in the existing public defense system or not.”

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman called the decision "a tentative step toward justice."

“We are confident that the constitutional rights of New Yorkers will prevail at trial,” Lieberman said.

Click here to read more.

Albany Police Chief Krokoff, County Sheriff Apple and Planned Parenthood Executive Carreker Honored by NYCLU

Law Enforcement Cited for Progress in Dealing with Transgender Issues

ALBANY — The Capital Region Chapter honored Albany Police Chief Steven Krokoff, Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple and Blue Carreker, vice president for public affairs and media relations at the Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood at our annual awards ceremony.

The event was held at the University Club in Albany on November 7, 2013.

Chapter Director Melanie Trimble said Krokoff and Apple were recognized with the Ned Pattison Award “because both departments have developed new policies and procedures when interacting with transgender individuals in criminal justice matters.”

At the ceremony, both Krokoff and Apple said that, in the past, they used to dread receiving calls from Trimble but added that they now feel they have developed a constructive relationship with our chapter.

Carreker was presented with the Carol S. Knox Award for her leadership in spearheading the local campaign for the Women’s Equality Act during the past legislative session.

“Blue was responsible for keeping 80 local sponsors, hundreds of active local supporters and several thousand email activists regularly updated about campaign progress, while at the same time organizing petition drives, phone banks and public events in support of the Women’s Equality Act,” Trimble said.

Click here to read more.

NY's Highest Court Rules GPS Tracking of State Employee's Personal Car Unlawful

June 27, 2013 — In a victory for privacy rights, the New York State Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, unanimously ruled today that New York State acted unlawfully when it planted a GPS tracking device on a government employee’s personal car and tracked his movements outside of working hours.

The decision was issued in Cunningham v. New York State Department of Labor, a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union challenging the Department of Labor’s planting of a GPS tracking device on an employee's personal car as part of an investigation into workplace misconduct. Using the device, the Labor Department tracked the whereabouts of 30-year Department employee Michael Cunningham and his family for at least a month, including during evenings, weekends and while the family went on vacation out of state.

“With this ruling, the state's 200,000 employees can feel secure in the fact that their bosses cannot secretly track them and their families for 24 hours a day,” said NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney Corey Stoughton, lead counsel on the case. “The Court of Appeals sent a clear message that the government cannot intrude into the private lives of employees simply to investigate workplace issues.”

Click here to read more.


NY’s High Court to Hear NYCLU Challenge to GPS Tracking of State Employee’s Personal Car

May 28, 2013 — The state’s highest court will tomorrow hear arguments in a New York Civil Liberties Union case challenging New York State’s warrantless planting of a GPS tracking device on a government employee’s personal car.

The device, planted as part of an investigation into workplace misconduct, tracked the whereabouts of 30-year Department of Labor employee Michael Cunningham and his family on their personal car for at least a month, including during evenings, weekends and while the family went on vacation out of state.

Click here to read more.