Opinion: Make the justice system work for all

By Harvey Epstein

For too long, the scales of justice in New York have been weighted in favor of the rich and powerful and the promise of equal justice has gone unfulfilled. Our courts and our laws consistently disadvantage low-income people, people of color, immigrants (especially those with limited English proficiency), the elderly and the disabled.

New York’s civil justice system handles the cases that affect our fundamental human needs – our homes, our family life, our economic concerns. Yet the system is pay-to-play. If you have the means and can afford a lawyer, you can get a fair shake in court. If you can’t afford a lawyer and can’t get legal help from New York’s underfunded legal services programs, you are left on your own to face dire consequences in courts that are impossible to navigate on your own. A recent state commission report found that each year, 1.8 million low-income New Yorkers are forced to appear in court without counsel in cases that involve life’s essential aspects.

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