January 20, 2016

Upon Retirement, Chief Judge Lippman Lauded for Commitment to Access to Justice


Peter Edelman

by Peter Edelman, the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Law and Public Policy, Georgetown Law Center, and Chair, District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission

This is a perfect time to say thank you to Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman of the New York State Court of Appeals for his phenomenal leadership and accomplishments. He is still alive and well, and I know he will remain active in his longstanding and highly energetic pursuit of justice, but his retirement represents a moment when we can appreciate him publicly.

I know Chief Judge Lippman through my work on the DC Access to Justice Commission, and I think there is no chief justice or chief judge who is more committed to access to justice (although a few others may be in a tie with him). What he has gotten done is nothing short of incredible, and along with that he has always been available to go practically anywhere to spread the word.  Even among the hard core of those already committed, he always inspires everyone in the room to work harder and do more. Passion and being the chief judge don’t usually go together, at least in public, so it is extra special that CJ Lippman displays his passion for access to justice so openly. I love it.

There is so much to recount. Getting $85 million from the legislature for civil legal aid this past year is one astonishing item, but it’s a culmination of work the CJ started the minute he took on the job years ago. His listening meetings around the state (as though he were running for office) built the foundation for everything else. Pretty shrewd, if I may say so. He formed a Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York and in 2015 made it into the Permanent Commission on Access to Justice. There was always something new. Every new day has been a day to do more. Whether it was pressing for more pro bono, pushing students to do more, or involving non-lawyers in useful roles, he had great ideas and he made them happen.

His substantive reach was wide as well, from sentencing to housing, debt collection, and especially the continuing effort to come into the 21st century by increasing the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. He always spoke his mind bluntly. In 2015 he told The New York Times, “You have to eliminate cash bail.” He continued that the bail system is “totally ass-backwards in every respect. You have people who can’t make $500 bail who end up rotting in jails or prison, losing their jobs, being separated from their families, while they are absolutely no threat to anyone.” You have to like that.

So, from me and a huge number of others, thanks Chief Judge Lippman for everything.