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President's Message | September 2018 Newsletter

September kicks off the fall season and there is coolness in the air. It is a time to recommit ourselves to our relationships – personal and professional. It’s also a time for community service and giving back. This year, September brings us back to school and back to an old ACBA tradition - ACBA’s Old-fashioned Clam Bake on September 6th held at the Clubhouse Western Turnpike. I want to thank the Young Lawyers Committee for reviving a great old tradition. Marquita was able to locate the inaugural invitation to ACBA’s very first Clam Bake that took place 85 years ago in 1933. (See page 23). Apparently, the event took place at Herman Picard’s Farm on a Saturday in September and the cost was $2.50. Although the event was almost a century ago, like this year’s Clam Bake, there were games such as horse shoe pitching, and races. However, it appears there was also the “celebrated Japanese game of ‘Hozi Moi,’” which is no longer a popular game as far as I know. Nonetheless, this year, the Clam Bake is anticipated to be a great time for members of the bench and bar along with their families to eat together, play and listen to live music provided by one of our very own ACBA board of directors.

The clam bake happens to fall on many of our children’s first day back to school which reminds me of how excited I used to get as a child leading up to the first day. The night before, I could hardly sleep thinking about the day ahead. And, as a fashion-conscious child, I would have selected my first day of school outfit about a month in advance and no matter what the weather, that outfit would be worn on that first day - be it a 95-degree day. Even if I had selected a wool sweater with corduroys and boots, I would have worn it to school; against my mother’s better judgment! As I have gotten older, while I no longer look forward to my first day of school, I live vicariously through my son Graham. He is entering the fifth grade and starting a new school this year. We wonder what new friends he’ll make and on what adventures he’ll embark. Notably, he’ll be required to wear a uniform so there should be no weather-related fashion challenges. Or, at least I don’t anticipate any. After his first day of school, I plan to bring Graham to the Clam Bake and I hope to see many fellow members celebrating the end of summer and new beginnings.

This fall I also look forward to volunteering at the South End Children’s Café with fellow Attorneys in Public Service Committee (“APS”) members. As you may be aware, some public-sector attorneys are not allowed to do pro-bono legal assistance; so, they came up with this alternative. The mission of the Café is as follows:

“To impact food insecurity, address food equality, and food justice and enhance academic success and positively influence the physical and mental health of children living in and around the South End of Albany, New York by offering free, healthy dinner time meals along with homework help and other enrichment programs.”

The kids enrolled in the program eat a healthy dinner, free of charge, served in a café setting. In addition, during the school year, the Café is open after school with homework help, academic enrichment and arts and crafts. At 5:30 PM, the children sit together and share a dinner, prepared by their chef and volunteers. APS members will be at the Café volunteering on September 19, 2018 and September 27, 2018. If you’re interested in volunteering at the Café or other volunteer opportunities, please send Marquita an email. It’s my belief that volunteerism not only brings our community together but makes us better human beings.

This month I had the honor of interviewing District Attorney P. David Soares who is currently serving in his fourth term as DA in Albany County. He is the current President of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York.

 

What motivated you to select a career in public service?

It is an honor to be elected to be in the service of other people. Certainly the values of family, education, hard work, active community participation, and service were instilled in me by not only my parents, but also in the community that I grew up in. These values ultimately motivated me to seek a career that would give back to my community. Working through Albany Law School I had the opportunity to become an intern at the Albany County District Attorney’s Office. It was then that I first saw the inside workings of a courtroom and how many public servants devote their lives to delivering justice. Since that time I have dedicated my career to serving the public within the criminal justice system and once I began on this journey of serving others I never looked back. After witnessing how transformative public advocacy can be I am continually motivated to remain in the service of others. Even the most basic advocacy tasks can translate very largely with the experience of others, such as cases involving immigration issues. When we seek to assist a victim of human trafficking who is navigating the criminal justice system, we often learn about concerns of basic needs, such as the processes of obtaining citizenship. We can assist in the process to obtain visas, and our simple tasks of advocacy can be transformative for people in need. It is truly service to the public, and that is a great task to meet.

 

Please explain the work of the Community Justice Outreach Center

Our Community Justice Outreach Center (CJOC) has been a vital part of our operations in our model of “Fighting Crime, Building Hope.” The world of law enforcement entails a common public perception that there are opposite sides of public safety. The space we created has grown over the past 15 years to build bridges in the very community that we are serving.

We offer a shared space – by providing services and resources to victims of crime and also in our crime prevention efforts. We can proudly say that we were the first agency in Albany County to engage in the Restorative Justice practice in the criminal justice system, and that other agencies such as the Department of Probation have modeled similar programs after our Community Accountability Board (CAB) for prevention work and as Alternatives to Incarceration. We know that community prosecution works best when an agency can be physically in the neighborhoods where people need access to them the most to benefit the entire community, just as our CAB program has helped thousands since its inception in the communities of Albany, Cohoes, and Berne. We also utilize the Outreach Office on Clinton Avenue as a space for community members to access computers for resume and job searches as part of re-entry services, in addition to onsite staff operating our youth enrichment programs such as WORDS Anti-Bullying, NYPUM Mini-Bike Crime Prevention Program, and Conviction Step Team. The CJOC also houses our Seniors and Law Enforcement Together (S.A.L.T.) program to combat crimes against elderly populations, and our Animal Cruelty Taskforce to protect our pets and companion animals. Most recently, we have launched the “Clean Slate” initiative for members of the public to join our mission of seeking alternatives to incarceration to offer assistance in addressing felony level crimes committed by young adults.

We are continually seeking community volunteers to assist in joining our Clean Slate Felony Youth Diversion Board program, and we are in specific need of licensed attorneys to assist with the filing of sealing statute applications that offer relief for community members who qualify.

 

What are some of the biggest challenges in the work that you do?

A major challenge in law enforcement is confronting issues of public trust in the criminal justice system. We have an important role as public servants to do work that reflects the will of our constituents. We hope that efforts like our Clean Slate initiative will serve to help in the communities that need it most. Our doors are open to those who are unable to move forward in life due to past criminal convictions and are eligible to seal or modify previous records, or to steer young adults away from criminal records in the first place. For many years we have utilized seized assets from criminals to invest thousands of dollars into communities in a crime prevention effort for local youth through our Making Crime Pay initiative. Seeing young adults enter the criminal justice system is heartbreaking, which is why we place such an effort into our Building Hope crime prevention efforts. We often see media coverage about an incident, but not an equal amount of coverage about a case resolution or the same level of bandwidth for positive efforts of youth in our communities. It is a particular challenge to continue to see recycled sequences of violence and the proliferation of illegal handguns in our communities. We are also in the throes of a full blown opioid epidemic. It is a great challenge to combat this epidemic on all fronts and to ensure that the appropriate resources are committed to those most impacted.

 

How have mentors impacted your career?

Mentors have helped me in everything I have succeeded in achieving, and they still do to this day. I believe you are never too old to learn and evolve as a professional. In my earliest years I never had to look beyond the dinner table for positive mentors, and as I aged I emulated the adults in my life who showed me what it meant to be an accountable person. As a young prosecutor working in Albany City Court I was amazed by how much I was able to learn from the attorneys and staff throughout the courthouse, not just at the DA’s Office. My professional mentors came in the form of defense attorneys, judges, and many public servants who left indelible marks on my life and to whom I owe a great deal of gratitude.

 

In what way can seasoned ACBA members contribute to the development of the next generation of practitioners?

The role of my office is rooted in the Criminal Justice System in our mission of “Fighting Crime, Building Hope.” However, each day my staff relies on professionals in legal vocations that handle many evolving fields of law. These legal experts assist us with issues surrounding immigration, family offenses, relief from collateral consequences of previous criminal convictions, as well as advocacy in areas like animal rights and traditionally underserved populations. Instilling a sense of collaboration is essential for seasoned attorneys when training and teaching newer members in the profession. Some people may enter the legal profession with an adversarial bend, but we all seek to do justice and there are common grounds we can all occupy. The public needs to be able to access justice in all forms.

 

What is the most valuable ACBA membership benefit for you?

The ability to work, refer, and collaborate with so many wonderful professional people. The ACBA offers the ability for us to reach out to experts, which enhances the level of services we can provide to victims of crime. The ACBA sponsors events like the Law Day Run, which funds many of the local domestic violence resources that we utilize in safety planning for our victims.

 

Hon. Christina L. Ryba
ACBA President

 

 

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