I hope you are all well as we are in the middle of winter as we approach Presidents’ Day and for some will be a time to go away with your families on vacation. Others of course will be working and taking care of business as usual.
Last month, it came to our attention that Gov. Hochul, in her fiscal year 2025 executive budget, was looking to transfer $100 million from the IOLA fund to the state general fund. For those who do not know what IOLA accounts are, they are “interest on lawyer’s accounts” which is a dedicated fiduciary fund derived only from the interest on attorney escrow accounts, without any taxpayer funding contributions. These funds are typically earmarked exclusively to making people whole when they have been victims of lawyer theft, as well as providing funding for civil legal services to low-income New Yorkers to help them with their legal issues. Since these funds are tied to interest rates, The income derived from these accounts will rise and fall with interest rates. As most people are aware, interest rates were historically low since the 2008/2009 financial crisis up until about a two years ago when they were raised significantly by the United States Federal Reserve. Now that interest rates are over 5%, these accounts are generating more revenue. This is not a time for New York State to raid this fund to pay for something else in the New York State budget. In the 40-year history of IOLA accounts, use of this money for the general New York State budget has never happened. The Queens County Bar Association has joined a number of other bar associations objecting to Gov. Hochul’s plan and we hope that she changes her mind and abandons this attempt to take these IOLA funds.
February is also a time when we celebrate Black History Month. In 1976, Pres. Gerald Ford recognize Black History month and urged Americans to honor and celebrate the too often neglected accomplishments of African Americans. In the legal community, certainly African Americans have made some significant accomplishments both in New York State where Honorable Rowan Wilson is now the first African-American Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals. Two of the four judges from Queens County that sit in the second Department are African-American, Justices Valerie Braithwaite Nelson and Justice Janice Taylor. Justice Marguerite Grays, Administrative Judge for the Civil Courts in Queens County, is the first African American woman to hold his position. In my over 30 years of coming to Queens County as a trial lawyer, primarily in the civil area, I’ve also seen a sizable increase in the number of African-American jurists and their staffs. I am sure there will also be more to come in the future in all of the various courthouses. The first African-American president of the Queens County Bar Association was Seymour James and starting June 1, the first African-American woman, Zenith Taylor will begin her term as president of the Queens County Bar Association. We at the Queens County Bar Association continue to diversify and celebrate the diversity of the Queens County legal community. Please join us at our Black history month event on February 22, 2024, where Dr. Jelani Cobb, Dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism, will present the topic Ink and Impact: Journalism’s Role in the Civil Rights Movement. Registration is available on our website and the program will start at 6:00 PM at Bourbon Street restaurant in Bayside.
One of the early influences on my legal career was an African-American trial lawyer named David L. Stephens. David was one of the few African-American trial lawyers that I saw when I first started practicing. I first met him as a law student and he was a partner in the law firm I was working for in law school. I did not see him much until the summer of my second year of law school, when I was working full time, as he was constantly on trial. After working on some cases in writing some briefs, there were numerous occasions where he would come to discuss points of law or ask my opinion on the potential trial strategy and ideas. Even though I was young and didn’t know much about trial practice then, I enjoyed these discussions and learned from them and still carry these lessons with me today.
Finally, I would encourage you to join us on March 5, 2024, at St. John’s University Law School for Judiciary, Past Presidents and Golden Jubilarian Night. On this night, we first of all be honoring our Judiciary from all of the Queens County courts who will be attending. This is an opportunity for you to mingle with judges from the various courts in the borough. For whatever area you practice in, there has been some turnover in recent years, as some judges have retired after long and distinguished careers, and new judges have been elected to take their places in the Supreme Court and Civil Courts, as well as appointments by the mayor to the Criminal, Family and Housing Courts. Please come out and meet them in this informal setting. With less opportunities to be in front of some of these judges in the courthouse, this can only benefit you and your practice. I’ve been attending this event for many years, and I have always enjoyed it. Also, come out and meet some of our past presidents as well. I have served on the Board of Managers with 11 of them. As of this writing, it is my understanding that we will be honoring five Golden Jubilarians, those who have been practicing for 50 years. Four of those five have been QCBA members for all 50 of those years. Both accomplishments are remarkable and worthy of celebrating – I hope you will join us to do so.
As always, please feel free to reach out to me at president@QCBA.org.
Michael D. Abneri