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New York Bar Group to Study Police Brutality, New President Says

June 2, 2020, 7:01 PM

The new president of the New York State Bar Association says one of his first priorities will be to examine police brutality against black New Yorkers.

Scott Karson said he plans to establish a study on the controversy that also will look at legal issues surrounding related civil unrest and how the bar can best respond.

“Now we’re dealing with a whole new set of circumstances beyond the Covid-19 crisis, which deals with the issues of police brutality and civil unrest,” Karson told Bloomberg Law in an interview. “I think we’re going to be addressing that in fairly short order.”

Karson’s comments come as the recent death of George Floyd while in custody of the Minneapolis police has sparked protests in New York City and around the country.

“I can understand how people, and in particular African American people, might have lost confidence in our criminal justice system over the years,” he said. “It’s one of these incidents after another. I can’t sit here and tell you what the answer is, but it’s something that the New York State Bar Association is certainly well-qualified to look into.”

He said it may be “appropriate and helpful” to enlist the help of one or more historically black bar groups to help carry out the study, which may take the shape of a task force.

According to data from the Legal Aid Society, as reported by the New York Times, more than 2,300 lawsuits were filed in New York City between January 2015 and mid-2018, accusing nearly 3,900 officers of violating the federal civil rights of various plaintiffs.

Eye on Pandemic

Karson also plans to continue work on a task force created by his immediate predecessor, Hank Greenberg, on how solo and small firms can find resources to deal with the pandemic’s fallout on their practices. When courts closed, many of these firms’ sources of income quickly dried up, he said.

He said he’ll also be keeping an eye on how Big Law firms aim to resume work out of their Manhattan offices, a topic recently addressed by the New York Bar Association working group. The bar represents 70,000 attorneys.

And he’s likewise monitoring the controversy over a plan to give New York State-based law school graduates first crack at seats for the September exam because of limited seating.

Karson defended the N.Y. State Board of Law Examiners’ plan. By moving the exam to September because of concerns about Covid-19 exposure, “they simply don’t have the number of facilities and the number of seats” to accommodate all the people who would have signed up for the now-delayed July exam, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Skolnik in Washington at sskolnik@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Tom P. Taylor at ttaylor@bloomberglaw.com

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