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Lillian Moy, lawyer and ‘do-gooder’, looks back on 27 years at Legal Aid Society in Albany

ALBANY – In 1995, when Lillian Moy became executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, the job she would hold for the next 27 years, nonprofit law firms that provided civil legal services for the poor were hardly major political players.

By Moy’s second year, their funding was on the chopping block in Congress.

“One of my friends said that year that the only thing less popular in Washington DC than a poor person was a poor person with a lawyer,” Moy said recently.

In more than a quarter-century since that time, Moy led the society to expand its services to litigants, its level of financial and volunteer support from law firms and its coverage area from six upstate counties to 16. After 27 years, Moy will retire on Dec. 16, capping a career that’s brought much-needed legal representation for the underserved, as well as accolades from some of the highest-profile legal minds in Albany and beyond.

“Her passion, perversion, and tireless pursuit of justice are inspiring. We could not have asked for a better leader,” James Hacker, a managing partner in the firm of E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy and the chair of the society’s board of directors , said at a gala celebration in Moy’s honor at the Albany Capital Center on Nov. 9.

“Lillian has been a driving force in increasing access to justice to meet the needs of our low-income communities,” Hacker said. “Her work has helped tens of thousands of families and individuals access the legal services they need to help with unemployment, homelessness prevention, education, disability, and hundreds of other civil legal matters.”

Moy, who graduated from Hunter College in 1974 and Boston University School of Law in 1981, found her niche in a critical area of ​​the law that provides low-income litigants with legal lifelines. Her career path took her to Georgia, central Massachusetts and ultimately to New York’s capital city, where Moy would later join former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s crusade to cement the provision of legal services for the poor as the top priority of New York’s vast court system.

“She is someone who sets the gold standard for attaining justice for all in this state,” Lippman said in a tribute video released at the time of the gala.

It included praise for Moy from a “who’s who” of Capital Region legal and political figures, including Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, US Rep. Paul Tonko and many others.

Moy’s successor will be Erica “Nic” Rangel, who has been second deputy counsel to the state Senate Majority.

Moy’s path started in Queens, grew up in Astoria and later Whitestone, the daughter of a Chinese immigrant father. She has two children and a granddaughter.

“I’m not sure how I got the bug — the do-gooder bug — but I had it and I believed in it right from the start,” Moy told the Times Union. “I am the daughter of an immigrant so I have this understanding that not everyone is equal. I knew that because we were a different race from the majority of people that we were surrounded by, and because my parents really had the immigration experience. “

Moy, while living in Manhattan, took part in a rent strike. She advocated for LGBTQ rights. women’s rights. As an attorney, Moy has advocated for low-income litigants facing eviction or mired in credit card disputes, medical issues, child support cases and who are victims of domestic violence.

In criminal cases, defendants who cannot afford attorneys are guaranteed legal representation under the landmark Supreme Court ruling of Gideon v. Wainright. That same guarantee for low-income litigants remains elusive. In recent years, COVID-19 presented new challenges, especially for homeowners facing eviction, she explained.

“I think the pandemic gave us a chance to respond across the board everywhere and also showed how we had progressed technologically,” Moy said.

Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, founded in 1923 in Albany, provides civil legal services across 16 upstate counties including the Capital Region.

In 1995, when Moy began there, her annual budget was $1.6 million, nearly all of which came via the Legal Services Corp., which House Republicans sought to eliminate. The next year it dropped by some $300,000, she said.

Moy collaborated with other providers, including some in rural areas and others to better the situation. And it took time. When Moy started at the society, it included Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady, Saratoga, Washington and Warren counties. The next year, following the closure of Mid-Hudson Legal Services, it added Columbia and Greene counties.

The Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York then followed a national effort in which legal service providers moved closer to state governments. Many providers merged. LASNNY merged with North Country Legal Services, adding Clinton, Franklin, Essex, Hamilton and St. Lawrence counties. LASNNY than added Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties, which had been with the Legal Aid Society of Mid New York.

When Moy started, the society had its main office in Albany and a second in Saratoga Springs. Now it has added four more in Canton, Plattsburgh, Gloversville and Amsterdam.

“When you look at the map, you see how big our service area is but with key population centers that are really different from each other,” Moy said.

In looking back at her top highlights, Moy noted a project that allowed society to represent children with special needs.

“That’s the kind of case that often we would just say at the front door, ‘I’m sorry we can’t help you.’ Being able to change that was great,” she said.

And Moy highlighted efforts to reach and represent litigants who were victims of domestic violence in isolated rural communities, LGBTQ, or limited English proficiency. She said she was proud to receive a grant during the pandemic from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which sought bids for an eviction protection defense program, with a focus on communities facing historic discrimination.

The Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York submitted a bid highlighting the extremely high number of evictions in the South End of Albany, as well as old buildings that had not been repaired, and discrimination toward low-income litigants in City Court in Amsterdam whose primary language was Spanish.

“It was a national grant and we got the email and I was so shocked to have won … that was exciting,” she said. “I liked the research, too. Being a lawyer, I like being able to marshal facts and use it to support funding requests and that was one of the moments that I was very proud of.”

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