f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

January 31, 2006

NY’s Chief Judge wants a statewide public defender system

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 2:20 pm

The New York Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense, established by Chief

Judge Judith S. Kaye, has unaminously recommended “a single, statewide, state-funded

system for the delivery of indigent defense services.”  Judge Kaye will give the details of

her resulting proposals, in her State of the Judiciary address, next Monday, February 6,

2006.  (Albany Times Union, Jan. 31, 2006) According to Ray Kelly, president of the state’s

Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers:


                                                                                                                    jailbird neg

“They are talking about setting up a statewide public defender office that would

be responsible for handling 60 percent of the state’s cases. They would then set

up a statewide system of assigned counsel to handle any conflicts.”

Last February, this weblog voiced the opinion that “indigent defendants are far more likely

to receive consistently competent representationin a system with fulltime public defenders

(with statewide monitoring and funding) than from situations that rely heavily on assigned

counsel.   (And see, David Feige’s excellent Slate article “Public Offenders,” where he says

that onlya comprehensive public defender system, not one relying heavily on assigned counsel,

will provide adequate service. )  Gideon’s Broken Promise, the ABA 2005 report on indigent

defense, states that national standards for indigent defense favor fulltime public defenders,

whenever the population and caseload can support them.


The New York indigent defense “system” has been organized and funded on the county

level since Gideon v. Wainright.  Many private attorneys count heavily on the assigned

counsel cases they received under this system and fought hard for a rate hike, finally 

passed in 2004, that brought fees long stuck at $25 to $75 per hour to $60 to $95 dollars 

per hour.  It is somewhat ironic, but the impetus for this change is reaction of the sixty-two

counties to the rate hike.  The TU reports that, without additional State funds to help pay

for the hike:



“They opted instead to set up in-house offices, which were not subject to the

higher rates, to save money. the state’s 62 counties have established more than

122 individualized programs to defend the poor, with no cohesion, unified standards

or consistent format, said Ray Kelly….”

Indeed, just last week, the Schenectady Gazette reported that “Eighteen months after it

began operations, the Schenectady County’s Conflict Defender Office has helped save

taxpayers more than $100,000 in outside attorney fees, a review shows. (Jan. 29, 2006,

p. B2).


Don’t be surprised if this trend spreads across the nation, as more and more assigned

counsel (who are in private practice) push for higher fees.  The Bar Advocates in Mass-

achusetts are clearly afraid that the fee hikes they coerced from the Legislature last year

may result in the establishment of public defender offices that will take away work they

consider to be “theirs.”  Thus, they adamantly oppose the hiring of more public defenders.

(see our prior post)  Perhaps, like auto workers, their organized successes may prove to

be their undoing. 




the mountain moon              
gives the blossom thief



     translated by David G. Lanoue



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